From a Lasallian perspective, the underpinnings of virtues permeate the Saint Mary’s culture. For example, new faculty are introduced to the concept of the 12 teaching virtues. From an organizational perspective, we ensure that the five core Lasallian virtues are imbued throughout our culture. Specifically as it pertains to our university, the mission stresses the importance of awakening, nurturing, and empowering learners to ethical lives of service and leadership. Thus, the concept of virtues are imbued throughout ethos of the university. The remaining paragraphs will provide a brief overview of virtues and introduce the idea of a meta-virtue.
Given virtues are at the substrate of the ethos of the university, it is important to provide some context as to the genesis of virtues and what exactly they are. The etymology comes from the Latin word – virtus, which translates to strength. Hence, virtues provide individuals with opportunities to strengthen their character. For example, when someone exhibits the virtue of generosity, that person is typically viewed in a positive light. On the contrary, the opposite of virtues are vices. For instance, when someone is deemed to be selfish, we normally associate such behavior negatively. This is why virtues are correlated with positive characteristics and are also called character strengths in some academic fields, particularly, in the study of education.
The field of education and positive psychology has aided our understanding of virtues. Historically, virtues were codified and examined in a moral context. For example, when we explore the virtues of compassion, fairness, and gratitude, the foundation of such conversations are normally associated with our humanity. However, the construct of virtues is currently examined and researched from a more panoptic and robust framework. This topology is separated into four sub components. The first category and the oldest is moral, as discussed above. The second category — is civic such as volunteerism or community engagement. Third are intellectual virtues such as critical thinking and curiosity. Last, but not least, are performance virtues: grit, resilience, and emotional intelligence.
The study of virtues dates back to antiquity, and, a number of Greek philosophers are credited for introducing the study to the Western Word, Aristotle, in particular. What is interesting about Aristotle is that he generally focused on the moral virtues, but he believed there is a meta-virtue and it serves to bridge all the other virtues. He called this meta-virtue phronesis, which means practical wisdom. Aristotle purported that phronesis is the glue that held all other virtues in place and provided the nutrients that afforded individuals the ability to leverage all other virtues in a meaningful way in order to flourish as a society. This is why he would espouse that individuals should be compassionate toward the right person to the correct degree at the appropriate time. Thus, exhibiting compassion in and of its self is not enough; we must wield various virtues in a more sagacious manner.
By: Antar Salim, MBA, DBA, core associate professor