Follow-up on Virtue: Why is it Valuable?

I loved Brent’s response to my post on virtue, particularly, “Maybe we’ve lost sight of why it’s valuable.” Well said and it rang true. Then I got to thinking, why is it valuable? Can we as a society articulate and agree on why virtue is valuable?

Brad’s now reading McCullough’s book on John Adams and the other night he came upon the following paragraph on virtue where Adams said,

“The happiness of the people was the purpose of government…and therefore that form of government was best which produced the greatest amount of happiness for the largest number. And since all ‘sober inquirers after truth’ agreed that happiness derived from virtue, that form of government with virtue as its foundation was more likely than any other to promote the general happiness.”

Is this how our current leaders think? That happiness of the people is the purpose of government? That government with virtue as its foundation was more likely than any other to promote general happiness? While I don’t hear the word virtue used much today, I also don’t hear the word happiness used in reference to the goals of our government or on any campaign platforms. Again, maybe it’s semantics, maybe those words were used more often years ago. Still, it’s a fair question: does our government care about our happiness? It would be nice to think so.

What do our political leaders want for us? What do they see as the role of government?* I would love to hear your thoughts. The first thing that came to mind for me was that government’s main purpose is to keep us safe -globally and domestically. We are a nation of laws towards that end. But how safe are we? Our government and country are dangerously split right now. Militia groups are growing. And seeing what happened on January 6th doesn’t make me feel safe.

What motivates people to get into public life and run for office? I think many run for altruistic reasons and truly believe that they are the best person to lead but once part of the system, their focus can, and all to often does, change. Some seem to be more concerned with power from the get-go. I remember years ago when I worked at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, we held a Newly Elected Members of Congress Conference. One of the speakers was a Senator from Colorado who warned the new members that once in office, they should expect 85% of their time to be spent on fundraising for re-election. I remember that statement blowing me away. This is an unfortunate reality to staying in office (and maybe a good argument for term limits.) Sadly, most attempts to control or change campaign finance rules are met with resistance on both sides. Super PACS, the super-wealthy, and big corporations have way too much sway in our campaigns.

Back to why virtue is valuable. As I wrote in my last piece on virtue, it is a word that encompasses many qualities including high moral standards, being honest, respectful, courageous, forgiving, kind and trustworthy. How much energy do we waste trying to decipher who is telling the truth and what is true? This energy could be better spent on things that could heal, unite and lift us all up. Can you imagine a government where we didn’t see greed or corruption and knew that it was being run by those with qualities of virtue? The ripple effects of that would be tremendous and would probably include healthier people, less anxiety for sure, and more connectedness, to name a few.

Our government leaders are made up of human beings so we’ll never live in a utopia but a country where leaders understand and respect the values of virtue and strive to lead with those values…I think collectively we would be on a higher energy plane and there would be much more happiness.

*The purpose of our government is stated in the Preamble of the Constitution but before you look it up, see what you can name. It would be fun to ask our leaders if they know.

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