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What Does It Mean to Be a Virtuous Person and How Is that Different From a Person of Good Character?

What Does It Mean to Be a Virtuous Person and How Is that Different From a Person of Good Character?
Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

We live in a social media age where morality and ethics are demonstrated as virtue-signalling memes or thumbs-up emoticons — often without fact-checking or a reason given why the poster cares about the issue.

People are too quick to jump on the bandwagon and share a hashtag or graphic about a day of awareness without doing anything meaningful to affect progressive change. In their very next Instagram or TikTok story, they share a video about the Starbucks barista who got their name wrong on their coffee.

We need a virtue ethics shared by all.

What does it mean, to be a virtuous person and how is that different from a person of good character?

To understand the difference between character traits and virtue, think of an actor playing a character in a movie. The actor embodies the character’s attitude and personality traits so that the viewer believes the actor’s portrayal.

We can describe someone’s character (and behaviour) as kind, thoughtful, cooperative, curious, and so on. Conversely, we embody traits that can get us into trouble like rudeness, impatience, disrespect, or aggressiveness.

Your dominant character traits demonstrate what you value and believe in, which supports your integrity.

One of my core values is peace of mind.

Character traits that support this value are thoughtfulness, open-mindedness, humility, and understanding. I also embody the opposites of these traits — which is where virtue comes to the rescue.

Now, let's consider the four Stoic cardinal virtues of courage, moderation, justice, and wisdom.

A virtuous person consults these virtues like a moral compass to make important decisions that align with their integrity.

These virtues act like a corrective mechanism to balance against relying too heavily on a single one. If you jump into a difficult situation acting with courage alone, without having consulted your wisdom for doing so, you might make a fool of yourself or get hurt.

The ideas I’ve shared in this article speak to my research to create a virtue philosophy of human-heartedness and ethical leadership rooted in the Tao Te Ching. My hope is for a humane moral code that recognizes how we perceive the world through the construction of dualities, but to work with the shades of grey in-between.

The virtue of human-heartedness aspires to six complementary transcendent virtues:

  1. Non-contention
  2. Impartial Witnessing
  3. Compassion
  4. Open-minded flexibility and yielding
  5. Humility
  6. Universal commonality (Oneness)

Which one of the human-heartedness virtues resonates most with you and why?

Further reading