Remember virtue, that quaint thing leaders used to strive for? (Or so we thought?) Moral excellence, not just material success? It’s a concept with a lot of history … and the version that’s always resonated with me the most is Aristotle’s version. From Spark Notes (because it’s just easy):
Aristotle is clear that we arrive at moral virtue primarily through practice and that the value of studying ethical texts such as the one he has written is limited.
This view makes sense when we consider that moral virtue is not essentially different from other forms of excellence as far as the Greeks are concerned. If we want to achieve excellence in rock climbing, for instance, it helps to study texts that show us how to improve our technique, but we can’t make any significant improvements except by getting on a rock wall and practicing.
Analogously, it helps to read texts like the Nicomachean Ethics to get a clearer understanding of moral virtue, but the only way to become more virtuous is through practice. We can only become more courageous by making a point of facing down our fears, and we can only become more patient by making a habit of controlling our anger.
Since practice, not study, is the key to becoming virtuous, Aristotle takes a strong interest in the education of the young. He perceives that there is only so much we can do to improve a nasty adult, and we can more easily mold virtuous youths by instilling the proper habits in them from a young age.
Meanwhile on Planet Earth circa 2018, here we are pondering just how much more human grotesquery can we tolerate … in the air, in the water, in public life, in politics, business and government. The mess is bewildering. It makes one want to recoil, withdraw and start anew. It’s like as a society we need to have a “Walden” moment. Some kind of resetting of values, expectations and most definitely, leadership.