The Virtue of Silence, Part III

As before, the source material is here.

The Internet

The beauty of the internet is that it allows free flowing communication in an unprecedented way. Yet this also means that communication on the internet is not subject to the same rules of etiquette that apply to public life. Extreme crassness and incivility plague forums and blogs. It’s as if there is a competition on who can come up with the most shocking and caustic thing to say. This severe form of incivility creates an environment of hostility that hinders productive dialogue and debate.

Applying the virtue of silence on the internet

1. Never say something to a stranger on the internet that you would not say to a stranger in person.

The internet provides a cloak of anonymity behind which people feel free to say whatever they want. Yet the words which we both write and speak are our creations. We must take ownership for them. Never write something you would not be proud to have attached with your real name. Before you hit “Send” in an email or a blog comment, stop and ask yourself: “Would I use these words if this person was standing right in front of me?” If not, reword your communication. Just taking the time to think before you publish something on the web can help increase the amount of civility on the net.

2. Don’t attack people personally

Certainly here at AoM, and on the internet in general, you are free to disagree with the ideas of others. But do not personally attack the people behind those ideas. Many a blog user will make a valid comment only to end with “You’re an idiot!” And some will dispense with the valid argument part altogether. Using personal attacks adds nothing to the conversation and only shows that you do not have anything insightful or intelligent to offer.

3. Don’t just debunk things

Here on the internet postmodern deconstruction is alive and well. Many an internet user’s energy is devoted to poking holes in every idea that crosses their path. But cynicism is easy. Chronic debunkers don’t do any of the hard work it takes to create something, and then they barely lift a finger to tear things down. Digg users are notorious for this. There could be a post about a man saving a bus load of lavender smelling babies from a river and some digg user would find a way to make a snide, caustic comment about it. There’s nothing wrong with criticism, but be constructive with your criticism. If you have nothing substantive to add to the conversation, it is better to be silent.

4. Stop the excessive vulgarity

Nothing shows a juvenile mentality and a lack of class like excessive vulgarity. While salty language has been on the rise in normal conversation as well, the proliferation of profanity on the internet is excessive. Because of the information glut on the internet, men feel they must pepper their comments with over the top language to keep them from being lost in the shuffle. But if such additions are needed to get attention, you clearly did not have anything meaningful to say in the first place. Before you publish a comment with the F-bomb used as every other word, try to find another, more respectful way to say it.

* * * * *

This is perhaps the most necessary, yet least likely to be used or taken advantage of.  Some people, somewhere, on whatever forum or blog or random website, are going to respond to whatever video, picture or post in a way to assert their own superiority and correctness over each other, while at the same time putting the other person down it what they believe to be the most humiliating and derogatory way possible.

One of the aggravating things is that there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.  Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.  Freedom of speech and all that.  It’s a shame that people choose to abuse it the way they do.
Oh, well.  That’s it for the virtue of silence.  The virtue of resolution is next.  I’ve got some reading to do now. 🙂


Thinking about Temperance

I’ve been thinking about temperance lately and trying to figure out different ways I can implement it into my everyday life.  When I decided to emulate the virtues that Benjamin Franklin is said to have lived by, my first thought in regards to temperance was food, and the consumption of food.

Eating food isn’t bad.  It’s necessary.  But sometimes we’ll sit down to a meal that tastes so good that we can’t help but go for a second or third helping.  Have you ever sat back after a meal and thought that your eyes were bigger than your stomach?  If you have, you know where I’m going with this.  One of my biggest weaknesses when it comes to eating is Chinese food.  I think it’s great, but I have the hardest time ordering “just enough.”  There’s a number of dishes I want to get each time, but there’s no way I could all of them by myself.  The various chicken dishes alone are enough to make me stare at the menu for 10 minutes.

About once a week, my mom makes pizza.  She’s done it for almost 20 years (to my memory) and gotten very good at it.  Depending on who’s present for dinner, sometimes I’ll be hard pressed to limit myself to a certain number of slices.  “It’s so good, though.  C’mon, just one more slice.”  That’s what I’ll tell myself at least once.

I don’t have a magical formula, or a series of steps to take in order to not eat too much.  I know that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins.  I’m not saying that it’s not okay to have a second helping of a good meal.  By all means, if you like what you’re eating, then have another plate or bowl.  Everyone needs to know what their limits are, though, and not cross them.  Know where your weaknesses are, and watch your step around them.  Take things slowly if you have to.  Let someone know what you have trouble with so you have someone to be accountable to.

I don’t always have a second helping of something, even if there’s a half plate/bowl-full left.  At times like that, it’s more about getting into the practice of not eating too much than making sure there’s no leftovers or having more just because it’s there.  Sometimes someone will comment on that, but I’ll just say something along the lines of “No, I’m good” or “I’ve had enough.”

Hopefully I’ll do better the next time my eyes are bigger than my stomach.

Loyalty, Part Two

At the end of my last post, there were two questions: (1) “What good is loyalty if you don’t keep your promise; if you don’t hold true to your cause?”; (2) “Are we ever justified in being disloyal?”

For starters, if you don’t keep your promise, you may end up being seen as an untrustworthy person.  If people start seeing you that way, then you might find yourself alone one day, wondering what happened.  Same story with holding true to your cause.

Personally, I am a man of my word.  At least, I try to be as much as possible.  If I make a promise – from helping someone to move out of their old home and/or move into their new one, to a marriage vow – or enter into an agreement (such as a month-to-month rental arrangement), I fully intend to keep my promise; uphold my part of the agreement.  It may not work out in the time-frame you thought it would.  It may not work out at all.  It happens that way sometimes.

If you break your promise; if you betray the trust that someone else has placed in you, then what good is loyalty?  It depends.  On one hand, it’s possible (however unlikely it may seem) that it was an accident and you feel really horrible about it because you really care about that other person.  On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person to do something like that intentionally, then did you ever really care about that in the first place?

I have a hard time understanding why someone would intentionally break a promise or an oath of loyalty.  There are some circumstances that I understand.  Like refusing to do something that goes against what God has commanded.  For something like a romantic relationship, or even marriage (especially marriage), breaking that promise, that trust…it just does not compute.  Unfortunately, people are selfish.  Even I am.  But to be so selfish, so self-absorbed, so willing to satisfy yourself without regard to who you hurt in the process – how do you get that way, if you weren’t that way in the first place?

Loyalty is willing, in that it is given freely and not coerced.  If it is coerced, it ceases to be loyalty and becomes obedience.  Loyalty is chosen, after personal consideration.  It is practical in that it is actively practiced and not a passively expressed as a mere feeling.  It is not casual interest in something or someone, it is wholehearted, complete commitment.

There is some disagreement as to what the proper object of loyalty is, or can be.  Some will say that the object of loyalty is always a person and some will say that it can be “anything to which one’s heart can become attached or devoted.”

Like I said before, I’m a man of my word.  If I make a promise, then I do everything I can to keep it.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  I am loyal to my friends and others I care about and I hope they will do/be the same back to me.  If I’m ever in a romantic relationship, I will be loyal to that woman, because that’s the kind of person I was raised to be.  Betraying that trust, that loyalty, that commitment – it goes against who I am and what I believe.  And I’m not going to change that.

What is Loyalty?

Merriam-Webster online describes the loyalty as “the quality or state or an instance of being loyal.”  Following the link to ‘loyal’, we come to this:

“1: unswerving in allegiance: as

  • (a) faithful in allegiance to one’s lawful sovereign or government.
  • (b) faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due.
  • (c) faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution or product.”

In Dante’s Inferno, in the lowest circle of Hell reside those guilty of treason and betrayal.  Why?  What is it about loyalty that puts it above other virtues?  Why do we value it more?

“Loyalty is the idea that we are who we say we are and we will do what we say we will do. It is the hope that the integrity with which we initially encountered someone will endure indefinitely. It’s also what keeps us unified. We live out our lives as part of agreed upon norms that allow us to operate from day to day. We need to know who we can count on. We all understand that ideally, friends will have your back, lovers will remain true, and businesses will not cheat you out of your money. When someone is disloyal, they break from these expectations and weaken the trust that holds us together.” (Brett & Kate McKay, 10/25/09)

Loyalty is sometimes easier to describe with examples rather than definitions like the ones listed above.  We see it in the stories of the soldier who risks gunfire to bring a wounded comrade to safety; in the stories of a religious martyr who chooses death over betrayal of faith.

Like all virtues, loyalty has its proper manifestation and its false counterpart.  There is a line, however blurry or difficult to see, where loyalty becomes blind obedience.  When loyalty is demanded by regimes under people like Hitler, Stalin or Mao, it becomes poisoned and perverted.  True loyalty cannot be demanded.  It can only be chosen, and with it comes a great and honorable power.

In Josiah Royce’s The Philosophy of Loyalty, loyalty is defined as the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.”

“Willing” – born of your choice; your free will.

“Practical and thoroughgoing devotion” – It’s all well and good if you’re well intentioned, but you need to DO something to support that claim.

“To a cause” – the idea of friendship, brotherhood, family, love, fidelity.  To the Gospel.  To whatever values you hold dear.  You can be loyal to people or organizations, but they can change.  If a close friend starts making bad choices, would you go along out of blind loyalty, or would you do something about it and try to save them?

“Whenever, I say, such a cause so arouses your interest that it appears to you worthy to be served with all your might, with all your soul, with all your strength, then this cause awakens in you the spirit of loyalty. If you act out this spirit, you become, in fact, loyal.” -Josiah Royce

Put simply, “…the causes which arouse your loyalty must be ones that fascinate and possess you, ones that reverberate in your being and invigorate your spirit. The causes to which you choose to be loyal need not be dictated to you by your position or by tradition and can be entirely of your own creation. Choose causes which mirror your will and align with your core values and ideals, causes that so engross and engage both your heart and mind that you feel willing to make whatever sacrifices will be necessary to remain loyal and true.

…We are always on the hunt for a better deal, for an upgrade. Thus modern loyalty is a pale version of its ancient form. Sure we’re loyal……until something better comes along. We’re loyal…until we are given an excuse to bail. Of course this is not true loyalty at all. A loyal man commits to something with the idea that he is casting his lot with that cause in perpetuity.” (Brett & Kate McKay, 10/25/09)

“Loyalty for the loyal man is not only a good, but for him chief amongst all the moral goods of his life, because it furnishes to him a personal solution of the hardest of human practical problems, the problem: “For what do I live? Why am I here? For what am I good? Why am I needed?” – Josiah Royce

What are some benefits of loyalty?

Loyalty breeds satisfaction and happiness.  “Studies have shown that being able back out of our decisions makes us less happy than making “irreversible” decisions. For example, in one study students were told that they could pick one fine art print to take home with them. One group was told that the decision was final. The other group was told that they could return and exchange the print later if they so desired. While almost everyone in the second group said they were happy to have the option to return their print, almost none did. However, the second group ended up far less satisfied with their choice than the group that was not allowed to make exchanges. Why? Because with the option to reverse their decision always in the back of their minds, they could not move forward and put in the important psychological work to accept and enjoy their decision.

Thus, while it may seem risky to commit our loyalty to something for the long haul, it can be quite psychologically rewarding. In trading quantity for quality, you will come to know the rich satisfactions available only to those who are willing to go in-depth with something, sticking with it through thick and thin.” (AoM)

Loyalty lessens the amount of anxiety in your life.  “In a previous article, we talked about the way in which having too many choices can paralyze us into unhappiness and inaction. One of the ways to mitigate this effect is to purposely limit our choices. There are some choices in life we can make once and never have to make again. Once you know where you stand in life, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you are faced with certain choices.” (AoM)

Loyalty breeds loyalty.  Loyalty is contagious. As we lives of loyalty we encourage other men to do likewise. As Royce argues, we should act “as to further the general confidence of man in man.” (AoM) **”Living by example” comes to mind very strongly for me when I think of loyalty breeding loyalty.**

Loyal men can change the world.  “When good men bail out of organizations that they feel have gotten off-track, it simply becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are no shortage of problems with everything from family to politics, but if loyal men don’t stick around and work from within to be a force of positive change, these institutions will never improve. Loyal men transform causes from the inside out.” (AoM)

I think that many people misunderstand what loyalty really is.  It’s not (or at least, it shouldn’t be) dependent on a give-and-take mindset.  It’s not something that should be cast aside when things aren’t going the way you imagined, or if you’re not getting the rewards or recognition or things you thought you would get.

“You should strive to stay loyal until all the work you can do for your cause is finished, which may not come until the end of your life. Of course in between now and then your cause may change , and you be tempted to be bail and say, “I’m not going to let this cause tell me what to do!” But remember, you chose the cause. You proposed, you got baptized, you joined the army. In so choosing, you also chose to accept whatever crap would later come down the line. You knew the risks in pledging your loyalty, and you willing accepted those risks. What good is a loyalty that swells in the midst of pomp and ceremony only to shrink in the trenches?” (AoM)

What good is loyalty if you don’t keep your promise; if you don’t hold true to your cause?  Are we ever justified in being disloyal?

* * * * *

As a final interjection, my primary thought on this subject is loyalty in marriage and relationships.  I think that’s where people first go to for examples of loyalty.  And in today’s society, where divorce and infidelity are more common than they should be, I think that is where we need to focus our efforts on changing and improving how loyalty is seen and valued.

The Bushido Code

An excerpt from a post at the Art of Manliness:

“Just a few decades after Japan’s warrior class was abolished, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt raved about a newly released book entitled Bushido: The Soul of Japan. He bought five dozen copies for family and friends. In the slim volume, which went on to become an international bestseller, author Nitobe Inazo interprets the samurai code of behavior: how chivalrous men should act in their personal and professional lives.

Nitobe Inazo

Though some scholars have criticized Nitobe’s work as romanticized yearning for a non-existent age of chivalry, there’s no question that his work builds on extraordinary thousand-year-old precepts of manhood that originated in chivalrous behavior on the part of some, though certainly not all, samurai. What today’s readers may find most enlightening about Bushido is the emphasis on compassion, benevolence, and the other non-martial qualities of true manliness.”

As I look over the eight virtues listed in the Bushido code, I see many similarities between the Bushido code and the knights code of chivalry.  Many of the virtues are the same, as are the expectations of people who strive to exemplify those virtues.  Here are the virtues of the Bushido code and see for yourself how similar they are to the virtues of the knights code of chivalry:

I. Rectitude or Justice – Bushido refers not only to martial rectitude, but to personal rectitude: Rectitude or Justice, is the strongest virtue of Bushido. A well-known samurai defines it this way: ‘Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.’ Another speaks of it in the following terms: ‘Rectitude is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bones the head cannot rest on top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand. So without Rectitude neither talent nor learning can make the human frame into a samurai.’

II. Courage – Bushido distinguishes between bravery and courage: Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of Righteousness and Rectitude. In his Analects, Confucius says: ‘Perceiving what is right and doing it not reveals a lack of Courage.’ In short, ‘Courage is doing what is right.’

III. Benevolence or Mercy – A man invested with the power to command and the power to kill was expected to demonstrate equally extraordinary powers of benevolence and mercy: Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity, are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul. Both Confucius and Mencius often said the highest requirement of a ruler of men is Benevolence.

IV. Politeness – Discerning the difference between obsequiousness and politeness can be difficult for casual visitors to Japan, but for a true man, courtesy is rooted in benevolence: Courtesy and good manners have been noticed by every foreign tourist as distinctive Japanese traits. But Politeness should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others; it’s a poor virtue if it’s motivated only by a fear of offending good taste. In its highest form Politeness approaches love.

V. Honesty and Sincerity – True samurai, according to author Nitobe, disdained money, believing that “men must grudge money, for riches hinder wisdom.” Thus children of high-ranking samurai were raised to believe that talking about money showed poor taste, and that ignorance of the value of different coins showed good breeding: Bushido encouraged thrift, not for economical reasons so much as for the exercise of abstinence. Luxury was thought the greatest menace to manhood, and severe simplicity was required of the warrior class … the counting machine and abacus were abhorred.

VI. Honor – Though Bushido deals with the profession of soldiering, it is equally concerned with non-martial behavior: The sense of Honor, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai. He was born and bred to value the duties and privileges of his profession. Fear of disgrace hung like a sword over the head of every samurai … To take offense at slight provocation was ridiculed as ‘short-tempered.’ As the popular adage put it: ‘True patience means bearing the unbearable.’

VII. Loyalty – Economic reality has dealt a blow to organizational loyalty around the world. Nonetheless, true men remain loyal to those to whom they are indebted: Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era. Personal fidelity exists among all sorts of men: a gang of pickpockets swears allegiance to its leader. But only in the code of chivalrous Honor does Loyalty assume paramount importance.

VIII. Character and Self-Control – Bushido teaches that men should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one that transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification, and a man should know the difference. Finally, it is a man’s obligation to teach his children moral standards through the model of his own behavior: The first objective of samurai education was to build up Character. The subtler faculties of prudence, intelligence, and dialectics were less important. Intellectual superiority was esteemed, but a samurai was essentially a man of action.

Loyalty, honor, courage, justice…those seem to pop up rather frequently.  While people who live in different areas may have different ways to be an example of those virtues (and others), the core of each virtue is the same.  And that, I think, remains true no matter where in the world you go and no matter who you meet along the way.

The Virtue of Temperance

Going further into each of Benjamin Franklin’s list of 13 virtues to live by, by way of the people at The Art of Manliness.  Today I’m exploring “temperance.”  The original post (written by Brett & Kate McKay on 3/2/08) may be found here.

“Is there a less sexy idea today than temperance? Yet when Benjamin Franklin began his pursuit of the virtuous life, it was this virtue he chose to concentrate on first. The way in which Ben ordered his 13 virtues was deliberate. He selected temperance to kick off his self-improvement program because:

…it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and the force of perpetual temptations.

In other words, first attaining self-discipline in the area of food and drink would make adherence to all of the other virtues easier.

Why is this? Hunger and thirst are some of the most primal of urges, and thus are some of the hardest to control. Therefore, when seeking to gain self-discipline, one must start with the most basic appetites and work up from there. A man must first harness his inward urges, before tackling the more external virtues. A clear mind and a healthy body are prerequisites to the pursuit of the virtuous life.

* * * * *

> I’d like to add that it’s unwise to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.  Sometimes it cannot be helped, I know.  If you’re hungry and decide to shop for food, it becomes increasingly difficult to refrain from purchasing food that’s bad for you, isn’t going to last more than one serving or one meal, and sometimes you end up buying more than you intended.  “Man, I’m really hungry…oh, this looks good.  And this…and this…and this…”

Then you get to the checkout and wonder how you spent so much money so quickly.

* * * * *

Eat Not to Dullness

The glutton is much more than an animal and much less than a man. ~ Honore de Balzac

Have you ever noticed that the first few bites of a delicious food are the best? After chowing down on something for awhile, the vibrant tastes become significantly dulled.

Today many people shovel food into their mouths so fast that their palate never has a chance to register this transition. Yet the shift is one of the ways your stomach tries to tell you that it is full and to stop eating. Unfortunately, people ignore this signal and continue to eat far past it. The consequence is not only a far less enjoyable eating experience, but an ever expanding gut.

Many people have noticed the paradox that gourmet cooks who spend their whole day around food are often in good shape. But it is really no mystery at all. These chefs eat only the best, most delicious foods, and when they dine, they really savor each bite.

There are a million diet books out there, but the only thing a person needs to know to maintain a decent waistline is this: eat when hungry, stop when full. Don’t eat in front of the TV or on the go. Sit down for a proper meal. Savor each mouthful, and think about the flavors you are experiencing. Put your fork down in between bites. When the flavors become less vibrant, and your stomach starts to feel full, stop eating.

* * * * *

> Eat when hungry, stop when full.  For me (more often that not), by the time I feel full, I’ve already had too much.  I don’t take the time to savor each bite as the above section suggests, to be honest.  Chinese food is a particular weakness of mine in that area.  When I go to order, I tend to forget that my eyes are bigger than my stomach and I usually leave with more than I can comfortably eat in one sitting.

* * * * *

Drink Not to Elevation

Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with, that it’s compounding a felony. ~ Robert Benchley

Many a manly man in history has enjoyed a drink or two. Yet somewhere along the way men began to think it was manly to guzzle their spirits through a funnel attached to their mouth. Yet there are truly few things less virtuous than getting tanked and passing out.

Men should not seek to numb themselves in the pursuit of a good time. For surely there is something to be said about being fully present in every moment. At the heart of manliness is the belief in personal responsibility. But excess drinking and personal responsibility are at odds. When drunk, a person cannot be said to be 100% in control of their choices. So if something goes wrong, they often blame the alcohol. A true man is in control of himself in every situation

Men should also seek to rid themselves of any kind of dependencies. Alcohol can cause several, the most obvious one being outright alcoholism. But frequent boozing can also make a man dependent on liquor for confidence and for a good time. It becomes a crutch. True men will be confident enough to not need liquid courage and dynamic enough to create their own good time through their personality and charm.

* * * * *

> There are many times when I’ve gone down to the local pub (a real pub, not just your average bar) and enjoyed a pint or two.  There’s been a couple of occasions when I’ve had much more to drink than I should have.  The first time was Saint Patrick’s Day 2010 and the second was late spring/early summer that same year, after a very rough night at work.

* * * * *


Men often try to numb themselves with food and alcohol to avoid dealing with their real problems. But manning up involves facing one’s issues head on. Gaining the self-discipline to moderate your intake of food and alcohol will give you the confidence to start making other improvements in your life.”

* * * * *

> There have been a number of times when I wanted to eat or drink a lot in order to avoid a problem I had.  I don’t remember ever giving in to those desires – I usually talked myself out of doing whatever it was I thought I wanted to do.  Moderating my food intake is going to be more difficult than moderating my alcohol intake, I believe, because in my experience, I tend to eat more than I should more OFTEN than I should.  Drinking, well…I’ve been really hammered twice and both times I felt bad afterwards for drinking as much as I did.

It’s fine to enjoy a drink or two, whether you’re alone or not.  Learn what your limits are, for both food and alcohol.  Consuming one or the other or both to the point of sluggishness or dullness is going too far.