By Dixie Andelin Forsyth
Ever get a song stuck in your head while you’re working? Mine this week was “The Seven Deadly Virtues” from the musical Camelot by Lerner and Lowe, sung by King Arthur’s wayward son Mordred. Here are some of the lyrics, listing the supposed drawbacks of developing good character:
Take courage; now there’s a sport
An invitation to the state of rigor mort
And purity, a noble yen
And very restful every now and then
I find humility means to be hurt
It’s not the earth the meek inherit, it’s the dirt
Honesty is fatal, it should be taboo
Diligence, a fate I would hate
If charity means giving, I give it to you
And fidelity is only for your mate
It’s a humorous song but teaches something interesting in a backward sort of way. And it got me thinking about all the ladies who have been asking me what it truly means to be a woman of character according to the Fascinating Womanhood philosophy. Developing good character is one of the most important things a woman, or any person, can do to live a happy and fulfilling life while blessing others around us. But how does one know where to start?
We live in a world full of confusion and varied belief systems. To some, being a “good person” simply means you don’t kill anyone, don’t steal, and love your family. To others, there might be endless lists of requirements that can never be fully accomplished in one lifetime. How do you define good character? How does anyone define it and be sure they’ve covered everything?
You don’t have to be religious or even believe in a higher power to appreciate loyal friends, patient teachers, or honest coworkers. With or without belief in God, everyone knows good character is desirable in a life partner, a child, a parent or a friend. But it seems like religions tend to be the easiest places to find lists of virtues and admirable human qualities. Growing up Christian, I’m familiar with concepts such as the “Golden Rule” and the Ten Commandments, being kind to others, “turning the other cheek” and being honest in my dealings with others (to name only a few). But I knew there were various moral codes that people of other faiths live by as well, and I wanted to see how closely they resembled my own beliefs. I checked out the lists of human virtues for Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and the Hindu faith. Along with Christianity, they (not surprisingly) value, among other things:
o Honesty. Being a person who speaks the truth and keeps their promises. If you’ve ever been burglarized or lied to, you know the horrible feeling that follows. Don’t be the reason another person has to feel that.
o Generosity. The idea of sharing what you have with others, especially those in need, is one of the hallmarks of good character.
o Compassion for those who suffer. This one goes hand in hand with generosity. Look at the scariest dictators and terrorists in history, and you’ll see that every single one of them lacked this important trait. Then look at the greatest and most loved people in history, and you’ll see that every one of them had compassion.
o Patience. You love this one, don’t you? It’s fun to wait and wait for things you desperately want, right? But having this virtue will save you from a lot of heartache and stress. It really will.
o Loyalty (referred to as Fidelity in the song above). Because this is what we wish and hope for from others, we should do our best to emulate it ourselves. Loyalty brings a feeling of emotional and physical safety that can’t be compared to anything else. Everyone wants the security of knowing someone has their back.
o Mercy, which goes along with compassion but has the added aspect of someone having done something wrong and you being able to forgive. If you’ve ever hurt another person and felt terrible about it, you’ll know how amazing it is to receive mercy. And if you’ve been the person forgiving, you’ll know what a relief it can be.
o Kindness. Think of the Grinch’s heart after it grew three sizes. Then think of a world where everyone has a big heart like that and keeps the happiness of others first in their minds. Don’t you want to live in a world like that? I sure do. Kindness starts with you. Go spread it.
There were some other great aspects to each religion, such as the Islamic focus of being kind to animals and controlling your anger, the Judaic focus on having a peace-loving disposition, the Hindu desire for a state of “contentment” as well as self-control, and the Buddhist ideals regarding equanimity (calmness and composure) and—I love this one—“sympathetic joy”, which I see as actively feeling happy along with someone else who is happy, or sharing their joy. This isn’t to say all of the world’s religious philosophies don’t also contain these ideas, but I enjoyed seeing the way certain traits were prioritized.
But wait, there’s more! My research didn’t stop at the major world religions. What about the great philosophers? Arisotle the Greek, it turns out, had his own list of 12 Virtues. Most of them are in line with those of the religions above, but I found these next few slightly different in their presentation:
o Moderation, and the idea of not being too extreme. Our world could use more of this for sure. Moderation dials back a lot of drama.
o Courage, also referred to as Fortitude. Being strong and determined even when you’re scared is an amazing accomplishment for anyone.
o Friendliness, or in Arisotle’s view (said in a modern way), a good “social IQ”. In simple terms, knowing how to talk with people kindly and become closer to them.
o Wit or Charisma, which includes a Sense of Humor. Ohh, thank you Arisotle. This is a good one, and so needed. Obviously, this would refer to the healthy type of humor, not the one that hurts others.
o Modesty, which Aristotle defined as a lack of ego (at least the bad kind). Knowing you may have achieved great things but not letting that go to your head.
o Justice, and a Sense of Right and Wrong. For some, this is a tough one. Right and wrong in our modern world have become blurred. It’s up to you to develop a strong personal code that considers the welfare of the human family. Keeping your life in line with all the virtues listed above will naturally help you form good ethics to live by.
The last two character traits I want to mention didn’t come from the lists I found and mentioned above. The first came from that song I mentioned earlier. Mordred, sings:
Diligence: a fate I would hate.
Diligence, or determination, is a great quality but requires a lot of effort. I greatly admire my husband Bob for all his hard work and diligence over the 52 years we’ve been married. To me, diligence is tied to a strong work ethic, and is a great quality to have. Mordred didn’t want it because he was lazy.
Speaking of Bob, this last character quality goal I want to attribute specifically to him.
Gratefulness. Not that the major religions and Aristotle didn’t teach this, or that Mordred didn’t sing about his distaste of it, but Bob is the absolute Master of Gratitude. Every morning while we’re still in bed, he runs over lists of all the things he’s grateful for in our lives, and things that are going well. He is a generally happy person, and I believe this is a big reason why. It’s impossible to be happy without being thankful for what you have. You might have achieved everything in life that you ever dreamed about, but if you don’t feel grateful, you might as well have nothing. Appreciating what you have isn’t automatic; you need to actively pursue the mentality. Once it becomes a habit, you will naturally be a happier and better person. And keep this in mind: people who remember to show gratitude on a regular basis also become social magnets. In a desert full of pessimists and whiners, a grateful person is an oasis of positivity.
Are there other character traits or virtues that you feel have been left off these lists? If so, drop them in the comments below. What I’ve given you are some great attributes that anyone can develop over time. A Fascinating Woman is a woman of fine character, and I believe each of you capable of developing these qualities. As you live a life emulating these traits, your name will be spoken of with great admiration and respect, perhaps even reverence, for the way you affected the lives of others for good.