Crafting Your Identity Part III: how does virtue impact our life plan?

At some point along your journey, you will be faced with difficulty. In these instances, the virtues which make up your character, surface and further define who you are. You cannot make it through even a year without having to exercise your virtue; it would be to your benefit to understand what you stand by and to strengthen those traits so that you might remain true to the virtues which you hold to be of principle worth. Beginning by defining what you value gives you clarity when the time comes to put them to the test so that you do not compromise them in a moment of weakness.

Thomas Jefferson's brother-in-law, before his passing, requested that Jefferson oversee the education and development of his son. Agreeing to do so, Jefferson began a dialog with his nephew, Peter Carr, through a series of letters. In one such letter written from Paris in 1785, Jefferson takes careful measures to note the significance of remaining true to virtue so that in difficult times, you might find comfort and peace in knowing you did what was right.

The defect of these virtues can never be made up by all the other acquirements of body and mind. Make these then your first object. Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give the earth itself and all it contains, rather than do an immoral act. And never suppose, that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing, however slightly so it may appear to you. Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act wereall the world looking at you, and act accordingly. Encourage all your virtuous dispositions, and exercise them whenever an opportunity arises; being assured that they will gain strength by exercise, as a limb of the body does, and that exercise will make them habitual. From the practice of the purest virtue, you may be assured you will derive the most sublime comforts in every moment of life, and in the moment of death.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1785

In crafting your identity, to define what you believe to be of moral worth and to understand its significance to the life that you desire has deeper implications than simply "knowing yourself." They act as a moral compass, so that though you may be taking a bend in the road, you are steadily aware of which direction is North and can recalculate your route. We all have a different map that takes us through a unique set of circumstances, experiences and opportunities. All the while, we must view these times within some frame of reference. Your virtues give you that baseline against which you can judge action, thought and word.

If we stop to consider the implications of virtue, we must ask ourselves where we derive our standards of right and wrong. From what authority is "goodness" defined and judged? If we have no answer for this question, we have no substantial reasoning for implementing any sort of virtue within our lives - we don't know our "why." As a Christian, I draw my morality and my virtues from Scripture. The Bible has much to say on the manner in which we live and it's of immense value to invest time in studying and understanding the lifestyle of service and worship that God has laid out for us.

What are your virtues? To help guide you as you consider this, here are Benjamin Franklin's well-known "13 Virtues." Below, I've included a printable PDF of Franklin's 13 Virtues and his personal "Virtue Tracker" that he used to assure that he practiced his virtues each day.

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

These are the building blocks that make up your compass. In the next post, we'll take a look at your map.

Jacob Jolibois