When everything is going well in our business, we are usually judged by our knowledge and our ability to do our job well. Virtues may not seem essential. We’re doing just fine. Does anything really change because we’re virtuous?
There are many ways to define virtues. The book of Galatians in the New Testament lists the fruits of the spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, truthfulness, gentleness, self-control, and love (Galatians 5:22-23). The early Christian Church not only talked about the Seven Deadly Sins of envy, pride, gluttony, lust, anger, sloth and greed, but also talked about the seven virtues—kindness, humility, temperance, chastity, patience, diligence, and charity. The Greek philosophers listed the virtues of prudence, justice, restraint, and courage. St. Paul, in the letter of I Corinthians, recorded the virtues of faith, hope, and love.
In our normal lives we can often get by without being very virtuous. We go along with life, we get along fairly well with other people, and there is a certain flow to our lives that doesn’t demand of us excessive amounts of those qualities that can bring out the best in us.
When something doesn’t go well for us – whether in business or health or relationships – we’re asked to pull out these qualities. If we want to do well, it’s not just about bringing knowledge to our work, but becoming people that others want to work with.
I’m sure all of us can think of times in our business when we had to decide whether to go after the money, or to have integrity. More than once a colleague has called me, saying that a client wanted his or her money back and was very dissatisfied. That was a time to be virtuous – yes, give them their money back. It’s more important to be sensitive and kind and honest than to have the money. In my business, I’ve had about 2500 clients and refunded money about 8 times.
Twice, the person turned around and sent the money back, saying they re-read the report and decided it was helpful after all.
We have a saying in my office, “Treat everyone as if they’re a decent human being, even when they’re not.” I’ve received hate mail (I always answer it nicely), and been the recipient of frustration, anger, disappointment, and people trying to tarnish my reputation. I’ve discovered there’s the virtue of firmness and not allowing ourselves to be disrespected, while still being respectful of others. There is another quality that is demanded of us: in order to live well, there has to be some exchange of goodness, love, and kindness from us to another person.
Our learned virtues need to be shared. The problem here is that sometimes we’re so busy trying to make it, dealing with the everyday and every-minute necessities, that it’s difficult to give. The need for being kind, loving and caring for others, in the midst of any of the usual problems that come with simply being a professional working in this world, doesn’t mean we have to carry another or even be excessively attentive to them to the detriment of what is needed for ourselves. But it does mean developing the ability to be helpful, caring, sensitive, and to have self-control, and perhaps even faith, hope and love.
Through my years in business, I have created a list of my own personal favorite virtues: courage, fortitude, endurance, patience, hope, faith, perseverance, compassion for others, care for my clients and their own trials, an ability to recognize and receive blessings, and an ability to receive love and goodness in all its forms. Work is more than just being good at what we do. It’s also about being good.