As the saying goes, patience is a virtue. But if unquestioned, virtues can be a prison.
It can be helpful to pause and recognise what a virtue is before unquestioningly following it.
A virtue starts out as a value.
Values can be many things, they are as individual and unique as we are. Our personal values help guide us to a life that is rich in meaning and purpose. They tell us what kind of life we will be proud of living, and what we want to stand for.
A value becomes a virtue when it is imbued with a judgement of goodness by society.
This is an important distinction, because it can make it a little trickier to live our true life, aligned with our own values and not virtues we have unwittingly adopted from society.
The values that guide our decisions vary from moment to moment, sometimes certain values of ours will come to the fore, and in other circumstances, we will be led by a different set of values.
Values are guideposts that inform our choices, not strict rules that imprison us.
Living aligned to our values feels like sparkly freedom, lightness and excitement, with the occasional moment of terror and dread as we vulnerably go after our dreams. Aligning with a virtue may have positive feelings too, with perhaps a little righteousness thrown in for good measure, which can be an intoxicating mix.
But if your values are not aligned with the virtues that society defines, there will be some forks in your road that will be challenging to navigate. Your true self, your true values will be calling you in one direction and society’s virtues guiding you another.
So what do you do?
When I’m working clients and considering their preferred action in response to a dilemma, I often ask the question: what are you making it mean?
Taking a step back and looking at the underlying beliefs and thoughts around a value (or virtue) can help you understand why and how it is motivating your action. It can also help you determine if this is a value that you truly want to be guided by in this instance, or a virtue that is placing a judgement on the situation and acting more like a strict rule.
Navigating these cross-roads can involve deep thought work – where you and I as your coach, look at deeply held thoughts and beliefs and check if they are still serving you and helping you live the life you truly want.
But it is work that will be richly rewarded. Distinguishing values from virtues can help you break out of the belief prisons that are keeping you stuck.