September 6, 2009

Reclaiming Virtue by John Bradshaw.

Reclaiming Virtue by John Bradshaw.

How we can do develop the moral intelligence to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason.

Even though it talks about personal development, I find this book is very helpful for parents (esp. for bad parents) and recommended in that regard.

Why we keep telling stories of bravery, loyalty, justice, etc for centuries? It brings us hope about the goodness and human spirit. Dr. Robert Cole calls these stories as 'magnificent moral moments. Book narrates 10 such stories (in fact true stories), but I am listing few stories here.

Ruby Bridges:

She was 6 years old when she was enrolled in the formerly all-white school in New Orleans (Year 1969). New Orleans was still a hotbed of racial hatred. People wanted to kill Ruby and her family and had no reluctance saying so over and over again. Little Ruby went up against tremendous hate, prejudice, and pressure.

For days that turned into weeks and weeks that turned into months, this child had to brave murderously heckling mobs, there in the morning, and there in the evening, hurling threats and slurs and hysterical denunciations and accusations. Federal marshals took her to school and brought her home. She attended school all by herself for a good part of a school year, owing to a total boycott by white families.

Ruby's father was fired from his job, and even her grandparents were forced to move off the land they had farmed. Ruby and her family stick with their stand and continue their journey, ignoring the after-effects.

They just put their lives on the line for what's right and they may not be the ones who talk a lot or argue a lot or worry a lot; they just do a lot!.

Ruby's story help us withstand hardship, suffering and calamity.

I think, story of Maria Montessori is another good example. In the late 19th century, women were simply not supposed to be doctors. But she persisted and in 1896 she became the first woman to graduate from University of Rome's medical school. She dedicated her life for the 'defective children' (retarded, mentally disorders..)

Montessori came to believe that every child's true nature is characterized by order, spontaneous self-discipline, and harmony with others. Every child, she observed, is innately intelligent and moral. What is essential is a right environment, one that is run by unbiased adults and setup to stimulate the child at age-appropriate levels, taking advantage of their readiness to learn.

Today, Montessori schools exits all over the world. (In US, it is one of the best($$$) place to send kids for their KG schooling).

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of US, embodied the extraordinary leadership that led to the greatest moral moments in the making of democracy in USA. His annual speech to congress in 1862, he said:

" We -even we here - hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to slave, we assure freedom to the free - honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of the earth."

He hoped, all the people would be guided by "the better angels of our nature".

Magnificent moral moments often move us to tears.

Part 1. Moral Intelligence.

" All virtues are the qualities that make up our humanity and in the virtuous man, humanity and virtue inevitably converge. It is man's virtue that makes him human" - Aristotle.

Democritus (Aristotle's teacher) repeatedly stresses the importance of 'good desires'. Character and habit are the basis for the proper direction of one's life. "For those whose character is well ordered, life too is set in order along with it".

What is the difference between speculative and practical knowledge?

Speculative wisdom (aka Sophia) that allows us to be expert in understanding the nature of justice. Practical wisdom (aka prudence or moral intelligence) is the virtue that enables us to be just.

[When Erik Erikson was writing his book on "Gandhi's truth", he realized Gandhi was very hard on his family. He felt compelled to contrast this behavior with Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence and tolerance . Gandhi's great doctrine was harder to practice at home]

Aristotle summed up the distinction: "In regard to virtue, not to know what it is, but to know how to acquire it, that is what is most precious. For we do not want to know what justice is, but to be just".

Prudence enables us:
To be brave rather than cowardly or ruthless
To be just than dishonest or legalistic
To be self-controlled than impulsive or out-of-control
To take compassionate action in the face of suffering

Tomkin's theory (early 1960s) traces how our basic biological responses are converted into our most complex emotions. He further divided the 'effect system' into three parts - Affects, feelings and emotions.

An 'effect' lasts but a few seconds, a 'feeling' only long enough for us to make the flash of recognition and an 'emotion' as long as we keep finding memories that continue to trigger that effect".

In 1839, Dr. Burgess established for the first time that in addition to light-skinned Europeans, dark-skinned races also blush; in other words, blush is universal human trait.

In Charles Darwin's study of shame(in 1872), he answered to the question (What is human), "blushing is the most peculiar and the most human of all expressions".

Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov reiterated the same,"the feeling of shame... is the fact which absolutely distinguishes man from all lower nature..."

Natural shame is the root of moral intelligence.

Dr. Ridley wrote" Communism failed, because it failed to change human nature". Human nature works because of self-interest and reciprocity - one good deed does produce another.

In "The Descent of Man", Darwin wrote: "A tribe from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes and this would be natural selection".

Steven Pinket's NY article 'The Moral Instinct', he calls the following are the primary colors of our moral sense.

1. Not harming others
2. Being fair
3. Being loyal to a group
4. respect legitimate authority
5. Exalting what is pure, clean, and holy.

Schwartz has done pioneering work on OCD(obsessive compulsive disorder). OCD is a neuro disease marked by distressing , intrusive, unwanted thoughts(obsession part) that trigger intense urges to perform ritualistic behavior(compulsion part).

OCD patient can focus on almost anything, but they are frequently about cleanness, about safety, or about human harming someone else.

For many years, the recommended treatment drawn from behaviorism. Schwartz found this approach inhuman and inappropriate. He believed patients could learn a practical, self-directed approach that would teach them to use healthy part of their brain. He developed four step instructions

1. Relabel their obsessive thoughts as symptoms of a disease and false signal
2. Re attribute these thoughts by learning to think and say, "this thought reflects a malfunction of my brain , not a real need to wash my hands again"
3. Refocus on a constructive behavior such as " I'll go out to my garden and work or I will read the book I've been wanting to read"
4. Revalue the OCD obsessive thought and compulsive behavior, realizing they have no intrinsic value of inherent power.

10 major sources from which moral intelligence develops:

1. Grand will
2. Religion, the authority of a higher power
3. Natural conscience
4. Environment
5. Moral Imagination
6. Moral Models
7. Emotional Intelligence
8. Experience
9. Character
10. Evil.

What makes prudence work:

In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas presents what he called the 'integral parts' of prudence.

1. The humility that moves a person to seek advice and predisposes her to new learning

2. The insight that comes from an informed conscience(he called this intellextus)

3. A rigorous, honest long-term memory that allows us to use our past experience correctly in the present situation.

4. The intuitive ability to find the exact mean or balance between extremes

5. Deftness, sagacity, or expertise in practical reasoning

6. Foresight, the ability to evaluate the future consequences of one's choice

7. Circumspection, the ability to consider all the facts surrounding the choices may have a hidden potential for eveil and the willingness to probe these possible consequences.

Thanks to researches such as Tomkins, Damasiom Siegl and LeDoux, we have a better understanding of how emotions are essential to judgment and choice, indeed, how affect is a form of thinking.

(now, everyone proclaims importance of 'emotional IQ)

1. Contained emotion
2. Healthy shame as modesty
3. Ego strength as willpower.

Part 2 - Developing Your moral Intelligence

Raised to its extremes, all virtues become vices. - Judith M. Bardwick.

(Author lists steps to follow, but he also warns that may need therapist help and I am skipping those portions).

Caring for yourself and caring for others:

Adulthood is the time for full flowering of a virtuous life. Either we develop a meaningful livelihood or we succumb to laziness.

The grave danger that non-completion of the crisis entails is one fo the following.

1. Laziness, avoidance of work
2. Staying at the first job for one's whole life because of fear of taking a new risk
3. Moving from one job to another because of grandiose and unrealistic fantasy of striking it rick or because person believes they are above any job they take
4. Work and money addiction

When we marry, early childhood wounds and damaged developmental dependency needs emerge in issues such as

1. Boundary problems
2. The inability to resolve conflicts
3. The non-containment of emotions (esp. anger)
4. Communication problems
5. If we have children, lack of parenting skills
6. Sexual problems.


Love has universally been thought of as the highest virtue, but it is difficult to define as same reason that words cannot describe the flavor of an orange. The most influential ancient work on love is Plato's 'Symposium'. In this, it talks about definition according to Socrates and Aristotle.

Socrates tells, that all he knows about love he owes to a woman and Dicotima taught Socrates that love is always about desire and lacking. Erotic love is not completeness, but incompleteness. It i snot fulfillment, but all consuming want. Eros(Love) never rests; it is always on the move, always yearning. The love of eros is a love of a bounteous suffering, a strange commingling of joy and anguish.

Aristotle definition is often cited -because of its romantic touch. The god Zeus, he explains , was jealous of humans original wholeness and power - so jealous that he split us in half, leaving us in a state of incompleteness and longing. We were left to wander the world looking for our other half, longing to reunite with our soul mate.

Aristotle's myth also suggests that we have only one true love , our single other half. Love is thus exclusive and permanent. Problem in love simply means that we have not found our soul mate.


Lust is a sexual attraction, and we are learning that lust is not only reason one person is attracted to another.

Studies have shown that symmetry (roundness, waist-to-hip ratio, the regularity of a handsome or beautiful face), scent, power, status and what is called, ' familiar love' play a role in attractions.

"love map" (subliminal guide to the ideal partner) is drawn from the experience of our childhood, the things we liked or found enticing and exciting about parents and other people. If we liked the way one of our parents laughed or told a joke, or the cadence of their voice, meeting someone with similar behavioral traits can stimulate our attractions program.

Thomas Moore write, " Being in love moves you to experience your soul's life, in which passion and imagination are far deeper than the world of pragmatism".

Intimate love takes many years to create, and it requires to work on many major issues, including,..

1. Good self-identity
2. Self-disclosure
3. Emotional containment
4. The ability to express one's needs clearly
5. The ability to listen
6. The ongoing disclosure of positive love messages
7. Friendship with one's partner
8. Admiring one's partner
9. Being able to support your partner's values when they differ from your own
10. Having spiritual connection
11. Nurturing each others growth and self-actualization
12. Continuing to touch and hold each other both sensually and sexually
13. Modesty and healthy shame.

Encountering morality:

In an essay "faith and doubt'. Romano Guardini says this about aging:

"Persons who once seems indispensable die. One after another disappears - parents, teachers, onetime superiors, contemporaries next. One has the feeling that a former generation has come to an end and that the following, one's own is beginning to crumble.....

Concepts t=of what is right and fitting that had appeared unshakable and part of existence have lost their validity... Reality then becomes questionable... reality engages the will in what is at the moments to be sought, done and mastered".

Part 3 - Nurturing the Moral Intelligence of Those in Our Care

"New opinions are always suspected and usually opposed without any other reason but because they are not common" - John Locke.

Following are 8 examples of child's immature moral judgment that are normal during the preschool and school age periods.

1. Separating from self from the external world
2. The power of names and 'bad words'
3. Magical thinking
4. The failure to grasp Intention
5. Harsh Rules and Punishments
6. Being smarter than adults
7. Lying and stealing
8. Goodness of Adults

Functional family needs rules and some suggestions are

1. Problems are acknowledged and resolved.
2. All members can freely and appropriately express their perceptions, feelings, thoughts, desires and fantasies.
3. All relationship are dialogical (each one has equal value)
4. Communication is direct, congruent, and sensory-based, (concrete, specific and behavioral)
5. Family members can get most of their needs met
6. Family members can be different
7. Parents do what they say(self-disciplined and disciplinarians)
8. Wherever appropriate, family are chosen and flexible
9. All rules require accountability and consequences
10. Violation of others values leads to guilt.
11. Mistakes are forgiven and viewed as learning tools
12. Family system exists for the individual 's well-being
13. Parents are in touch with their healthy shame (they know that they make mistakes and are humble)
14. While fun and spontaneity cannot be made into a rule, they are the fruit of all these rules.

What is Character?

People of great character have three things in common.

1. Optimistic and undiluted moral energy that does not waver in the face of fear or adversity. they have the virtue of courage

2. Self-discipline energized by willpower. They have the virtue of temperance

3. Commitment to a core set of moral values that govern their style of living. These values are guarded by guilt and moved by the virtue of purpose.

Apart of our innate temperament, 3 essential factors help shape our unique moral character. they are...

1. Ego strength that form the roots of the virtues of courage, temperance and purpose and of purpose's offspring, preservance

2. Parental leadership that guides a child to develop 3 qualities
(a. healthy self-esteem - including the ego strengths mentioned above-,
b. social interest- which includes respect for parents, family members and cultural and religious traditions
c. respect for the rules and laws that come from legitimate authority. - This includes supervising and igniting their moral imagination - reading, selective TV shows, selective video games...)

3. School environment that fosters peer relationships and expands the social skills of friendship, sharing, cooperating, and playing fair, increase respect for authority figures outside the family; teaches children the skills that prepare them to take on adult responsibilities and an understanding of the wider culture of materialism and the cultural consensus or success (material success, physical beauty, and athleticism)

Self-esteems and social interest:

Social interest includes

Respect for others
Tolerance of others
Interest in others
Cooperation with others
Encouraging agreement
A true sense of worth
Willingness to share
A feeling of belonging

What children learn from TV

1. Violence isn't anything to get upset about
2. Put-downs are funny
3. Its rotten world
4. Adults are stupid
5. Life is entertainment
6. Sex is okay with just about anyone
7. Things make you happy
8. Violence is a way to get what you want.

Plato wrote eloquently about the importance of carefully educating the young.

"You know that the beginning is the most important part of any work esp. in the case of a young and tender things: for that is the time at which they character is being formed.... Shall we carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales (author's example - watch any TV /video games) which may be devised by casual persons...anything received into the mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtues though"

Few important readings suggested by the Author:

Tuesdays with Morrie - by Mitch Albom. This book is filled with Morrie's wisdom which he garnered from experience rather than book learning

The book of virtues By Bennet William. This is a treasury of great moral stories, annotated with very helpful comments.

The use of Enchantment: The meaning and importance of fairy tales by Bruno Bettelheim. This book can help you stimulate your child's moral imagination

A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues by Andre Comte-Sponville. he is one of the most important of a new wave of french philosophers and is the author of 5 highly acclaimed books on classical philosophy.

No comments: