Cultivating Virtue, Part 2 of 3, by Stephanie Gray

Me with one of my heroes, Nick Vujicic, who I met in 2010.

Me with one of my heroes, Nick Vujicic, who I met in 2010.

     Last week in part 1 of Cultivating Virtue, I said there were five things we can do to respond to negative forces in our culture like isolation, no self-control, self-centeredness, using others, and a false identity.  Point 1 was to organize self-less activities.  Today we reflect on three more responses:

2. Create alternate heroes

     My fellow trainer Sue came up with this great idea.  As the saying goes, we become who our friends are—because friends are who we spend a lot of time with, and who or what we spend time with ends up rubbing off on us.  What goes in will come out.  So it is with heroes—whoever we spend our time watching, studying, and thinking about will manifest in our behaviors.

     If you don’t want your children to emulate foul-mouthed promiscuous celebrities, you need to fill their minds and lives with good alternatives.  That’s why I love featuring the stories of Nick Vujicic, Dick and Rick Hoyt, Zach Hunter, or Caden and Conner Long.  There are endless examples in the history books and online of people, young ones in particular, who are making, or have made, a positive contribution to the world.

    What these true heroes demonstrate is how to live life based on “Happiness Levels” 3 and 4 instead of 1 and 2.  The Washington-based ministry Healing the Culture  has taught extensively on this topic of what they call The 4 Levels of Happiness.  They say the following,

     “The way we de­fine happiness will determine how we live our lives, what we think is most important, how we treat other people, what we mean by ‘success’ and ‘quality of life,’ how we view human rights... even how we view ourselves as human beings.”

     They point out that defining happiness simply based on physical pleasure (Level 1: I’m hungry; I eat; I’m happy) or ego-gratification (Level 2: I run a race; I beat you; I’m happy), will bring about an unhealthy society.  But real heroes, as mentioned above, define happiness based on contribution and self gift (Level 3: I see you are in need; I help you; I’m happy) and faith in God’s unconditional love (Level 4: abandonment to God and experiencing the peace which flows from that).  It’s important to note that happiness levels 1 and 2 are not bad in and of themselves—it’s good to meet our physical needs and advance our talents; the point is simply that a problem arises when our ultimate end of happiness, our focus in life, or our purpose for living, stay on those levels rather than advance to higher ones.

3. Strengthen Willpower

     The third thing we can do to cultivate virtue is to strengthen willpower, and I wrote about that here

4. Nurture Connection

     Humans were made for relationship.  Whether it’s the Bible telling us that (in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone”) or whether it’s clinical psychologist and professor Dr. Sherri Turkle telling us that (as outlined in her TED Talk Connected, But Alone?), we are creatures built for connection.

     When I went on a 40-day retreat last fall, I experienced freedom by being unplugged.  Not having technology as a distraction left a void that was beautifully filled by connecting face-to-face with the people I was living with in community.  Whether it was talking face to face with others over three sit-down meals/day, or evening chats with my dorm sisters before bed, or joining other guests and members in card games or musical extravaganzas that involved harmonized singing, piano, guitar, and fiddles, we were together, in relationship; that is what we were made for, and as a result our spirits were nurtured.

    If, for the rest of your life, you had to choose between only spending time with your loved ones face-to-face or only staying in touch with them via technology, which would you choose?  Our answer explains why it is important to set up boundaries around technology—to make sure we truly stay connected.  Technology should aid our human interactions, not replace them. 

     Case in point, when I returned from my retreat and "plugged back in,” I started to handle technology differently: I found I wasted a lot of time swiping the Facebook app on my phone, so I removed the app.  Instead, I allow myself to log in only twice each day.  I am able to receive the benefits of this social networking tool (stay connected to find out about in-person events and share and receive information related to the culture wars) but keep things ordered so that technology is a slave of me, not me a slave of technology.  These limits force me to think through my usage (one log in during the day means I only have one login left!), to reflect more deeply about what is worth posting—and what isn’t, and to give primacy to my in-person relationships, not technological networks.

     Likewise, families that thrive will set up boundaries and limits around technology use.  There should be times where technology isn’t allowed (during meals, during family games nights, and in the car [some of the best parent-child conversations can happen in the car where people are in close proximity but staring in the same direction—if technology isn’t allowed to get in-between]).  If done right, far from being oppressive, such boundaries will be freeing to the human spirit and will make sure face-to-screen connection doesn’t replace or supersede what we were made for: face-to-face connection.

Wonder what the fifth point is?  Read it here!