On Virtue

Perhaps this WinSome strategy puts too much emphasis on making a friend, rather than on political persuasion.

I could write a whole book (and perhaps I will) dealing with how to approach particular issues in ways that win converts to your ideas.

But that’s the easy part. To make a friend is the difficulty, and it’s of far more value in the long run — not just to the country or the world, but to me and you.

You see, it’s not that I want merely to make a friend: I want to be worthy of being a friend.

This is far different from wanting to be liked — or “well liked” as the pathetic Willie Loman in Arthur Miller’s “The Death of a Salesman” desired.

To be worthy of friendship means that…

  • you can be trusted,
  • you put the needs of others (at least periodically) above your own,
  • you enrich the experience of life on Earth for another person, and
  • when the going gets tough for another person, he’s got one person on speed-dial upon whom he knows that he can rely.

To be that kind of person for someone else holds inherent value, beyond any instrumental value that makes it useful.

Most of the time most of us skim along on the surface of life, and whistle past the graveyard. We chat, rather than discuss. We pat on the back, rather than hug. We shake hands, rather than hold them to comfort or encourage.

These are visual manifestations of what often remain intangible ideas and untouched emotions.

The point is not to become that lady at church who runs around hugging strangers, but rather to establish relationships of value with other people.

At my funeral, I hope no one mentions my political views. But to be honest, I’ve done a lot more opining than loving — more shooting off my mouth, than listening.

I write this, not only in hopes of spawning a WinSome movement that will impact civil dialogue in this country and beyond, but I write to goad myself to live up to my highest aspirations.

I write to become a better person — a person worthy of friendship.

It’s fine to make a friend for my ideas, but to truly change the world, I need also to make a friend for myself. That’s the only way that the ripples in the pond of life will continue and reverberate after I’m gone.

Yes, there have been men and women who lived extraordinary lives whose personalities were off-putting, and who lived largely in isolation. But when I read their biographies, I’m overwhelmed by sadness when I hear of their neglected spouses and children, and their isolation from friends, family and colleagues. Perhaps humanity needed the innovations and impact these leaders produced, but some actual, particular, humans needed something too. For all of their greatness, these “great ones” failed at the most basic human calling to love and to be loved.

I realized some years ago that I could possess the purest of principles and still be such a jerk that people found my company loathesome. Or, I could prioritize people, and have friends regardless of beliefs.

For many years our country has been almost evenly split between the political parties, if you look at actual election outcomes rather than party registration. Some see this as a major problem, but few propose workable solutions. I see this as a fact of life. Despite billions of dollars of political persuasion advertising, countless hours of cable jabber, and millions of words written to proclaim the righteousness of the cause, we’re still split, roughly, down the middle.

I don’t understand why so many people don’t agree with the way I see the world, but they don’t. I’m not saying we should give up on persuasion — quite the opposite. I’m saying we should stop treating people as if they were problems, and their beliefs aberrant. We should, instead, try to love them, respect them, and understand how they see the world. Only then can we have any hope of reaching them with a new way of thinking.

This calls for a level of virtue that I have attained only in flashes, and infrequently. WinSome is an effort to extend the brilliance of those flashes so that my life reflects more of virtue than of its opposite. 

At its foundation, each major political worldview is established on virtue. One side may view the execution of that virtue differently than the other, but each believes its ideas necessary for a virtuous life and a civil society.

Ironically, we’ve been willing to tear each other apart to prove that my virtue exceeds yours.

Each side labels the other a “villain” in pursuit of virtue. 

During a particularly difficult season in my life, I gained a precious insight: I cannot control another person’s behavior, I can only — and only with great difficulty — control my own behavior. 

The greatest challenge in persuading another is not to make him a better person, but to make me one. 

The primary reason I want to make a friend — selfishly speaking — is to show myself worthy of being a friend.

This kind of “selfishness” holds the secret to a civil society.