“When virtue is lost, benevolence appears, when benevolence is lost right conduct appears, when right conduct is lost, expedience appears. Expediency is the mere shadow of right and truth; it is the beginning of disorder.”–Lao Tzu
We can reverse-engineer Lao Tzu’s verse to discover something important to rediscover for daily living. We moderns live in the shadow of expediency. There’s nothing inherently wrong with expediency. Our modern world depends upon deadlines being met and people being punctual. However, expedience is not the sole ingredient of a happy, successful life.
Societies around the globe long ago figured out codes of conduct. We call them laws, statutes, moral codes, and proceedures of governance. Although we might bite at the bridle of laws, a chaotic world is a recipe for ultimate disaster. So we continuously work out legal parameters for living within our nations.
To live within the boundaries of lawful behavior is well and good. Such an outline is the minimum expectation for individuals who wish to live peaceably in a relatively harmonious manner in the world. Right conduct is a low bar in the matter of civilized behavior. In most instances, obeying the law should enable a good, wholesome life.
This brings us to the optional or extra-credit part of life–benevolence. Here is where we are given the option to go beyond our willful ignorance of troubling aspects of life. It is a matter of experiencing a general friendship with humanity. It’s not looking away from people who are in genuine need. Benevolence is a generosity of the spirit that goes beyond traditional “feel good” emotional reactions.
Once one recaptures benevolence in life, then the tricky concept of virtue can be addressed. Keep in mind that virtue is based upon the preceding concepts of benevolence, moral guidelines, and expediency. Virtue goes beyond moralism and certainly is not sanctimonious. Virtue is generally defined as the beneficial manifestation of valor, courage, and behavior. A virtuous person is considered to be one who has incorporated excellent qualities as the default mode of her/his character.
This type of person has done so in the absence of virtue signaling, making a show of her/his generosity, humble-bragging, and sanctimonious proselytizing. Virtue might be further defined as internal strength in synergy with noble character. Virtue is oftentimes poorly imitated, and less frequently encountered in its genuine form. When we encounter a virtuous person, we instinctively sense that quality.
Like most people reading this post, I have had the good fortune to have encountered a few genuinely virtuous individuals. To know someone with this quality is to experience a reality check but not in a humiliating nor toxic manner. A virtuous person inspires without sermonizing. We only need to observe that person’s beneficial behavior and how closely it aligns with her/his words.
There is an ancient, term from Eastern Wisdom for such virtue–Metta. Traditionally, it is an offshoot of one of the “Ten Perfections of Buddhism”. Metta is usually translated as benevolence, kindness, universal friendship, and a loving nature. The shorthand term is “loving-kindness”.
A person is not required to convert to Buddhism nor declare any special vows. Metta is the act and mindset of caring for others without judging them. One need not agree or disagree with their personal opinions and attachments to view. Metta is akin to universal love that transcends religious, political, ethnic, economic, and social barriers. By mindfully, authentically cultivating Metta, one may discover true happiness and joy while being glad for another person’s happiness.
Today, being “World Metta Day”, is a good day to begin one’s personal experiments with this concept if this is something that intrigues you.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author and holistic health advocate, Amy Leigh Mercree. “Metta can only be founded in its most sympathetic and authentic form when it comes from the most humble and truest of intentions.”
Excellent development of a perfectly chosen quotation 👌