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Is Virtue an Endangered Species?

January 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Book Club, Cardinal Virtues, Vicki Burbach

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The Four Cardinal Virtues (Week 3 of 12)

Whoever looks only at himself and therefore does not permit the truth of real things to have its way can be neither just nor brave nor temperate – but above all he cannot be just. For the foremost requirement for the realization of justice is that man turn his eyes away from himself.  – The Four Cardinal Virtues (Chapter 2, Paragraph 39)

Is Virtue an Endangered Species?

Do you get the feeling that the cardinal virtues may very well be an endangered species? After all, who under the age of 25 is even capable of “turning his eyes away from himself?” I mean, the poachers of Social Media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine and the like –  are pretty much allowed free rein on the entire population, the most vulnerable of whom are our teens (of whom I have three, hence the diatribe to follow…). Those young men and women who are supposed to be training in virtue so they can step out in integrity and honor when they face the world on their own? They are left virtually defenseless and alone, encouraged at every turn to be swept away with themselves, while no one stands guard between them and the poachers at large.

Sure, as parents we are advised to be vigilant. Always watching, monitoring, redirecting. But seriously? Doesn’t anyone find it the least bit ironic that we can get arrested for allowing our children to walk a mile to the park, but are considered overbearing and paranoid if we opt not to indulge in social media mania? Which, by the way, is tantamount to allowing our children to walk the streets of the world alone, at night, virtually unsupervised and completely unprotected?

Even if we fight against public opinion and restrict access, what kind of match are we for those ruthless hunters with all their heavy artillery? Not only are they EVERYWHERE, seeking to infuse the warped values of self-centeredness and materialism into our children’s hearts and minds – whether it’s promoting selfies, Twitter mania, daily life documentation through Instagram, or rallying 25,000 of their closest friends to make themselves available only through social media – but even when we fight with all our might to bar that door against the garbage that keeps our children from having the time to just be – to perhaps even contemplate the concept of virtue – or of God, the Author of all virtue – the devil’s hand finds a way to ensure that the back door is always open. He allows the connected world to force its way into our children's lives through “necessary means” that can't easily be thwarted.  Things like school and work schedules, assignments, papers, group projects as well as frequent communication with teachers and classmates regarding important school business.

And we stand by and watch them fire away, helpless to protect our children. What puzzles me most, is that despite the widespread influence and the unbelievable hold they have on our children, there seems to be no major public outcry. Are my husband and I alone in our view that all this access is inhibiting our child’s ability to grow in selflessness, and therefore in virtue of any kind? Have you all discovered some secret formula to protect your children that has thus far eluded our family?

Pieper clearly lays out the depth and breadth involved in the development of virtue. The interconnected threads that weave over around and through, creating layer upon layer of habits which work interdependently to strengthen the armor of virtue that is necessary for the attainment of a “good” life.

Don’t we realize it will be the same for vice? Do we really think that the obsessed use of social media is merely a phase which will fall away as our children mature? Are we so naive as to think they will likely progress from a self-focused use of social media to a purely altruistic and service-oriented use? Do we think they will walk away from narcissism and turn to a life of service without having encountered some catastrophic, life-changing event?

I think we can all agree that the answer to that question is an overwhelming NO. Yes, children do grow up. They do mature. But we can predict with virtual certainly that they will mature along the same continuum we’ve placed before them as they grow. Right now, that continuum is devoid of all things necessary for our children to flourish. For our society to survive. For Truth to reign supreme. Because whoever looks only at himself and therefore does not permit the truth of real things to have its way can be neither just nor brave nor temperate – but above all he cannot be just.

We are raising a generation of children who are sidestepping virtue. What can happen but its eventual extinction? Sure, there will be one good man – like Noah – who stands out among the crowd. By God’s grace, virtue will never completely disappear. But it is bound to become an anomaly. A grain of glitter found among miles of dull, gritty sand. Must we resign ourselves to this coup to drive virtue to the endangered species list? If the answer is NO, then what are we going to do to avoid it?  How do we bring to our children the quiet peace of Christ amidst all the noise and stimulation of social media?  How do we teach them the true meaning of JOY: Jesus – Others – Yourself – that they might become young men and women with a foundation to pursue virtue throughout their lives?  If we can't answer these questions, we are lost as a nation. And worse, our children may lose Heaven.


Reading Assignment:

Prudence: Chapters 3-4

Discussion Questions:

1. What do you do to help keep your eyes off yourself – whether individually or as a family?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

Read More:

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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  • Andy

    I think we can keep our eyes off ourselves only through conscious, deliberate effort – through continually refocusing our eyes on God and why we’re really here. I think that participation in this book club is one way of doing that. I don’t have children myself, but I am a teacher. I think that social media can be used for good as well as for evil. With kids, though, we have to explain why we do the things we do to refocus our eyes back on God. We have to help our children and each other build and develop prudence.

  • Clanci45

    When my daughter and son-in law, both with advanced college degrees decided that she would stay home and school their children, I did not say much but I thought it was a horrible mistake. How were these children REALLY going to compete educationally and more importantly how were they going to advance socially. My granddaughter is now 14 my grandson 16 they have been places and seen things historically most children will never do. Kori is involved in music, sewing, crafts, and has a H-lamb each year. Kyle has his science projects his 4-h lambs, moving to a breeding project and has competed at a semi_final level in forensics, hoping to do debate next year. They test at their grade levels and have learned what it is to have household responsibility. I realize not every family has the ability to do that and it has been a sacrifice for them. But I certainly have changed my mind about it being possible to raise children who are taught virtues and putting others first. They have time to take and visit those in need. Raise money and Walk for Life. And most importantly they know why

  • Jeanette

    Re: ” Are we so naive as to think they will likely progress from a self-focused use of social media to a purely altruistic and service-oriented use? Do we think they will walk away from narcissism and turn to a life of service without having encountered some catastrophic, life-changing event?”

    There is such narcissism on these social media sites but there are good, thoughtful messages being posted as well. I would encourage everyone to use social media to spread the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. These postings on are perfect for this. I don’t care what people think when I do so…I just hope that someone will be turned toward our Lord because of it.

    Thank you Vicki for this post because you have put in writing what many of us have been thinking. God bless!

  • Donna Ruth

    “Have you all discovered some secret formula to protect your children that has thus far eluded our family?”

    Well ,Vicki, since you homeschool six children, it sounds like you have put into place the necessary safeguards! I started homeschooling when our eldest child was 11. That was 27 years ago. We shared all the concerns you mentioned about growth in virtue, and while it was difficult in an era where there were few homeschoolers and little support, I know it was the right decision. Now our grandchildren are being homeschooled and we are blessed to be able to view their formation. Their parents permit no television other than good videos. There is a strong daily communal prayer life. And, there is a large homeschooling group which meets for various activities, including pot luck suppers. The grandkids’ friends come from that pool of families who share the same vision: maximizing the opportunity for their children to grow in virtue.

    I do admit that reading Chapter 2 was, at times, a bit frustrating. Have we become a people who are so bombed with instant information and immediate knowledge that we may become less inclined to want to dig deeper? I think we know the answer to that :^> It all came together when Pieper listed the signs of imprudence. I fully understood prudence as the “virtue of virtues” when I read what it was NOT, and this acted as a good examination of conscience! “And miles to go before I sleep …”

  • Jill Ashworth

    Amen! I recently deactivated my Facebook account, and after just a few weeks, I find the spirit of our entire household (I’m a stay at home mom of two daughters, 6 and 4) to be somehow… simplified and authentic. It’s always been Christ-centered, but without the added (and non-vital in every way – here I am, still living and breathing – proof that social media is hardly what fuels us!), daily life is more peaceful, less anxious, and above all, centered on whole truths and much less conjecture.
    I don’t disagree that there are many wonderfully positive and wholesome social media groups and pages out there – from I Love My Catholic Faith all the way down to great dinner recipes and fun crafts… but these things can be found elsewhere as well – via email subscriptions (like this one :), bookstores, and amongst our close circles of family and friends. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can attest from my own experience that hanging up the social media habit has been nothing short of glorious for us. May God bless us and keep us all in our pursuits to be a part of quelling the rampant narcissism in our society, and building the foundation of virtue our kids deserve.

  • Donna Sullivan

    I think the decision you made to homeschool in your cases illustrates and thus clarifies the whole chapter in a way that makes it much easier to understand. “The special nature of prudence is its concern with the realm of ‘ways and means’ and down-to-earth realities'” – “practical reason . . . as it applies to specific situations.”

    Your “true knowledge” was “transformed” into a prudent decision after first exercising the cognitive components of deliberation and judgment regarding the situation, and then coming to a resolute decision. You were able to see the truth, had an open mind and the foresight to consider pros and cons of a solution, and the decisiveness to take appropriate action.

    And, for sure, you were not looking at yourself, or your convenience in making this decision. God bless you for it, and also for clarifying my understanding regarding the ideas expressed by Josef Pieper. As I said before, not an easy read.

  • Sr. T

    try your best to walk the walk and to talk the talk called to by Jesus, the example of The Holy Family, the rest I say Must be put in the hands of Christ Jesus, thru Faith Hope and Love, Jesus loves us thru it; Life as we make mistakes he is there to pick us up and teach us , guide us and lead us thru to the next thing we need to know and learn.
    I myself, listen toyour words and my own, and hear that I have so much to learn as well, that I must be an example as I too learn. This is the topic of conversation with my own, so together as a family we all must find the love of Jesus to help each other in our nothingness, and constantly turn to The Lord and continue to pray for interscession and help thru The Holy Mother and Our Saviour Jesus Christ.
    Humbley seeking the truth,
    Your Sister,

  • Mary Cyril David

    Yes, there are ominous clouds above and around us…but we believe anyway..we believe that as we do our part in transmitting the faith..laboring..trudging on.. offering up to God our sufferings and hardships for the salvation of souls..we believe in His Coming into every heart,transforming it, and empowering each soul to receive Him and His Love..and standing firm against all that threaten to hinder this.We are led by the hope and certainty that He will keep our children safe despite the world and despite themselves.

  • Mary

    Yay for moms like you! It’s hard!! I considered very strict by my sons’ peers – and yet even my children think that’s silly – they recognize that I am simply parenting and the others are not. A friend recently made fun of me for not letting my boys date until they were 16, driving and earning an allowance – “you may want to lighten up on that if you ever want grand kids”!!! We had a very tight reign on all electronic entertainment – then, last year, our Catholic high school succumbed to pressure to get with the 21st century and required iPads! All work is done online – all books are EBooks. I hate it – the difficulty of knowing if your child is really working or is playing a game/on social media.

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