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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!

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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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