Virtue and Ability

“The virtues of men are of more importance to society than their abilities and for this reason the heart should be cultivated with more diligence than the head” Noah Webster-lexicographer

While reading a book by Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice, this quote jumped out at me. It was the lynch pin and inspiration for this speech. Virtue and Ability are both of great importance. The former is the foundation for the latter.

Scalia as with any Supreme Court justice was loaded with ability. He and fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg were polar opposites: he being a bed rock conservative and she an ultra liberal. However they had such love, respect and appreciation for each other that she wrote the forward for his book. Their mutual ability was a source of consternation when on opposite sides of written opinions. In this current age of acrimony it was their shared virtue that brought them together so warmly.

Ty Cob was a ball player of great ability in the early 1900’s who spent most of his career with the Detroit Tigers. He was a mean and often miserable son-of-a-bitch who would have spiked his own grandmother to get to first base. The players on his team did not like him, never mind those on opposing teams.

Jose Fernandez was a young star pitcher for the Dodgers. A Cuban refugee brought to the states by his loving mother who instilled virtuous qualities with him. With his exuberance that he brought to every game, he was not only loved by his own teammates but by players and fans alike throughout the league. Thinking of the two ball players, who would you rather be?

There was a shooting recently where a whole family was killed except for the fifteen year old son. Initially he claimed to survive by hiding in the basement. Further investigation proved him to actually be the shooter. Here was a case of obvious ability in committing the crime and then claiming innocence. The total picture shows someone bereft of virtue, much to society’s loss!

There is a loss when something of quality produced through ability is not built on virtue’s foundation. Many movies in the Christian genre are full of virtue and good intention without being well made. Audiences are not attracted and the message is missed. So both virtue and ability are vital parts of the equation towards having a positive affect on society.

Let me close by looking at Ebeneezer Scrooge. My favourite Christmas tradition has been watching the 1951 version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Alistair Sim. Here was a person with great ability to make money but really lacking in societal virtue. Generosity in any form was emphatically humbug. Then with intervention of spirits and other characters a transformation takes place. Forgiven for being “an old fool with no eyes to see with and no ears to hear with”, Scrooge becomes a generous provider and celebrant in a wedding of financial ability and virtuous giving.

I am by no means perfect in this way. Indeed, it is many failures and their consequences that compel me to personally improve. In case, fellow toastmasters, you consider this a testament to good works alone it is not. I cannot sustain the effort on my own but only as I imitate and give way to the One who said: “Follow me.”

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