Moral and Intellectual Virtues
AT THE EDGE of the park, Lucia broke into a happy skip, rapidly putting distance between herself and her family. Her ten-year-old twins, Laura and Ellen, exchanged startled glances and hurried to join her. “Mom!” her teenage son Sam called, embarrassed, “C’mon! Act your age!”
Lucia’s husband Gary placed a calming hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Not a good idea to tell your mother to act her age,” he cautioned. “I learned that a long time ago.”
Suddenly the twins turned around and galloped back. “Mommy’s going to her philosophy bench,” Ellen announced.
“She said we should entertain ourselves,” Laura added.
“So, what do you want to do?” Gary asked. It’s Sunday, he thought. He expected this.
“Can we go to the Ocho for ice cream?” Sam asked.
Gary looked at his round-faced son’s ever-rounding middle. “Yeah, why not? We’ll see your mother when she gets home.”
On every good weather Sunday, Lucia came to the big park and sat on the bench beneath the gnarled old oak on the west side, which provided all-day shade during the warm months. This place was her private practice, where students would find her for ad hoc tutoring and where friends dropped by for free philosophical advice. Under the deep blue and almost cloudless sky, Lucia happily sat and watched couples, singles, and groups stroll by basking in the day’s warmth. She tilted her face up to enjoy the sun’s warmth, filtered through the dense canopy.
“Lucia, it is so good to see you!” A former student, Cathy, stood close, waiting for Lucia to invite her to sit.
Still in her reverie, Lucia said, “Good morning, my dear. How are you?”
“Very well, Lucia, but . . .” The girl hesitated. She looked away, hoping for a clear escape route.
“But what, Cathy?” Lucia asked gently.
Mortified, Cathy blurted, “Lucia, please help me. I don’t know that to do with my little boy!”
Caught by surprise by the passion of Cathy’s remark, Lucia removed her sunglasses and patted the seat next to her. “Come sit,” she said. Cathy settled next to her, and Lucia adjusted to give Cathy her full attention. “First, tell me how old he is.”
“Bobby is four.”
“And what is his problem?”
“Oh dear, Professor!” Cathy cried, “Bobby is disobedient, capricious,
and he’s a little liar. Nothing I do works. I try time-outs. I lecture. I don’t believe in spanking, but I’m ready to try that. Do you think that I should put him in preschool to straighten him out?”
“He’s four?” Lucia considered. “My goodness, Cathy, you have already wasted the last four years!”
Cathy’s eyes filled with tears. “Tell me what to do,” she begged.
Seeing Cathy’s expression grow dour, Lucia realized she may have been too blunt with her former student. She patted Cathy’s arm gently, consoling her. “You see, Cathy,” Lucia said softly. “An infant’s brain is a little sponge: it absorbs everything that he experiences. If we wait until he is older to correct his mistakes, we risk robbing him of moral virtues and, perhaps, even instilling in him bad vices.”
Even more aghast, Cathy exclaimed, “Do you mean that I have already robbed him of his moral virtue?”
Lucia grasped Cathy’s hand. In flight reflex, Cathy had begun to bolt. “Relax, my dear. You have asked a very good question, and I will answer you. Remember Aristotle?” Cathy nodded, wide-eyed. “Well,” Lucia continued, “consider what Aristotle, one of my favorite philosophers, said, ‘Virtue is the excellence that improves human quality’.”
Cathy frowned, uncomprehending. Lucia elaborated, “Just as glasses improve our eyesight, virtue improves our human conduct. You see, justice is a virtue, and injustice is a vice. Is this clear so far, Cathy?
“No, not really. This is a little confusing.”
“Consider this,” Lucia continued, “what if every parent took their children to kindergarten in the hope that the teacher will teach their child discipline? If a teacher has a classroom of twenty children, all of whom she must teach discipline, how can she teach ABCs and shapes and maybe a little one plus one equals two? Can you not see the teacher facing utter chaos?” Wide-eyed, Cathy nodded. “Now then, what was it you first asked me? Ah, yes: ‘Do you think that I should put him in preschool to straighten him out?’” Cathy blushed. Lucia added gently, “So you agree this is not the obligation of the teacher? Aristotle says the teacher is one who inculcates scholastic education in the minds of the little one. That is to say, a teacher should inspire intellectual virtues, and the obligation of the parent is to instill moral virtues.”
The light of insight broke through. Cathy grasped the idea.
“I have a question,” Lucia said. “I know you have observed the behavior of children varies from one family to another. Why are there those families who teach their children very well whereas others lose total control and fill their lives with disasters and misunderstandings?” She paused a brief moment, not expecting a reply.
“The questions that you ask me today,” Lucia continued, “are questions of the ages. Even Plato and Aristotle, Greek philosophers born three hundred years before Christ, asked these same questions. In fact, Aristotle, whom I think we can agree was expert in human conduct and a professor of ethics, logic, physics, and metaphysics, had already deeply analyzed different conducts: conduct that is guided by virtue and conduct that is, unfortunately, guided by vice. Let’s sit back a moment and take deep breaths and enjoy this wonderful weather.”
Teacher and student scanned the panorama of the broad park with its deep green grass and expanse bordered by big leafy oak and ash trees and the near cloudless skies and the couples holding hands and the joggers and skaters zipping by and the children playing with unrestrained joy. The two shared a moment of peace.
Resuming, the professor began, “So we learn from Aristotle about intellectual and moral virtues. As parents we have the obligation to instill in our children these two qualities. Our task is to teach the importance of the civic and social obligation of education, insisting that they always complete their homework and never are absent or late.
Parents also have the obligation and responsibility to demand and require respect and to help the child understand the value of moral duty. Their child should be obedient and responsible with no alternatives given to the child.”
“That is very hard,” Cathy said.
“Of course it is hard. Who said being a parent is easy? My dear Cathy, although the first four years have already gone by, there is still time to ensure that these moral lessons are fulfilled. Since you have been thinking of this to the point that you sought me out for advice, I know you will apply yourself and teach your son moral values and you will succeed.”
A flamboyantly dressed passing skater caught their attention briefly. They watched him glide by, his multicolored streamers billowing behind him in the breeze. They laughed aloud. Lucia asked, “So why did you believe you would find me here in the park?”
“Aren’t you always here?” Cathy asked, puzzled. “That’s what everybody says.”
A trifle embarrassed, Lucia chuckled. “Well then, Cathy, perhaps you will allow me to enjoy the beautiful day and wander in my thoughts. Say ‘hello’ to your family for me.”
Cathy brushed herself off. “Thank you for listening. And thanks for your advice. I will take it to heart.”
“You do what you can do,” Lucia mused.
“Professor, next weekend if you have the time, would you come to my house for dinner? I seem to recall you saying paella is one of your favorite dishes. I would love to prepare it for you by way of thanks.” Cathy appeared wide-eyed and hopeful.
“Ah, the mention of it makes me hungry,” Lucia smiled. “I’ll be there.”
“Will seven o’clock Friday a week from next work for you?” Lucia quickly accepted. “Well, good then,” Cathy gushed, excited in anticipation of this important visitor. “I’ll see you then. Good-bye, Professor, and thank you very much again.”
“Don’t mention it, Cathy, don’t mention it,” Lucia said, “and keep a firm hand on that boy of yours. Don’t allow him to give you too much trouble.”
“Not anymore,” Cathy replied with a lift in her voice that reflected the hope and sense of joy she had in her heart.
Watching Cathy stroll away with a refreshed swing in her step, Lucia settled back on her park bench and dug into her satchel, searching among the other books for the one to read.