Virtue as Activism
What is the best way to change the world?
Everyone has a cause that they petition for, a set of values that they hope to instill into the society at large beyond themselves. This isn’t a terrible thing. Some of the most interesting and wise people I know are advocates and activists for their beliefs and values. In fact, those who I’ve encountered who don’t seem to have a handle on the kinds of ideas they want to be advocates for generally seem to have less sense of purpose and passion for life than those who do.
But if you are setting out to change the world, what is the best kind of activism? This is a subject of great interest to me. The strategies that we adopt to change the world are many and extremely varied. Some have chosen violence as the appropriate means toward revolution. Others choose to be activists through the way they consume. Some choose to the political process as their ultimate means toward activism.
A full treatment of the strategies toward activism in different revolutions and fields would be a voluminous work and is not something I intend to carry out here. Suffice to say, one strategy has become increasingly appealing to my own personal sensibilities as I reflect on how best to leave a legacy in the values I advocate and the general conduct of my life.
Lately I have begun to think of the virtuous, heroic, life as a form of activism in and of itself.
We admire the people we’ve encountered who display unparalleled compassion, gratitude, work ethic, purpose, peace, rationality. When we see individuals not only represent these values but embody them in constant action and life habits – we admire those people. We want to be like them. We want to learn the secrets to their prosperity and happiness. Of course we don’t always listen. Sometimes we’d rather believe the person was born talented. We’d rather think that it had something to do with the school they went to – the parents they had.
I am increasingly convinced that by partnering the most virtuous prosperous life that we can try and lead – with a clear articulate coherent set of ideas that we are advocating – this is the best and most complete way to win people to your cause.
This revolution doesn’t happen at the point of a gun. This revolution doesn’t happen because of protests in the street. This is a quieter revolution. It is a revolution of individuals challenging themselves to become the heroic embodiments of virtue that we are all capable of becoming with dedicated effort and resilience. This quiet revolution can change the world by example. It can change the world by the simple fact that people want for themselves the happiness that we ourselves can attain through living virtuously.
This assumes one other crucially important fact. Is the cause that you are advocating consistent with human virtue? Is it consistent with peace? Is it consistent with respecting human liberty? Is it consistent with compassion, gratitude, or mindfulness?
If the answer to these questions is no, then you may need to carefully scrutinize the cause you are advocating. Not only will this strategy of heroic-example as activism not work toward the benefit of your cause – it may be that your cause is itself standing in the way of your own pursuit of virtue.
And thus, your achievement of happiness.