Reclaiming Virtue

Virtue is not fashionable in today’s Western world. We live in a society where glamour, novelty, indulgence, money and power seem to be given greater value than the concept of virtue. Gambling, celebrity and oafish behaviour are indulged and celebrated. And yet, we also have a yearning for virtue, as instanced by the widespread condemnation of the behaviour of UK MPs who appeared to seek financial gain that was not perceived to be due to them.

So what is going on? There does seem to be significant desire for virtue, even though it may be unfashionable in the popular media culture. Do we understand what virtue is, and how should we become virtuous? In the excellent book Reclaiming Virtue: How we can develop the moral intelligence to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason, American author, counsellor and broadcaster John Bradshaw gives us some answers.

reclaiming_virtueBradshaw identifies that the essential thing we have to do is to recover our innocence from the conditioning of childhood and re-own our true selves. This involves recognising and dealing with parts of ourselves (subpersonalities in psychosynthesis terms) through appropriate processes of grieving, acceptance, healthy shame, etc.

Only when we act as the true self, rather than as the conditioned self, can we develop the felt thought that enables true moral choice, the ability to balance between real world possibilities that cannot be prescribed by laws or moral rules – what Bradshaw describes as the intuitive balance between extremes. Clearly this requires a great degree of self awareness and attentiveness to others.

Of course this is not something that can be acquired by just reading a book; it requires ongoing practice, the process of a lifetime. But John Bradshaw gives an excellent theoretical framework and guidance on putting it into practice in the three parts of this book, essentially: what is moral intelligence, developing it and nurturing it.

This is a substantial work of almost 500 pages. There are many real examples and techniques, and references to theories such as those of Aristotle, Aquinas, Albert
Schweizer, Erik Erikson, Piaget, James Hillman, Maria Montessori, Thomas Moore and many others. The book is well written and wise. It may even help in developing your own process of virtue.

This is an edited version of a review first published in Conjunction, magazine of the Astrological Psychology Association, November 2010.

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