Monday, June 22, 2009

Summary of Interview with Lucy Beresford

Lucy Beresford and I spent about two hours together drinking tea and discussing virtue, asking many more questions than we answered! She is a warm and thoughtful person with a lively intellectual curiosity which provoked a great deal of honest soul searching on both sides.

Lucy is the first of my interview subjects to have looked up virtue in the dictionary. Her interpretation of the strict definition is that virtue honours other before self. It is more than just doing no harm. It is behaviour that does good - is above and beyond the call of duty. One of the problems in thinking about virtue, however, is that it is somehow so big. If Mother Teresa was virtuous how can the average person be virtuous? Lucy had difficulty thinking about herself and virtue in the same sentence. Was she virtuous? Did she ever behave virtuously? Are her "random acts of kindness" enough? We need to make virtue an accessible word and concept in order to be able to discuss it, let alone embed it into society.

Of course Lucy behaves virtuously, and does so frequently both in her day to day life and in her random acts of kindness which she freely admits she tries to do at least once a day. In her case they involve helping lost tourists find their way. These little acts of kindness make her feel good about herself and she is happy to receive the thanks from strangers in return for a few moments of her time. Being a psychotherapist, Lucy and I discussed whether people could behave virtuously if certain of their basic needs were unmet. Maybe only the lucky ones were capable of virtue? However, we then agreed that behaving virtuously did meet some basic needs - affirmation, self expression, altruism or sense of duty, to name a few. Although people may not have the vocabulary to articulate what virtue means to them or how it impacts them, there is clearly plenty of virtuous behaviour going on "out there". However, there is still a great need to embed it further as it would promote a sense of well being and foster a more harmonious society. The enabler is education. Virtue is something that should be discussed and debated. It should be demystified and raised to everyone's consciousness as something that is simple to do. To that end, we need to start the debate. We hope it starts here.

For more on the virtue project and links to other interview summaries, please see an earlier post: Behavioural Change: The Way out of this Mess? (for the virtue project)

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