Mark and I met in the frenetic cafe of the IOD on Pall Mall where we had cups of tea and people watched whilst talking about virtue. He is a quiet, principled man of strong beliefs and feelings, whose ideas were shaped by his family upbringing. The son of a peripatetic Methodist minister, Mark is now a confirmed agnostic, and ex trade unionist who, although English, started his career deep inside the steel mills of middle America.
Mark believes virtue manifests itself in two ways which he calls the internal and the external. A state of internal virtue is achieved when one has a clear set of beliefs, is prepared to stand up for them, and uses them actively to benefit oneself and others. "There is virtue," he says, "in participating...in a dynamic iteration of my life's meaning." The internal value system that drives his behaviour stems from his belief that we should respect others and we should work to see justice done. External virtue is represented by societal norms and beliefs about what is acceptable behaviour. Clearly, where the internal and the external clash there is conflict of the kind that Mark has observed and been engaged in during his entire career. In conflict, he believes we must seek to understand differences and attempt to reconcile - a view he espouses both in his personal and his professional life.
Mark feels positive when he sees virtue - it tips him into the "people are good" side of the balance because virtue generates positive, reciprocal relationships, something that is particularly important in times of crisis. Collaboration is only possible when people trust one another and trust is built, in part, by virtuous behaviour. Unfortunately, he does not believe we, as a society, think about virtue consciously, nor that virtue is a concept that is current. This is because it is not discussed widely due to that fact that it has traditionally been a subject for discussion in church and no forum has replaced the church for certain important discussions - such as virtue. He believes the average person is virtuous, but that they don't think about it and so don't necessarily appreciate the positive impact virtue has on them and others. That there is no obvious place for the discussion of virtue is one of the key barriers to embedding it. Other barriers include the culture of materialism which leads to destructive behaviours, and the current level of political discussion which he maintains it pretty "virtue-free".
We can enable the embedding of virtue by discussing the benefits of virtue and thus encouraging people to behave in a virtuous way. Schools become the obvious place for both discussing and encouraging virtuous behaviours (how to interact with people for a positive impact, participating in public service, etc.). Virtue, he says, requires sacrifice and requires us to be open to changing the internal in order to find the common ground that serves the greater good. As a sample of one, it is precisely this interaction with others that makes him get up in the morning and hum.
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)
Related links: http://www.erconsultants.co.uk/