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The Key To Virtue

“When one ceases from conflict, whether because he has won, because he has lost, or because he cares no more for the game, the virtue passes out of him.” — Charles Horton Cooley

There are three concepts here that represent an unusual juxtaposition: “conflict,” “the game,” and “virtue.” Robert Lynd said, “No doubt there are other important things in life besides conflict, but there are not many other things so inevitably interesting. The very saints interest us most when we think of them as engaged in a conflict with the Devil.” Conflict can certainly be interesting either as a participant or as an observer; but “the game” and its relationship to “virtue” may be even more interesting.

The game must first offer real and present, win/lose possibilities. If it doesn’t, the virtue passes out of you. More to the point, an immediate possibility of losing is the key to virtue. Here, “virtue” is doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong.

The virtuous person pursues winning while doing only what is right. “Conflict” is, then, not the tension between winning and losing. Rather, it’s the responsibility of “right” vs. the risk of “wrong.” The truly fatal risk is not losing. It’s succumbing to the temptation to sacrifice one’s virtue on the altar of success.

It’s tempting to put forth a few moral pronouncements about right and wrong; but it’s your call. The take home point is simply that, if you are a virtuous person, you know what’s right and understand what’s wrong. “The game,” for you, is doing what’s right and avoiding what’s wrong, while playing to win, every time. To do otherwise is to let the virtue pass out of you.

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