Character Building For Better Living
Humanists have worked hard to be free from supernatural beliefs and arbitrary rules of ancient cultures. We have challenged prejudices by asserting that people can be “good without God” and that morals have their foundation in human well-being. How do virtues fit into character development for Humanists?
In Ben Franklin’s autobiography, Franklin described his secular system of developing virtues. Franklin made a list of virtues that he wanted to cultivate, defined them, and set aside time to focus on practicing each one. Franklin chose to develop virtuous habits that he thought would be beneficial to him and in his relationships with others and that would improve human well-being. Then Franklin made a chart to record his progress in developing his virtuous habits.
Humanists can appreciate several things about Franklin’s approach. Franklin worked to develop virtuous habits. Virtuous habits make appropriate action more likely and more automatic. Franklin’s virtues were not arbitrary restrictions but guidelines chosen to help human well-being. Next, Franklin’s virtues were not abstract thoughts about unlikely scenarios. Instead, Franklin focused on measurable actions that could be taken daily.
Psychologists find that each of us has character strengths that can be cultivated to make life better here and now. Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson have identified virtues honored by people around the world, and they broadly classified the virtues as wisdom, humanity, courage, temperance, justice, and some strengths of heart that are shown as people find humor, excellence, hope, beauty, purpose, meaning, and things to feel grateful for in life.
The ability to live virtuously is not bound by any single culture or religion. Virtue depends on daily, individual action and develops from our human interest in living well. According to Seligman, developing virtues in service of others has proven to be a strong source of happiness for people. When putting reason and compassion in action, Humanists not only develop wisdom but also make life better for ourselves and others.
(The preceding was a Dial-A-Humanist message by Derrick S.)