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Virtues, values, principles, commandments, norms.

Sunday 20 December 2020 - Filed under Default

From a young age, we pick up values and beliefs from all around. In some cases they’re made explicit in house rules, practical guidelines for daily decisions or in the case of the ten commandments, heavy duty laws with eternal spiritual weight.

The first time I really entertained a new set of values was when joining Uber. At that time Uber had fourteen cultural values, a lot vs. other tech companies noted one colleague, which were inspired by Amazon’s. Later these values came under fire for being too strong so we switched to norms trading prescriptive power for descriptive warm-fuzziness. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin describes when he decided to live by moral perfection and laid out thirteen virtues as standards against which to track progress.

I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.

Benjamin Franklin

In the interest of habituation, Franklin suggests focusing on one virtue per week and at the end of each day, placing an x for each violation of a virtue on that day’s column. Once I decided to try it out, I made a spreadsheet.

Now that one full cycle is complete, here’s what I learned. First, it’s nice having a positive virtue to focus on each day and to share with my family. I could point to something that was wrong and say, this weeks virtue is Order so let’s try to solve that. Second, some virtues are more fun than others. Order for example was a favorite because I really enjoy when things are organized. It’s nice to be able to find the scissors when you need them, especially when there are half-a-dozen pairs floating around the house. The Cleanliness virtue was less fun and didn’t magically cause the house to become spotless but we’ll continue to monitor and strategize on that one.

One potential next step is to compare sets of virtues from different organizations and cultures to identify common threads. I bet someone’s written a book about that. For now, I’ll stick with these and try to identify how they may help live a good life long-term. All in all, it was a great experience cycling through these virtues.

Enough trifling conversation (to be avoided in the name of Silence). Back to week one’s Temperance (which is hard given customary holiday food and drink)!

2020-12-20  »  David Sterry

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