Thursday, April 22, 2010

Seeing Virtue from Another Angle

A columnist in Our Daily Life and Our Spiritual Life has an interesting and different from the ordinary understanding of the word "vice." In Korean the word translates as '악덕' ( evil virtue), a characteristic of certain behaviors that can appear to be virtuous to some and not to others. However, the word "virtue," in Korean as in English, is always seen positively, meaning to follow a middle course. Too much or too little could be a problem, but to be virtuous is generally understood to be a good quality to have, both for oneself and for the other. It helps us to see the significance of life and tends toward joy.

The writer describes "'evil virtue" as anything done for another that we think is good but is experienced by the other as less than good and, more often than not, as something annoying. In our own minds, we are acting charitably, virtuously, but the person on the receiving end sees it differently: not as charity but as an unwanted intrusion. This is what the writer considers "'evil virtue."

Typical examples: a person doing something that he thinks is motivated by love and the person receiving is probably thinking: "For heaven's sake, please desist." When we are trying to help others, those receiving the help may consider it irksome, preferring not to have the help. There are times when someone may be sacrificing to be of service to others, and those helped are saying to themselves: "When is he going to stop and go home?" The person offering the help may be thinking it's valuable advice, but it may be seen as just empty prattle by the other--virtuous to one, "evil virtue" to the other.

Many of those caught in the receiving end of this situation see such "help" as an imposition, and not the help it was intended to be. Things done in the extreme are often more of a problem than leaving things undone.

The writer persuasively concludes that virtue taken too far is not really a virtue--too much love, too much helping , too much sacrificing for the other, too much advice--all these can become "evil virtue." Virtue, rightly understood and made a part of our lives, frees and comforts all of us. It is well to reflect on this when we are trying to do good.

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