Natural Virtues, Natural Vices

By Charles Debelak 

There are natural virtues. These are beautiful, embryonic, behavioral inclinations in each child. Their practice – courage, compassion, justice, humility, or gratitude – create internal happiness and evoke respect from others. These virtues are brought to fruition through intentional effort. 

Then there are natural vices. These are offensive, embryonic behavioral inclinations also in each child. Their practice – laziness, hedonic indulgence, injustice, arrogance, or selfishness – lead to dissolution and corruption. Vice is brought to fruition with little effort – almost by default. 

Here is the problem and the challenge. If teachers and adults wish to raise good children, those with virtuous character, there needs to be intention and practical commitment. Virtue and good character won’t happen by chance. In fact, the opposite is true. If parents and teachers do not invest time and effort toward helping children cultivate virtues, vice will spontaneously emerge. You don’t have to do a thing. Without trying, we will raise unhappy children who cause us grief. 

Here are three suggestions to get you started: 

1. Aspire to be a model of good character for your children. Not a model of perfection. But a model of someone always moving forward. Striving to become a better person. Ready to admit faults and ready to begin anew. Tell them about your experiences setting goals and sacrificing to reach those goals. Tell them about your efforts toward self-control and also the times you compromised on what is best. Describe for them your acts of kindness toward others and times when you failed others. 

2. Place before your children stories of others – stories of virtue and stories of vice. Children learn good behaviors from stories of good people. These can be famous people, family members, friends, neighbors, or colleagues. Give your children a chance to create a rich, personal narrative by learning from others. 

3. With gentleness, kindness, love, and understanding, don’t listen to your children’s whining, complaining, and blaming. These behaviors are the voice of their repulsive, embryonic inclinations toward vice. Just smile and tell them another story about virtue. 

This article was written by Birchwood’s Head of School Charles Debelak to provide parents with information about sound educational principles and child development issues gleaned from history, contemporary research, and his 50+ years of educating, coaching, and counseling children, young adults, and parents.