Take a virtue work-out this Advent…

This Advent, Eve Poole, author of Buying God will be leading us through an ‘Advent Calendar of Virtue’ – 24 simple questions to ask ourselves through the Christmas season. Each day, we’ll tweet a new question via the SCM Press twitter feed. Here’s Eve Poole to explain more. 

Advent used to be about preparing for the Christ-child. Now it’s a relentless fight against time to get the presents bought for Christmas. It’s easy to feel that consumerism has taken over Christmas, and to spend so much time and money on everyone else that you end up feeling impoverished both financially and spiritually. So as well as all that, this year why not do something for yourself. It’s not a ghastly diet, neither is it a gin advent calendar. It’s an invitation to take up a virtue work-out this December.

Virtues are really just habits of the heart, established over the years though education, experience and effort. But like all habits we take them for granted. And some we may use more than others, so they’re easier to switch on day-to-day than their less-used friends. This workout asks you to focus on one a day, to see what flexing each virtue muscle feels like. If one of them feels a bit flabby, perhaps you might try to find more opportunities to hone it, so that in the end you have ready access to a whole range of supple virtues to exercise in your everyday life.

It was Aristotle who first popularised the idea of virtue ethics. It’s now being rediscovered in the context of how to develop character. Character matters more than ever these days, because we’re wholly overwhelmed with options and information. This means we have to be really good at choosing. In order to make wise choices, we need to be grounded in a deep sense of values and purpose, so that we don’t lose our bearings. Virtue ethics contrasts with systems of morality based on rules or consequences, on the basis that it’s less about obeying laws or playing the odds, and more about durable habits and character traits. It’s about developing ethical instincts by practising virtue for virtue’s sake. It’s actually a hugely sophisticated notion, seen retrospectively through the eyes of modern neurobiology. As Aristotle himself puts it in Book 2 of his Nicomachean Ethics: ‘we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.’ And we now know that this is neuro-biologically true: if you change your behaviour, you will rewire your brain.

December is a challenging month for character. So our ‘Advent Calendar of Virtue’ asks a series of questions to invite you to practise virtue. Serendipity may synchronise them with your situation, or you may need to improvise. The suggested discipline, though, is to zoom in on one virtue a day, and put it through its paces to see what you can learn. Even if you can’t manage all 24, even asking yourself the question may help you to re-frame your day. Building up your virtue armoury will also help you to resist the wiles of consumerism except on your own terms, so that you can face Christmas with equanimity.

Follow @SCM_Press to see each day’s challenge from 1st December to 24th December. And why not tell us how its going, what difference its making, or what decisions in your day you made differently? Use the hashtag #AdventCalendarofVirtue

And if you’re curious to hear more about what light theology might shed on consumerism, why not buy a copy of Eve’s book Buying God: Consumerism and Theology

Dr Eve Poole is the Third Church Estates Commissioner, and Chairman of the Board of Governors at Gordonstoun. She has a BA from Durham, an MBA from Edinburgh, and a PhD in Theology and Capitalism from Cambridge. She is the author of “Capitalism’s Toxic Assumptions (Featherstone 2015) ” and “Leadersmithing (Bloomsbury 2017)”

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