Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Simply put, virtue is moral excellence. Those characteristics that one holds most dear, perhaps in an idealized form or an unattainable goal, are virtues. They are moral targets for which we aim. And they’ve been cataloged since at least the days of Plato!

Prudence, Justice, Temperance (or “restraint”) and Fortitude are the classical, or Cardinal, virtues. Various religions have added spiritual virtues to this list. Patriotic folk have had their say. Institutions and businesses develop “branding” that imprints their goals to be attained. I wonder what virtues would be listed if we polled classroom teachers across the country? I wonder if they would line up with virtues parents want for their children? Schools are the best place for pondering the idea of virtues.

If I had MY way I would make punctuality one of the Cardinal Virtues! “If you’re on time, you’re late!” was one of those family maxims that is now woven into my being. I’m one of those people who get an early start, who leave home early enough to be on time in case of the unforeseen traffic problem, and I have palpitations when I attend a meeting that begins with “Well, let’s wait a few more minutes to see if anyone else shows up.”

Unfortunately, I am surrounded by multitudes of folk who do not consider punctuality any sort of virtue at all. Some of these folk are my children. I am convinced, for example, that my eldest daughter believes that at 6:30 appointment can be reached by leaving home at that hour. Perhaps space-time will warp, and a wormhole will appear that transports her in the twinkling of an eye. I am involved in a community group that routinely gathers at least an hour (!) prior to the intended activity. During that gathering time I huddle with my like-minded friends to murmur against the establishment.

There are some that might consider my virtue to be a vice. Evelyn Waugh, the British novelist, said that punctuality is only a virtue for those who are bored. This is why, I suppose, that Plato and other deep thinkers have chosen not to include it in their listings. In any event, the discussion of virtues usually results in a lively conversation. Again, wouldn’t it be interesting to hear a listing of virtues from parents and teachers?

I’m still carrying the torch for punctuality. But more importantly, when my private list of virtues is disrupted by the inconvenience of living in a society, I am forced to confront another’s perspective or manner of living. It makes me think. It makes me question. And it always leads me to a better view. In what better place than a school can this sort of intellectual activity occur?

“Henry G. Selby, headmaster of All Saints’ Episcopal School in Morristown, is a popular speaker at seminars, conferences, civic events, and professional development meetings. He would be delighted to speak at your next meeting. Please call the school for more information.”

Source: Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN