Friday, January 14, 2011

"Values" vs. Virtue -- and what kind of man your daughter will bring home!

I've been a parent for a long time now, and I have heard many, many parents -- in real life, in print, and on television -- talk about their ultimate hopes for their children: "I just want my child to be happy." "I want my child to be successful." "I want my child to have a good education, a good job and good relationships."

I never hear: "I want my child to be virtuous."


Who talks about virtue anymore?

Well, outside of the Church, not many. (Okay, let's be honest... even most Catholics today don't talk about virtue.) In general, talk of being virtuous has been replaced by talk of having "values" -- even though virtues and values are not synonymous.

Here's how I see it:

"Values" are simply, well, what one values. We all have them. They are beliefs, ideas or priorities that are special and important to a person. Values are subjective, and they are not based on the concepts of good and evil, or right and wrong; rather, they are based on personal preference, choice and emotion. Even unrepentant killers, narcissists, and the devil himself have values.

Virtues, on the other hand, are based in objective morality. The very word, virtue, means "moral excellence" and is defined as the habit of doing good and avoiding evil. As St. Augustine said: "Virtue is a good habit consonant with our nature." So, while everyone has "values," not everyone is virtuous.

To illustrate the difference, let's play out the scenario of a daughter (my daughter??!!) bringing home a man of "values" vs. a man of virtue.

Scenario #1: The "Values" Man

Daughter [excited and giggling]: Mom, Dad, I want you to meet Fritz! He is just awesome, and he has so many values! He's spent a lot of time going through "values clarification" exercises in school, from elementary all the way through grad school, so he has learned to "choose, prize, and act upon" the following things that make him feel great:  Being popular, making money, looking good, being comfortable, and enjoying sensual pleasures*! Oh, Mom, Dad, don't you love him??!!

[Mom faints in horror, and Dad catches her as he weeps.]

Scenario #2: The Virtuous Man

Daughter [excited and giggling]: Mom, Dad, I want you to meet Athanasius! He is so awesome! He was raised to have the habit of virtue, and thus is incredibly virtuous! He is patient and humble, chaste and temperate, courageous, just and merciful. He is prudent in all he does and has incredible fortitude. He is joyful, generous, understanding, faithful, and has amazing self-control! He is also modest, peaceful, hopeful and reverent. And, he has such love! Love for God above all, me next [giggle], and for his fellow man! Mom, Dad, he is what real manhood is all about! Don't you love him??!!

[Mom faints in ecstasy, and Dad catches her as he weeps for joy.]

Moral of the story? The difference between "values" and virtues could be the difference between my daughter bringing home a narcissist or a hero!

I'm rooting for Athanasius.  ;)

So my hope (plea?) is that we Catholics would bring "virtue" and "virtuous" back into our everyday vocabulary and to the front of our minds. It shouldn't seem strange to say the words, nor should it be old-fashioned to live the life. In fact, in this confused, disconnected, disordered world of "value-neutral" values (irony!), I'm thinking that to quite a few lost and wandering souls out there, the rediscovery of virtue might be like a cool drink of water to a parched and dying man.

*all these "values" were found on "values clarification" exercises on the Internet. 



  1. Love it! To sum up: Values are subjective, virtues are objective. I will try to find it again, but while doing some homeschool research, I found a page long list of virtues, which you can use with your child while analyzing literature and determining character traits and development.

  2. You are so right. There is a change of focus from 'self' to 'Truth'. We certainly want others to be virtuous when we deal with them, seems like we recognize the value of virtues, just may fall short of actually developing them.

  3. I love your scenarios! They made me laugh.

    Great point about bringing virtues back to the forefront of our minds. I'm going to start talking to my hubby about raising our boys with virtues and asking God to strengthen them with virtue.

    Great post!

  4. I'm pretty confident that Madeleine's bubble Boy will be exactly like Athanatius!

  5. Love it! Especially the fainting and weeping. Lol. And the Fritz part- that's our dog's name. :)

  6. Absoulutely, virtue needs to be the key. My oldest was learning the seven virtues (3rd grade style) last year and it was so pleasing to hear her explain them (in 3rd grade terms) to her younger sister who was then in kindergarten. it's really amazing how when kids see/hear/learn about virtue, it makes a lot of sense to them. Our culture doesn't give enough credit, I think, to the young ones.

  7. Our world would be so much better if children were raised to be virtuous instead of just "good". I read once in a book called "Father- the Family Protector" by Jim Stenson that parents should raise their children always looking towards the future and instill in them the VIRTUES they will need to lead happy, holy lives and to prepare them for their vocation. Makes sense to me.

  8. Hmm, I have a virtuous little brother, if you're needing someone for your daughter...

    ...but on a serious note, EXCELLENT post. Too many people don't understand this difference.

  9. Great example of the difference between values and virtue!

    My daughter is only 1, but I catch myself checking out those little tolddler boys and wondering "hmm, could you be my daughter's future husband? I hope your parents are raising you right." Haha. I really need to start praying more often for my daughter's future husband (if she is in fact called to marriage).

    Thanks for a great post!

  10. Love it!!!! We have a "virtue of the month" in my school board and it's one of the themes we're supposed to cover that month in Religious Ed. The prayers of the month are based on the virtue, etc.

    Thanks for making the clarification!!!!

  11. Wonderful great advice! Thank you Leila!

    I feel it's safe to be a little personal here, but our Fritz was nick-named "Jr. MegaDeath" by my husband (imagine lots of ink and metal). There's more at my blog, Parents Who Pray and About Me pages.

    My oldest daughter wasn't raised by a "virtuous" mother (old me) until she was in her teens and by then it was too late. Her values led her to run away with Jr. MD at 17, get lost to drugs, sex, dangerous lifestyle and to have a baby a year later.

    Shortly after he was born she called to say that she couldn't take care of him, was on the street, and that he had been exposed to drugs (???. So we took him and got custody. We already had an infant, a 1, a 3, a 4 and an 11 year old, so overnight it was like having twin infants (and 5 under the age of 5). Two + years later Jr. MD took us to court to get custody, marrying a girl the day before at the JoP. My daughter signed her son over to him and we lost my grandson, who was more like my son.

    Now we don't see him or her, and our young children don't understand why their 'brother' suddenly left our home. I don't wish the pain of watching an adult child suffer because you failed to teach them virtues on anyone. We have faith that things will work out because we love her and are always going to be here...but that day can't come soon enough for me. I miss her and I miss my grandson.

    All that to say...hope it doesn't happen, but IF a Fritz (or a Jr. MD) shows up with your daughter even after you've taught her virtues, let your husband show him the door hastily and firmly, and even if your daughter hates you for chasing off her date, she'll thank you in the long run.

  12. Stacy, I have no words.... That is heartbreaking. I am so sorry that you've had to endure that kind of pain. I will pray for them all...

  13. Leila, Have you ever read the following article written by Dr. Terrence Moore--he was the speaker at the Veritas graduation in 2009( and founding headmaster of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Colorado--"Wimps and Barbarians" The Sons of Murphy Brown: ?

    His insight on the way boys are raised today is related to his experience as a man, his Christian faith, a classical understanding of virtue, and his strong grasp of history--his field of expertise and currently what he's teaching at Hillsdale College. I love the way he writes. I also like his other article which is like a companion to "Wimps and Barbarians" called "Heather's Compromise": .

  14. Cordelia, that is so great!! My oldest daughter actually graduated from Veritas in 2009, so I was there and heard him speak!

    I will read the other links today! Thank you so much!!

    Speaking of the crisis of manhood, have you read Gut Check by Tarek Saab? Excellent book, recommended to any older teen.

  15. Lisa, my daughter laughed when she read the name "Fritz" on this post! So funny that that's your dog, ha ha!

  16. Leila- great and funny post!

    Stacy- I am so, so sorry for the heartache and pain. Thank you for trusting us and sharing your story. It is good to read your word of wisdom and clarity.

    And might I add, Leila, that you have to be a princess to get a prince! :) So while we're praying for our children and their vocations/future spouses, we must keep virtue at the forefront of our minds! One of my favorite books is Shepherding a Child's Heart- which teaches we must focus on our child's HEART, not just behavior. Why be good for goodness' sake? Be good for love of Jesus!

  17. This is an outstanding blog post. As a father of three, it disturbs me to see how so many parents and society in general care so little about teaching our children to be virtuous. I guess our society finds it more acceptable to teach our kids to selfish, materialistic,and self indulgent just as long as they feel good about themselves.

    Keep up the great work on this blog and God Bless.

  18. Leila, I had not heard of "Gut Check" by Tarek Saab. I'll check it out--I like anything that sounds Swedish. ;) Thanks for the recommedation.

  19. This post made me think and realize that the virtues I value are not the values of others! Thanks for the wisdom!

  20. Oh, Stacy, how heartbreaking. I'm so sorry your grandson's father won't allownyounto maintain a relationship.

    Leila, excellent post. You've given me a lot of food for thought. I'll need to check out many of the book recommendations given here!

  21. Raises hand in guilt... I used to say to myself, I just want my children to grow up and be happy, healthy and live a long life. Since becoming more fervent in my faith it occurred to me that I'm responsible for helping them get to heaven. That's much more challenging then helping them be successful in a worldly sense.

  22. Stacy, I also want to thank you for posting something so painful and personal. I can't imagine what a nightmare that must have been. You are an inspiration for all of us mothers in hope and perseverance. Thank you.
    Leila, thanks to you as well for an excellent post! 'Love it!

  23. Oh boy, this is a good post. My husband constantly wonders where all the men are out there, and that is a frightening thought for me as we are about to become parents - boy or girl, you wonder what kind of women and men are out there for them to marry one day!
    Love the names :).

  24. AMEN!!!! Will you remind me of this post when I have teenager please??? It's gonna be a while so don't forget:) I love the part about the mother fainting...hahahah. Hugs friend

  25. Leila, excellent contrast (and equally good illustrations). This is something that I've always been "somewhat" aware of, but has been brought to bear in a much more real way with our new little Abigail. Dr. Meg Meeker hit this topic-teaching our daughters well-in her book "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters." A friend gave it to me, and I've been passing it to every new dad I know.

    When L and I gave a talk on marriage to a parish youth group several months ago, we began by asking "what is the thing you want most in life." God bless them, but not one (at least then) seemed to embrace the idea of holiness, as a journey and a destination, as the #1 thing to pursue in life. We need to recapture that--the tireless desire for virtue and excellence--before any of the other struggles can even start to make sense.

    Stacy, thank you for sharing your pain. We'll pray that your conversion will be an example that will bring your daughter back. Love does win in the end.

  26. Leilah, you do a fabulous job of illustrating your point. My husband and I don't talk about "virtues" (per se) with our kids (perhaps we should), but we always talk about doing the right thing, about treating all people with the dignity demanded by being created in the image and likeness of God. Whenever the subject comes up, I remind my 14-year-old son that just because the rest of society thinks premarital sex is ok, it's not and that he will wait for marriage. If the subject of drugs comes up, I tell my kids that later in life, their "friends" may pressure them to do drugs, but if that happens, they need to remember that none of their friends will ever love them as much as I do. If those people are telling them to do something I've told them is wrong, they're not being friends. I'm praying they grow up to be virtuous.

    Here's a book suggestion: "Core Virtues." While not a Catholic book, it is a good guide to teaching virtues like honesty and self-control and has a good list of books that illustrate the virtues.

    The Tarek Saab book has been on my Amazon wishlist for awhile. Saab, like me, is a graduate of St. Anselm College.

    Oh, and Stacy. I'm so sorry for your family.

  27. Wonderfully funny but true post! I feel like I need to be paying more attention to the virtues with my daughter who will be 3 in April. I have the opportunity to work them into her vocabulary from a young age, and I am going to take it! Thanks for bringing this thought to the forefront!

    Stacy, thank you for sharing! Your whole family will be in my prayers!

  28. I am new to the blog and really appreciate all your posts! If you ever need a topic for a blog post, maybe it could be on simple ways to teach our children how to be virtuous.
    (I am newly married so no kids yet. But I am a first grade teacher, so I could still learn from it.)

  29. What a GREAT post - timely for me, as well. My husband and I decided to start beginning 'virtues training' for our (almost 2.5) year old. :D

  30. Thanks all for the prayers and kind words. Leila is a wonderful teacher and that post should be saved and referred to for all the teen and after years! Nail on head!!! Better than any parenting book.

    I really admire all the young parents and couples who are already thinking about these things. WAY TO GO! It is really so, so, so admirable and encouraging!

  31. I love Tarek Saab! So glad his name came up!

    Stacy - wow, heartbreaking. Glad you're able to share that story.

    Leila, love this post. I'm going to bookmark it. This crosses my mind OFTEN when talking to other young mothers about how they want their children to grow up. My devout Catholic friends would always first say "I want my child to be a good Catholic." But anyone else just talks about the self-centered values you listed above. Happiness, success, etc. Unfortunately all those are relative. I'm sure there are some things my friends don't want their children to be even if it makes them happy!

  32. Very entertaining post. Your scenarios are very funny! Good Job!

  33. Thank you guys so much! I read and appreciate every comment! And Sophie, I am especially thankful for your comment, as I know we don't always agree and you don't always like my posts! So, thank you!! :)

  34. Well, Leila, I know what guy YOUR (oldest) daughter is going to be bringing home... hee hee hee :) :) :)

  35. I've been listening to some talks by Matthew Kelly, and he discussed raising our children to be virtuous .... instead of 'happy', 'successful', etc. He's an amazingly insightful speaker - I think you'd really enjoy him.

  36. I like this post. We are hosting a local, young seminarian at our parish, and he affirmed this very message today. He said he chased after everything he was "supposed to" in his late teens and early twenties, but couldn't find peace and fulfillment. It wasn't until he reordered his life towards love of God and pursuit of virtue that everything started to come together. He is happier as a 4th-year seminarian than he ever was in his lucrative career.

  37. My husband and I were talking about this last night.

    Values are a matter of the self, what you like or don't like.

    Virtues are a matter outside the self, objective and something to be acheived.

    It's the same difference as subjective morality (values) and objective morality (virtues).

    That's why I don't understand if someone claims they adhere to subjectivism/subjective morality how they have any standing to criticize anyone else. If they believe everyone should be free to form their own values, and then they ever criticize someone else's values they've taken a step towards objectivism - something they decry.

  38. I just wanted to say that I love that you used "Athanasius". :) You gotta love a man named Athanasius. ;)

  39. Here is a different twist, a different way to think about this:
    Since we all want our children to be virtuous, I think what we also really want is a child that is "holy." Since virtuous, habitual living can assist us in attaining holiness, wanting virtuous children is an obvious. And wanting them to marry a virtuous person is tantamount!

    However, sometimes, sanctification comes about a different way. While I would want all my girls to bring home virtuous men, what if they bring home a values man? What if? And especially if our daughters know in their soul that this is God's will? Sanctification comes in ways that put us in less comfortable or certainly uneasy paths, like falling in love with a values man. This is entirely possible in today's culture since there is a shortage of virtuous men. May God's will be done with my daughters, and when and if they bring home the man God intended for them, be it a values or a virtuous man, may they grow in sanctification through the cross, and may the life they live bring them both to sanctification.

  40. I heard Kimberly Hahn say one time that she prays for her family for 10 generations to come! So not only do I do that for the long haul, but I pray all the time for my children and their future spouses, wherever they are, whatever they are doing right NOW, and that they will be holy and pure, for their own sake, for my children, and for eternity.



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