Virtue is not a Scary Word

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

When someone uses the word virtue, we immediately form a mental picture of a saint or an unattainable standard, but that need not be so. Virtue is not necessarily the sole domain of religion or any moral philosophy, nor should its association with religion create a barrier to adopting virtue as a “Be.”

The Critiques of the Idea of Virtue

It’s helpful to examine the common critiques up front. Critics of the idea of virtue as a realistic, achievable standard of behavior dismiss the idea that humans have the innate ability to live virtuous lives. It would be naive to ignore the terrible offenses people commit against others and society, but the opposite is also true. There are just as many stories of valor, love, self-sacrifice, and generosity in the world as well. People are capable of great evil, but we are also capable of great virtue.

We know, from observing the world, that both are true, that evil and good coexist within humanity, so it makes sense that an admirable goal is to cultivate the good and weed out the bad in ourselves. When we nurture the goodness in ourselves and others, we call that goodness “virtue.”

“Ethics” and “Core Values” are Virtues Codified

Every culture, community, and religion has its own idea of what virtue means. For example, in the U.S. Air Force, we define virtue as adhering to the Core Values: “Integrity first,” Service before self,” and “Excellence in all we do.”  As an institution, the Air Force considers an Airman virtuous if he lives by the Core Values,

We can trace our modern concept of virtue back to the classical Greek civilization of in the 4th Century BC and the famous philosopher, Aristotle. He defined the classical ideal and what has become known as the “Cardinal Virtues.”  The word cardinal refers to the “principle” or “main” virtues, much like north, south, east, and west are the cardinal directions on a compass.

Aristotle’s idea was that the highest calling was living a virtuous life, which perfected a person in the eyes of the gods as well as in the eyes of his fellow man. These ideas became so central to Western culture, that years later, when Christianity became dominant in political and philosophical thought in the Roman Empire, other philosophers like Augustine and Aquinas “baptized” the ideal of Classical Virtue and then added their own Christian-specific virtues called the “Theological Virtues.”

Universal Human Goods

The Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato both agreed that virtue begins with the understanding of what the medieval philosopher Aquinas later called “first principles.”  First principles are the “universal human goods” that all humans aspire to and recognize as admirable. Aristotle’s list included Life, Beauty, Love, Truth, Creativity, Religion, And Sociability. The virtuous person protects and seeks to increase these universal human goods, while the imprudent person squanders them. While we probably rarely use the words virtuous and vice in everyday speech, we have all seen people whose choices we questioned. Social media and the paparazzi thrive on highlighting behavior that makes us wonder, “What were they thinking?” 

When someone gets in trouble or makes choices that harm their reputation, or others, those choices are usually a direct result of someone not exercising a virtue. In fact, we don’t need a specific belief system or code of ethics to understand what’s right or wrong–although they certainly help as guides–those Universal Human Goods are written into our hearts.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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Pennies on Sully

Dad’s “Sage” Advice for Freshman Success at College – 2015 Edition

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Practical Leadership

Pennies on Sully
Hey Freshman: Granger Smith says “Put a Penny On Sully”


It’s time to welcome the Class of 2019 to their collegiate careers! Below is my annual “advice” to new freshmen–updated of course!

There’s a whole new crop of new freshmen out there, so I thought I’d share the advice I gave to my son when he departed for college four years ago. I’ve adapted it a bit for a wider audience, but it’s basically the same. I’d be very interested in readers’ advice as well!

1. Stay Healthy: Mentally, Physically, Spiritually

  • You’ll get a mental workout at college, and remember that’s what you’re there to do. However, don’t forget to look for ways to learn new things outside the classroom–and make an effort to keep yourself mentally healthy by taking advantage of lecture series, plays, sporting events, etc.
  • Good physical health is crucial to good mental health. Work hard, but make time to exercise, get enough sleep, and eat properly. There won’t be enough gas in the tank for those occasional all-nighters if you don’t take care of the engine.
  • Stick with whatever spiritual practices you’ve grown up with, whether that’s regular worship at your local church/synagogue/mosque or just spending quiet time watching the sun come up. Many college students believe they’re on their own and they don’t have to tend to their spirit, but spiritual health is just as important as your mental and physical health. You’ll do a lot of growing in the next four years, and there will be considerable stress from school, relationships, and life in general so don’t add unnecessary stress to your life by removing the spiritual center you depend on (whether you know it or not!). Do work at an adult understanding of your faith and spirituality, but don’t abandon it. Bottom line here: if you’re using your religious practice as a means of rebellion against your parents or someone else–pick a different rebellion. You’ll only be harming yourself.

2. Make New Friends, Eat Your Lunch, and Drink Your Water.

  • This is the advice my son gave me every day as I left for work when we lived in San Antonio, and since it makes the same good sense for you that it for me did in 1994 I’m loaning it to you.
  • Don’t be a cave dweller.  It’s easy to remain locked away in your dorm room for four years making excellent grades and few friends…resist the urge. “To everything there is a season…” 
  • Make friends who aren’t like you. You don’t have to agree on everything or be the same in order to develop a friendship. Obviously, you should be true to your values and beliefs–never compromise those–but you can and should be friends with people who aren’t like you.
  • Try at least three new things your freshman year: join a club, go to a rally, see a play, go to a football game, take a road trip, enter a contest…don’t let the experience of college life be so big that it overwhelms you.  Challenge the experience to make you a better person.

3. Be Careful What You Choose, You May Get It

  • This warning isn’t a caution against taking chances; I encourage you to take (reasonable) risks.  What it does mean is starting with the end in mind, even visualizing it as a fait d’accompli, is an excellent way to discern if you really want something, or you’re merely dreaming; then make a plan to get there.

4. “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” (h/t RAF)

  • Success usually goes to the one who is prepared and has asked the question, “what can go wrong here?” Plan for and expect success, but don’t be crushed by failure.  The only real failure is quitting; never quit.

5. Guard Your Chastity

  • I know this sounds very old fashioned, but remember you’re there to get an education, not find a mate or a date. You may feel like you’re the last, or only, virgin on campus. Don’t believe the lie!  Do yourself and your future spouse a favor by remaining chaste.  If you do, you’ll then be free to give your spouse what you’ve saved only for her or him. Morals aside, respect the power of sex and leave it for later…there will be plenty of time.
  • If for some reason you are unsuccessful, or if you haven’t remained chaste before, see #1 above.

Learn from other people’s mistakes, you don’t have time to make them all yourself. – G. K. Chesterton

6. Sit In The Front Three Rows, Ask Questions, And See The Prof At Least Once In His Office

7. Have A Regular Schedule

  • The monastic religious orders and the military share a penchant for routine because it’s effective at training your mind to remember things, and to help develop habits of “life-balance” for your mind, spirit, and body.
  • You don’t have to be rigid about it, things come up, but having “reveille” and “taps”, “morning and evening prayer”, “workout time”, meals, and “study time” at regular intervals helps you stay balanced, fresh, and focused.  Also, practically speaking it’s also much easier to deviate from a plan than to attempt to form a new one from scratch at short notice.

8. Ask For Help When You Need It

  • Everybody needs help from time to time. Don’t be bashful about asking for help from Mom & Dad, from your priest, from friends, etc. Filter advice according to the source.
  • What you got you here won’t necessarily make you successful here. College isn’t the 13th grade…there are many more demands on you, and the University and others expect you to fully transition to independent adulthood while you’re here. At 18, you’re no longer a “kid”: you can vote, bear arms for your country, and legally make decisions on your own. You don’t have to do it all at once, so pace yourself.

9. Communicate

  • Keep your family in the loop with your victories and your struggles. As your parents and your family, we are excited to see you thriving on your own but we never stop being your mom and dad. We don’t want to run your life, but we want to continue to be a part of it. Call, Skype, email, text, tweet–whatever–but know you remain in our heart forever.

Dad’s “Sage” Advice for Freshman Success at College

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Pennies on Sully
Hey Freshman: Granger Smith says “Put a Penny On Sully”

 

 

 

“Learn from the mistakes of others – you don’t have time enough to make them all yourself.”
-G.K. Chesterton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a whole new crop of new freshmen out there, so I thought I’d share the advice I gave to my son when he departed for college four years ago. I’ve adapted it a bit for a wider audience, but it’s basically the same sage advice I told my son. I’d be very interested in readers’ advice as well!

1. Stay Spiritually Healthy

– Stick with whatever spiritual practices you’ve grown up with, whether that’s regular worship at your local church/synagogue/mosque or just spending quiet time watching the sun come up. Many college students believe they’re on their own and they don’t have to attend to their spirit, but spiritual health is just as important as your mental and physical health.

– You’ll do a lot of growing in the next four years, and there will be considerable stress from school, relationships, and life in general so don’t add unnecessary stress to your life by removing the spiritual center you depend on (whether you know it or not!).  By all means grow and expand your mind, but your freshman year is not the time for spiritual experimentation.

2. Make New Friends, Each Your Lunch, and Drink Your Water.

– This is the advice my son gave me every day as I left for work when we lived in San Antonio, and since it makes the same good sense for you that it for me did in 1994 I’m loaning it to you.

– Don’t be a cave dweller.  It’s easy to remain locked away in your dorm room for four years making excellent grades and few friends…resist the urge.   “To everything there is a season…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

– Try at least three new things your freshman year: join a club, go to a rally, see a play, go to a football game, take a road trip, enter a contest…don’t let the experience of college life be so big that it overwhelms you.  Challenge the experience to make you a better person.

3. Be Careful What You Choose, You May Get It

– This warning isn’t a caution against taking chances; I encourage you to take (reasonable) risks.  What it does mean is starting with the end in mind, even visualizing it as a fait d’accompli, is an excellent way to discern if you really want something, or you’re merely dreaming; then make a plan to get there.

4. “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” (h/t RAF)

– Success usually goes to the one who is prepared and has asked the question, “what can go wrong here?” Plan for and expect success, but don’t be crushed by failure.  The only real failure is quitting; never quit.

5. Guard Your Chastity

– Some time at college you’ll be tempted mightily to surrender your chastity. You may feel like you’re the last, or only, virgin on campus.  Don’t believe the lie!  Do yourself and your future spouse a favor by remaining chaste.  You’ll then be free to give your spouse what you’ve saved only for her or him. Morals aside, respect the power of sex and leave it for later…there will be plenty of time.

– If for some reason you are unsuccessful, remember you’ve only lost a battle not the war, then see #1 above.

6. Sit In The Front Three Rows, Ask Questions, And See The Prof At Least Once In His Office

– This is probably the best advice I received from my upperclassmen at Texas A&M.  Not only does it endear you to the prof and put you in prime “question” space, it enables you to see without dodging tall people’s heads and hair bows.

– More than once a prof gave me the benefit of the doubt because he knew me personally.

7. Have A Regular Schedule

– The monastic religious orders and the military share a penchant for routine because it’s effective at training your mind to remember things, and to help develop habits of “life-balance” for your mind, spirit, and body.

– You don’t have to be rigid about it, things come up, but having “reveille” and “taps”, “morning and evening prayer”, “workout time”, meals, and “study time” at regular intervals helps you stay balanced, fresh, and focused.  Also, practically speaking it’s also much easier to deviate from a plan than to attempt to form a new one from scratch at short notice.