But [Injury] does not give Virtue; therefore she cannot take it away. – Seneca
What does that mean?
This quote is especially interesting in the translation. The longer excerpt (which I have included at the bottom of the post) doesn’t talk of injury having or giving virtue.
Instead it says that virtue doesn’t give or take anything. It also notes that fortune can both bestow and take away what it will. Virtue, on the other hand, neither gives nor takes. It simply is.
Virtue is free for us to take to heart, and once fortified with it, we are in our virtue, unmoved, unshaken, unbendable and unbreakable. We may still be moved or harmed by outside forces, but our virtue endures undiminished.
Virtue is ours for the taking It is a warm cloak against the chill winds of random acts. It is armor against the forces which would seek to injure our character or reputation.
Why is being virtue important?
In the prior paragraphs, I spent some time expounding on the virtues of virtue. Think about that for a moment. How many other words are both topics and the best word to describe the topic? Virtue is such a powerful word and such a powerful concept that it is a category, a topic, an ideal and a concept all in one.
Like many other aspects of our lives, our culture imprints itself on our definition of virtue. In the English language, there is an antiquated reference which says that it implies chastity in a female. While some still hold that definition, the culture, by and large, does not. What do you consider virtuous?
That said, we each have our own idea about what is or is not virtuous. As a culture, most people will share a common subset or core of these virtues. They will also disagree about a few. Now try to imagine how interesting life would be if the people agreed on almost nothing. What if some only spoke the truth, but others counted an undetected lie as virtuous?
Virtue must be commonly acknowledged in a society to provide the protection mentioned in the opening paragraphs, or from the longer version of the quote (provided at the bottom). Do you agree or disagree? Why is virtue important to you?
Where can I apply this in my life?
Personally, I would use it where-ever and when-ever I thought that I might be able to use the protection which virtue provides. Where are you vulnerable? Where can others rightly call you out for not doing what you should? If you should be doing it, why aren’t you?
Yes, sometimes we disagree with our society and their values, what they consider a virtue and what they do not. But if you are constantly being caught telling lies, small or large, you are not well protected by the armor of virtue, are you? Gird yourself and tell the truth.
People might not believe you, but you have both armor of virtue and truth on your side. And at times, that is the best you can hope for, at least short term. Eventually, the armor will win, so long as you continue to gird yourself with it, and act in a virtuous manner. They will eventually come around and understand.
But that requires us to consider where we might be a little less than virtuous ourselves. That’s not always a comfortable place to be, is it? Take a moment and consider where in your life you might want to improve a little in the direction of virtue. Where could you improve?
Take your time, and try to come up with a few areas. Now consider which one you want to work with first. What part of virtue is lacking and in what specific circumstance? Do you have trouble being honest in certain situations, perhaps when you stand to lose a lot by being truthful?
With that in mind, consider how virtue could protect you in your particular circumstance. If you don’t want to have to lie when it would hurt you, can you try not to put yourself in a position where you might have to lie? Either that, or can you take the punishment for having to tell the truth?
If you stay out late at night and have to lie about where you were, you could be virtuous by being truthful, or you could be virtuous by not being where you shouldn’t have been in the first place, right? One is a better defense, but might be a little harder to do, at least at first.
We all have a place (or two, or…) where our virtue isn’t exactly the best. There are times when we, as humans, fail ourselves. But if we can return to virtue, we can regain what was ours, our character. And if we can continue to walk in virtue, we can be inviolable, unmoved, unshaken, unbent and unbroken.
What are you willing to do in order to return to virtue? How will you start down the path that will lead you there?
Longer version of the quote:
For that which has come to the full has no room for further growth, and Fortune can snatch away only what she herself has given. But virtue she does not give; therefore she cannot take it away. Virtue is free, inviolable, unmoved, unshaken, so steeled against the blows of chance that she cannot be bent, much less broken.