NEW YORK - A few years ago, our family-owned company rushed a coffee table book for a law enforcement agency of government that has been at the forefront of quelling putsches and combatting terrorism. I dealt directly with the officer heading this branch and nobody else.
When we finished the book in less than six weeks puffing in time for their anniversary, I went to the officer to inquire about our professional fee that covered writing, photography and design. I was happy he was happy with our work.
Sitting on his desk, he turned around to a small safe (or was it a brief case?) near him and from there got a bundle of cash from which he counted the amount due us. Then he said: “It is not virtuous of me to pay this way, but sometimes we have to do what we have to do.”
I was taken aback by the fact that we were being paid in cash, but I was more struck by the operative word he chose: virtue. What was he referring to? That he was committing a moral violation by touching what I imagined was “intelligence funds” for something as frivolous as marking an anniversary? He was making a value judgement in front of somebody he hardly knew.
In my trips to bookstores and gift shops here, I stumbled upon a new book The Quest for Character by a Massimo Pigliucci who, I learned, has published 16 books and is a professor in New York. He lives in Brooklyn where the wife and I will be staying for a few days. I might seek him out to ask for his autograph for laying down so clearly why it is virtuous to aspire for virtues - especially in our leaders.
The author says that virtue has fallen into disuse and is viewed upon as old-fashioned when virtue is what we need to guide us how to live a good life. This comes into play most critically these days when lies and information are fomented so vigorously by trolls. But we know that trolls have “middlemen” and “masterminds” who welcome the confused notion of virtue to stay in power.
In the past six years, there has been much success in imbuing the word “decency” as passé and projecting crassness such as cursing, pussy groping, dirty fingering, woman shaming, and a whole gamut as behavior whose time has come. “Putang-ina nyo” was cheered by millions who also eerily became quiet about killings and plunder and, now, the assassination of journalists.
The Quest of Character says that for us to seek virtue, we must understand what it is. And, therefore, be able to teach children about it so that they could live by and with it. I cannot ever pretend, much less claim, I am virtuous but that does not mean I cannot wish that of others. So that good humans can together achieve a good human life.