The president of my university lectured incoming freshmen on the phrase “Virtus et Veritas, or in other words, Virtue and Truth.” It was an impressive lecture, erudite, of the highest quality thinking, full of references to ancient academic traditions and inviting us to take part in furthering the work.
I’m not sure I realized there was a connection between his title and an interest that was already developing in me. I recorded two years later while serving a mission for my church in Japan: “I am having an obsession trying to decide the Cardinal Attributes, those things most important. I have over 100 or there about attributes but what are the most important?” Perhaps my efforts were somewhat like trying to develop a periodic table for virtues.
I drifted in and out of this interest over the years. Over a decade later I began observing virtues in others, and started writing letters to those I had observed, or a close family member, describing my observations. Often the process began by noting some behavior which was unexpected, and wondering why someone would be able to do that. I would then observe more closely and give the virtue a name that enables the act.
More than another decade past, and in 2010 I hit upon an idea which might organize virtues in an orderly way, expressing their interrelatedness. It came at dinner with the family, and my son asking how a color wheel works. After explanations by other family members (more visually attuned than me), I realized that like the primary colors of a color wheel, in the Christian tradition, there are three primary virtues, faith, hope and charity. The idea sparked a prototype book titled the Virtue Wheel and copies of the virtue letters.
Although the book was useful, I found it was a bit too specific to those with a religious background. My own challenges around virtues were coming within a work context. I solicited feedback from others, including a woman on an international flight with a broken entertain system. She spent 4 or more hours giving me helpful insights. Her most valuable question was “Why should I care about this.” Thus I’ve added new introductory chapters, giving a better sense of my own struggles in a work setting, and the power of virtues to help me overcome them.
To help a wider, perhaps less religious audience understand the concepts, I’ve updated the names of some virtues to connect to our modern daily lives; words like meekness, faithful, charity are still used, but pared with more modern counterparts.
This work has involved my entire family, and I have had valuable feedback from many others. And certainly I am indebted to those who demonstrated virtues, and those of have taught me to value them. Similar to Plato in the ancient world, long before the development of periodic table, I wonder if a periodic table of virtues may not really be possible, and the means to measure them still to be developed. There have been times when I felt I was noting a pattern which has always existed in nature, and has never been documented before.
Instead of my university president’s title of “Virtus et Veritas,” Virtue and Truth, perhaps a motto for this study might be better rendered “Virtus est Fortitudo,” Virtue Means Strength,. We’ll begin by discussing why I believe this is true.
[Footnote: A portion of President Holland’s message can be found in Jeffery R. Holland, “Virtus et Veritas”, a BYU Devotional Address given 8 September, 1981]