Trev left an important comment on my blog post yesterday: he said that to argue that "virtue is constructed of vice" is a "huge jump." And I agree with him. I think I need to clarify a bit what I mean here, and I've realized that the words I've been using to express this idea have been inadequate. So I'm going to clarify what I mean and delineate what I call "the morality of acceptance."
I think that "vice," specifically is the wrong word. It's not big enough. Vice is generally interpreted as a specific bad habit that leads to more suffering, and thus ought to be overcome. What I mean is that everything we view as negative literally constructs everything we view as positive. And also, everything we view as positive constructs what we view as negative.
This first began to occur to me when I read "The Great Divergence" by Kenneth Pomeranz. The book explores the question of why industrialization was sparked in Europe and not in Asia; China and India were both significantly more economically advanced than Europe prior to the nineteenth century. One of the important reasons Pomeranz discusses is slavery. Slavery enabled economic growth in such a way that encouraged industrialization (I'm not going to get into his argument as to why; you can see the book for more details.)
This was really profound to me. I thought about my entire life, which has been extremely comfortable in terms of material well-being. And I suddenly realized that none of that material ease or comfort would be possible if slavery hadn't have existed. Now this doesn't make me grateful for slavery, but it made me realize something profound--when you step out of the judging mind and look at life for what it is, you realize that every benefit comes associated with costs. And likewise, every cost brings along certain benefits.
I believe that the same principle can be applied to individual people. Every particle of suffering I've ever experienced has worked to make me more compassionate. My own inability to overcome my vice has constructed within me the virtue of empathy. My understanding of myself as essentially limited has led me to judge others much less. What I view to be my own greatest virtues have been constructed of what I know to be my greatest vices.
And so I advocate for a morality of acceptance. A morality of prescriptive injunctions, "I should...I ought...I have to...", seems to me to generate more suffering than not. On the other hand, mindful acceptance generates important changes. When we step out of the judging mind and stop thinking in terms of good and bad, we see things more clearly--we see that what bothers us most about other people is also what enables their good qualities. We see that what we hate most deeply in ourselves is what enables our best qualities.
From what I've been able to observe, this seeing changes things. Because as you accept life exactly for what it is and rejoice in it as it is, you develop equanimity. You react to all things the same. You're less bothered, less filled with hate, and more likely to be compassionate. Instead of wishing for people to be righteous, you just hope that they'll be free from suffering. Instead of getting down on yourself, you treat yourself with compassion.
And this is a great irony. Because as you begin to appreciate vice, it begins to dissipate. This is because you no longer judge it. Instead of talking and thinking about change, you become the change.
And this is the base of the morality of acceptance. instead of judging life, you accept it. This acceptance works within you the change you never could have done with judgment or prescription. To me religion is deeply symbolic of this reality. God is the great "I AM." He is the personification of existence itself. Scripture observes that as we accept God, he begins to change us through his grace. I believe that as we accept reality just as it is, we experience this phenomenon of grace. Life works inside of us to change our very nature. It changes us from beings of judgment and prescription to beings of acceptance and love.
And love itself is to accept. It is to embrace people just as they are and only have the best of wishes for them. There is no judgment or condemnation in love.
For anyone who desires to be more loving, I would ask this: how do you expect to cultivate love by the means of rejecting the reality that meets you? Acceptance is cultivated by accepting. It's counter-intuitive because there are many things we feel we should not accept. But practicing acceptance on the most difficult of issues (such as our own vice) builds the quality of acceptance, of love, within us and fundamentally changes the way we approach living.