by Janina Gomes
New Leader Publications, 2019. Pp.72. Rs 75. ISBN: 978-93-83141-32-6
Jane Porter, in her remarks on one of Sir Philip Sidney's Aphorisms, wrote: "The virtues, like the Muses, are always seen in groups. A good principle was never found solitary in any breast." (Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney with Remarks by Miss Porter, London, 1807, p. 117)
By definition, a virtue is a positive or good moral quality that, if made a part of daily living, makes a person good or virtuous. In a world increasingly individualistic and unconnected (despite electronic means of connectivity), virtues seem to be on the decline.
Janina, an accomplished journalist and author, seeks to remind us that at any time, virtues are important both for society and for the individual. They are what maintain the delicate fabric of society by enriching the lives of those who practise them. She also seeks to provide nuanced and relevant definitions for the twenty virtues she has chosen so as to broaden our understanding of these virtues.
In chapter 2, for example, she includes in the virtue of Charity, "participating in social movements" and organising "positive social action to uplift [the poor] from their condition." This is a great leap from the commonly accepted notions of Charity that include almsgiving, visiting the sick or homebound, and contributing monetarily to works of charity. In a world of proliferating NGOs and company CSR activities, social action, protests for justice and rights, and advocacy are intrinsically a part of the virtue of Charity.
Talking of Empathy in chapter 6, Janina emphasises the associated values of growth and tolerance in order to "challenge ourselves" and "handle diversity and the problems that could arise from it." We live in a complex world of sometimes harshly competing socio-political ideologies, and Empathy is crucial if we are to co-exist and develop as a society.
The book has a universal appeal. It can be read by people of all ages, for its language is simple. Making use of the Internet as a resource, Janina has put together quotations and explanations from different sources, and woven a short chapter around each virtue. No chapter exceeds three pages, making this a book easy to read in any place.
If I were to suggest a reading method, I would suggest one complete read-through first; it will not take more than a couple of hours over two days at most. After that, select those virtues that most appeal to you, and read the particular chapters more intensely. There is richness in each chapter, there is breadth in the explanations, and this reading will give the opportunity to dive in and savour the virtue, discovering how to inculcate or improve that virtue in you. Over time, you might find yourself visiting the book again and again, choosing yet some more virtues to understand and imbibe.
Christian Virtues is a book much needed today, and for people of all faiths. It will serve as a guidepost for those wanting to make more of their life than mere academics and ambition can give, and enable the reader to appreciate oneself, as well as grow in appreciation of others.