In my pursuit of virtue, I have made a personal discovery that I wish to share with you. It is a subtle trick that the enemy plays on you once you really begin to strive to live a virtuous life and to discover what virtues you should strive for are. This trick leads to the title of the blog, the death of skill. What is this trick?
The enemy attempts to trick you into believing that LEARNING about virtue is all it takes to be virtuous. This is a lie. Virtue is practiced, daily, and can only be earned through being and doing. Tied in with this trick, is the subtle implication that good intentions are all you need. This is false. While studying and learning about virtue is very important, you should put what you learn into practice. Your pursuit of virtue should be progressing you towards the gaining of skill, in some area or another. This belief, that good intentions and learning is all you need, has led, I believe, to the death of skill.
I am defining 'skill' here in a very broad sense. Listening is a skill. Speaking is a skill. Fighting is a skill. Parenting is a skill. Fixing a car is a skill. Treating someone's illness is a skill. A skill, to my mind, is any human activity that produces a desired outcome. Listening well can give you the outcome of understanding someone. Speaking well can give you the outcome of communicating an idea or belief successfully to a person or group of persons. Successfully applying medicine to heal someone leads to the outcome of a healthy person, etc.
Why am I writing this blog? Because I firmly believe that you and I must double-down on practicing virtue to acquire true skills again. Have you noticed that many people in the world seem to lack skills of every kind? I think the death of virtue (i.e.: the culture deliberately casting aside the notion of virtue and it's intentional pursuit) has indirectly led to a culture where fewer and fewer people possess any real skills. Virtue is not simply the realm of the academics, it is the realm of you and I, the common man, to live out and pursue.
As a philosopher by training (I majored in it at University), I am just as guilty as anyone for keeping virtue in the realm of study, thought, and academia but leaving it on the bench when it comes to doing, being, testing, experimenting, and working. I believe that you and I must always remember to put virtue into action. Yes, thinking and philosophizing is important, but it must be in harmony and balance with work and action.
Why is the death of skill something you should be concerned about? Skill, true skill, is your ability to add value to human relationships and enterprise. If you literally have no skills, you will find it very difficult to get a job, or have a loving relationship, or to find anything meaningful to do.
The young people especially have been sold this trick - that good intentions are all you need. It isn't necessary to develop any true skills. To my view, this has created a tremendous number of people who cannot find their way in the world because they have so little to offer. On a potential level, they have a great deal to offer. But on an actual level (a measure of their current skill-sets) they have little to offer. I believe this leads to discontentment, and feelings of purposelessness. Both of which bode ill for the pursuit of virtue and keeping people safe from violence. What does the death of skill have to do with perpetrating violence against another human being? Let me explain:
Gavin de Becker wrote in his iconic work, the Gift of Fear, that one reason someone could resort to violence is when they perceive that they lack any other options of achieving the goal that they want. In fact, a person is much more likely to resort to use violence to achieve a goal precisely when they feel they have exhausted all other options (or that no other options exist). This is why the death of skill is so important - because if you, as the potential user of violence, have other skills of persuasion, reason, communication, influence, or talents and skills or resources to barter for what you want, you will be (in general) less likely to resort to use violence to get what you want.
Please note there are always exceptions to any rule or issue. I am not referring to certain people who commit violence for it's own sake. Some of those people do in fact have other skills but they enjoy being violent anyway. Some people have no goal with their violence other than to enjoy the act of doing it. Gaining other life skills would likely not stop such a person from being violent. But for other people, they commit violence because they see no other choice. No other way to get what they want. And for some of them, they may see the world this way because they either lack the skills to achieve their goal without violence or they perceive themselves to lack the skills necessary to give them options besides violence.
All of these things are tied together intricately - virtue, skill, violence, etc. If you allow and focus on your pursuit of virtue to be philosophical and application-based, that can lead to the acquisition of skill. Courageously apply yourself to become good at something or somethings. Love yourself and your fellow man enough to commit to this. Humbly and honestly admit where you currently stand today to realize where you need to improve. Discern how you can remedy the problem. Have faith that if you diligently apply yourself, you will get better. Take responsibility and control over your behavior and the little actions you take each day to get better.
I believe that the world and marketplace is not a zero sum game. Both have niches that need your skill or future skill. It is plenty big enough for you and everyone else. Be practical, wise and discerning in what skills you pursue and why. But I encourage you to use the virtues of a warrior to pursue a skill. It will bring you much more personal satisfaction that simply relying on your good intentions. Don't believe the trick that good intentions are all you need.
To illustrate my point: Would you rather drive across a bridge that was designed by someone with purely good intentions and no skill, or by someone who had good intentions and the skill to design a sound bridge? Skill matters - go become virtuously skillful.
Welcome to the Anatomy of a Warrior Blog!
National Speaker, author, blogger, and life-long student of warrior arts and science.