Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What We Choose: An Adult Program on Ethics for Unitarian Universalists

Activity 2: Reflection and Conversation

Part of What We Choose

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Journals or notebooks, one for each participant
  • Variety of writing and drawing materials, such as pens, pencils, fine point color markers, and color pencils
  • Handout 1, Virtues

Preparation for Activity

  • Write on newsprint, and post:
    • Think of two or three virtuous individuals, living or not. Describe what qualities and actions they embody that lead you to think of them as virtuous.
  • Copy Handout 1, Virtues, for all participants.

Description of Activity

Introduce the activity with these or similar words:

One school of ethics, known as virtue ethics, holds that our sense of morality should be informed and guided by the virtues we hold dear. For example, if we value honesty, then honesty should be a framework that we use to guide and shape our ethical/moral choices and actions. The virtues we practice give rise to our character. In this sense virtuous living is a form of self-cultivation and development of character.

This approach to ethics, while often associated closely with Greek philosophy, has also been followed by other important spiritual and ethical leaders. Jesus of Nazareth cultivated a virtuous life and exhorted his followers to live an examined life characterized by virtue. Mahatma Gandhi made this ethical framework the centerpiece of his world view. In modern times, the Dalai Lama is an example of a spiritual leader who strives to live a life of virtue. As Unitarian Universalists we need look no further than our own seven Principles to discover a call to virtuous living and the cultivation of character.

Say that this activity explores how we understand virtue. Distribute Handout 1 and explain that it contains a list of some of the virtues participants might value in themselves and in others. Allow a couple of minutes for participants to look over the list. Call attention to the newsprint reflection prompt you have posted and invite participants to take five minutes to write or draw in journals. Have participants move into groups of three and respond to these questions:

  • Which virtues did you identify as important in the people you identified as virtuous? Does their virtuous example inform the way you make ethical decisions?
  • Which virtues do you believe are most important to cultivate?

Allow ten minutes for small group conversation, and then re-gather the large group. Ask:

  • What lenses and perspectives did you bring to the scenario in the opening conversation? What virtues were at play in your response?
  • How does personal experience impact or change our understanding of what is virtuous?