In the year of our lord, thirteen fourteen, patriots of Scotland, starving and outnumbered, charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets. They fought like Scotsmen and won their freedom.
The most memorable character, in my opinion, outside of William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, was the character, Stephen. One of the great lines from Stephen was when he was describing the battle about to be fought: “The Almighty says this must be a fashionable fight. It’s drawn the finest people.”
Stephen, my hero from the aforementioned movie Braveheart, (and maybe I like it is because of my Irish heritage) added: “In order to find his equal, an Irishman is forced to talk to God… The Almighty says don’t change the subject; just answer the @#*& question. Of course, Wallace himself says, “As you’re lying on your death bed, would trade all your days, from this day till that, for just one chance, one chance at FREEDOM!!”
However, freedom without values is anarchy. So yes, individual character does in fact matter. There remains a real tension between spheres of commonality and social virtues and spheres of individuality and personal virtues. However, there are areas which deservedly lie in the public realm and those which ought to be left to individual choice.
Oliver Williams and John Houck in their book “Virtues in a Democracy” wrote: “And, while there are frequently differences in interpreting the exact meanings and implications of prevailing virtues…virtues do provide sound and shared foundations for consensus formation, community endeavors, public policies and moral standing.”
In our elections, it is important that we are wise and elect those who best demonstrate virtue and reflect our shared values. There are four cardinal virtues – justice, wisdom (prudence), courage (fortitude), and moderation (self-control, temperance). These are inherent foundational laws. If these moral values and commitments are as compelling as virtues are, they remain the foundations of moral discourse in society. They are indispensable guides to our actions. Statements which push new moral claims not absorbed into the set of shared virtues — have little or no standing, despite the age in which we now find ourselves living.
In 1788, James Madison asked the question: “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks–no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.” Madison understood the battles that were ahead for a nation.
Our society works best when we recognize the need for shared values. Shared values are much deeper than principles rooted in popular opinion. Those who live for the moment are building their house on sinking sand. Those who only live in the present are incapable of seeing things in perspective. They do not fully grasp the relationship between means and ends, principles and practice. They are often self-centered individuals believing that only they can be the judges of their conduct, choosing what is best and right for them at the expense of society. This not only hurts families and communities, it also destroys the fabric of our society. That’s why Madison added “we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”
We fought some great battles in 2017. Some of these battles were fought politically, socially and culturally. We will undoubtedly see even more battles in 2018. However, we also had some celebrations to go with our victories and some good times to go with the bad. We are eagerly preparing for the legislative session to kick off in the Tennessee General Assembly. Then, the election season gets underway. In 2018, we will have a very quick legislative session in Tennessee. In education, we have found policy enacted quickly often fails to be implemented correctly. So there are many battles still left to fight here in Tennessee. We should choose the best people to fight for us.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Professional Educators of Tennessee is a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. Follow him on Twitter at @jcbowman