The Virtues

The Virtues


To practice the virtues, you’ll need to ask
What a virtuous person would do in a situation
Like this one, here in the health-food restaurant,
After witnessing the young father, two tables away,
Slap his son for spilling a glass of orange juice.
Is it time to practice courage by boldly
Confronting the father for his fierce impatience?
Or should a commitment to justice prompt you
To remain unnoticed so you can follow the pair
When they leave the restaurant on the chance
Of including a license number or street address
In your sharply worded report to Social Services?
Or is the appropriate virtue here humility,
The recognition you might do more harm
By having the boy placed in a foster family,
Unless you could verify that his new parents
Would try as hard as you believe you would try
If the boy were yours? Can you muster the confidence
That if the father throws down his napkin
After you scold him, and walks out, as if to say,
Try fathering for yourself, you’ll jump at the chance,
Suddenly sure of a well of kindness within you
Deeper than any you felt this morning
When you left the hermitage of your leafy side street
And entered the world? But if you’re too upset
By what you’ve witnessed to wait for this opportunity,
And make your getaway just after the slap,
Hope may be the virtue you’ll turn to first,
The hope that the father regretted his anger
As soon as he showed it, that he’s hidden his shame
Beneath a pose of cool reserve that may succeed
In fooling those who witnessed the incident
But not the culprit, not himself.

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Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation