Defining Virtue in the Business World

This article is an excerpt taken from the mini-series Education in Virtue and is part of the education materials published by Lumen Ecclesiae Press and used by over 500 schools around the world.

Deacon Larry Olney

A prominent feature of the current culture we live in is that we are a self-focused, self-centered society. We have the iPhone, the iPad, the iMagazine; we function as though everything is about us. But really, without God’s breath, we can do nothing. This self-focused way of life is a danger to our culture. However, that danger can be combatted by all of us in the body of Christ. We can revitalize a culture by showing how to live a virtuous life—not just by talking about it, but by also acting on it—by being kind and gentle, and by exhibiting the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

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When I started out in business, I thought everything was about me. As time went on and as I bettered my sense of virtue, humility, and justice, I learned that I am simply a steward of business, and I realized that God has given me everything. This self-focused point of view, therefore, turned from “I did this” into “God has allowed me to be a steward of this business.”

Today my focus in business is very different. I now operate the business to help me do my part in expanding the kingdom of God. With the fact that God has allowed me to be a steward of business in mind, I work everyday to live virtuously and seek justice for all of the people I work with or come in contact with. At the end of the day, it is not about me or you—it is really about a bigger cause.

It can be hard to define and articulate how to live virtuously. But we know it when we see it. Living by virtue means making the decision to do good in our intellect and our thought, and importantly, to do good by others around us, whether it be with family, friends, coworkers, or strangers. Unless you have a strong understanding of what it means to live a virtuous life, when you face difficult issues in business or in life, it will be too late. In business, practicing humility and setting aside pride and ego means that you have already decided that you are going to try to be prudent in your actions; you are going to be passionate in the things you do, and you are going to be a fighter for justice. It is already fixed in our minds and our hearts, and it eventually becomes second nature to us.

Today, leading a virtuous life is critical because we are living in a culture that deems everything that is bad as good. We live in a culture that does not accept anything except what it wants and encourages selfishness; we are living in a culture that can be problematic and troublesome.

We, as the body of Christ, have to be the ones to articulate and demonstrate virtue by both the words we say and the way we live.

God says that “The gates of hell shall not prevail against [The Church],” so The Church has a role. The church has a body of teaching on social justice. One of the great secret weapons and one of the strong arrows in the quiver of the Lord is Catholic education. But that virtuous education does not just happen formally in classrooms or in schools—it is a way of life, and it is practiced. We have clear teachings about what virtues are and how to live our lives, we just have to go out, learn it, and live it.

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