Houstonian and author John Bradshaw spoke with Hair Balls about his latest book, Reclaiming Virtue: How We Can Develop the Moral Intelligence to do the Right Thing at the Right Time for the Right Reason.
Hair Balls: The title of your book is Reclaiming Virtue. What is virtue?
John Bradshaw: Virtue means a couple of things. From the Latin, virtus means manliness. In this book I'm using it ... as strength. Think of a virtue almost like a performance enhancer, added strength. The virtue of chastity would be to guard against an uncontrolled boundaries lust.
HB: And we've lost our virtue?
Bradshaw: Not all of us. Think of 9/11. We saw the incredible virtuous of people, our courage, our caring and compassion. On the other hand, there are people today who would absolutely think of Bush and Chaney as war criminals the torture at Guantanamo Bay We've also seen the terrible, terrible greed that has just devastated our financial system.
I start the book with my own struggles. I was a saintly little Catholic boy and yet by the time that I hit my teens I was drinking and doing all sorts of things. I was an alcoholic by the time I was in high school. I was going to Galveston, to the red light district and consorting with madams ... then I go into the seminary and become almost like a hermit, kneeling for hours at a time. And the point of all this is that I've been all or nothing. I've been the best best or I've been the best worst.
HB: Which some people would say is what we're like as a country.
Bradshaw: Right. We rise to the moral grandeur [of 9/11] and then we descend into this sick [greed] at Enron.
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HB: Most people would say they base their moral code, their virtues on what they read in the Bible. You studied to be a priest for many years, is that one book enough?
Bradshaw: You'll notice the book is very much against what I call totalistic systems. That is systems that claim that they have all the answers to everything. I was in a cab one day and we got to talking about stem cell research, and the woman said, "Well, it's all in the bible.' And I remember thinking, "Where is that?" I've had years of scholarly research on the bible and I never saw where stem cell research was mentioned. Saying it's all in the bible is too simplistic. People pick and choose which passages they want; they don't pick the passages that tell you how to take care of your slaves, or passages that are biases against women, for example.
HB: If there's one thing you hope people get from Reclaiming Virtue, what is it?
Bradshaw: In the Nuremberg war trials we saw that consciousness is a higher moral guard than obedience. People got up on the stand and said they were just following orders; they were being obedient to the people in charge. Blind obedience isn't enough, not to a system, not to an organization. Consciousness is what leads us to virtue.