Little Book of Virtues and this accompanying website are full of reasons to pursue the virtuous life. Leave it up to my hero Danielle Shroyer to come up with a list of that which would keep us from growing in the virtues:
There are eight qualities that can limit our potential…(and keep us from using skillful means to reach that potential–the author)
1). Being Confused
When we lack discernment, we lack wisdom. This one is hard, because often we can’t tell what we don’t know. That’s why we’re confused! We don’t see a situation clearly. While we may not be able to control what we can’t yet see, we can choose to live with humility and openness. Only when we are willing to admit we may not see the full picture can we possibly move toward being less confused.
2). Being Distracted
This one is relevant, right? It’s difficult to employ skillful means when we’re too busy reacting to emotional drama. Conflict can distract us from our broader purpose or intention. It can send us hurtling into the weeds of our own messy emotional stuff. If we want to use skillful means, we have to recognize when drama attempts to steal the show.
3). Being Influenced
Everyone is influenced by others; it’s part of living in an interconnected world. But sometimes influence overrides our own path to wisdom, supplanting us onto someone else’s path instead. In other words, we give away our power. Often, we experience this influence in our need for approval from others. When we focus too much on how others respond to us, we stop focusing on cultivating a life around what we really value.
4). Being Apathetic
When we view the suffering in the world with apathy or disdain, we close ourselves off from being able to live in a beneficial way. You can’t benefit others when you refuse to even see them, right? If skillful means is the act of applying wisdom in the way that is most beneficial, then we can’t be complacent or hide from the hard stuff.
Much like the paramita of heroic perseverance, skillful means asks us to stay the course. Things don’t change overnight, and when we are wise, we act with the long view in mind. When we procrastinate, our hesitation overrides any intentions we have for positive change. Wisdom isn’t reactive, but it isn’t overly slow, either. To employ skillful means, we can’t put off the work we’re here to do.
6). Lacking Discipline
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that many of these qualities line up with other paramitas. The paramita of discipline encourages us to do the work we need to break bad patterns in our lives. Which only makes sense, right? Skillful means is the exact opposite of a bad habit. It’s rightly-applied wisdom. The habits of skillful means lead to good things.
We don’t act from a place of wisdom if we allow our fearfulness to take over. When we are fearful, we become selfish almost immediately. We hunker down in protection, rather than opening up to others. We think small, rather than expansively. We relinquish our service to others and think only of ourselves. Fear is natural, but a posture of fearfulness will keep us from wisdom.
Worldliness in this sense means being too enamored with money, fame, success, and other outside influences. When we are overly “worldly” in this way, we act from greed or desire rather than wisdom. We act hypocritically, and without integrity. Not being overly invested in our image means we have the freedom to do the right thing at the right time, no matter the consequences.