There are physical, emotional, mental, and even business benefits to being virtuous, kind, and acting with integrity. (Shutterstock)

When I was very young, five or six, my parents always told me: “Tommy, be good.”

But all I wanted to do was run in the woods, play in puddles, eat fast, swim, and have fun.

I didn’t have time for manners. Being good seemed always to benefit someone else, not me. Why do I have to follow rules, not cut in line, and say pleasant things to others when all I feel like doing is telling them off. It’s good for others, right?

Well, yes and no. Maybe it’s good not just for others, but for me too.

It’s easy to see how following the rules of the road is good for you. But what about other more subtle virtues, like being polite, empathetic, generous, grateful, honest and even altruistic?

The ancient Greeks had the view that virtue was broader than our current understanding of morality. They believed virtue could be seen in any object, or in the behavior of people, as the expression of excellence or perfection. For example, they felt one could hear virtue in music or see it in a horse.

A horse named Virtue? (Shutterstock)

In music, virtue might be described as it is in Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” as heavenly, and could be generalized as excellence.

Physically, a horse that is healthy and flawless might be considered an excellent (virtuous) specimen of a horse.

The ancient Chinese also held a similarly expansive view of virtue. They believed that the more virtuous a person was, the more physically healthy they were. It could be seen in the quality of their eyes and skin, and there were other positive consequences. A virtuous person would live a healthy long life, the Chinese believed.

If we think of human virtue as not limited to moral matters but also to physical, emotional and mental matters, then it’s possible to understand how being virtuous might be good for you.

Physical Health as Virtue

Take physically. We all know what it takes to be physically healthy: Good diet, exercise, adequate sleep, etc. One could say that when we do these things, we are being physically virtuous, and we attain the virtue of good health.

Similarly, from an emotional perspective, we know that having a positive social network, avoiding toxic people, and having a positive state of mind by avoiding ruminating on anxious negative thoughts are ways in which we can practice being emotionally virtuous.

These examples illustrate that engaging in virtuous physical and emotional activities is good for you.

OK, so what about higher-level virtues such as generosity, gratitude, and integrity?

While there may not be a sculpture dedicated to you and your good deeds, being good is, in fact, good for you. (Shutterstock)

Considering generosity, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, authors of the book The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, argue: “Generosity is paradoxical. By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move toward flourishing.”

“By grasping onto what we currently have, we lose out on better goods that we might have gained,” they write.

With respect to gratitude, U.S. psychology professor Robert Emmons has studied its impact on happiness and well-being and discovered that there is a positive relationship between gratitude and happiness. The more grateful we are, the happier we are.

These are matters of interpersonal affairs, but even in business, there is an argument that integrity produces positive payback for individuals and firms.

Michael Jensen of Harvard Business School defines integrity as: “A state or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, in perfect condition.”

It’s essential to ensure optimal performance. There are clear parallels between Jensen’s notion of integrity and the ancient Greek notion of virtue as a kind of excellence.

From a human perspective, Jensen also defines integrity as “keeping one’s word,” meaning, in simple terms, doing what we say we’ll do and if unable to follow through as promised, then taking action to repair the damage or problems caused.

Integrity Improves Performance

We understand that an automobile will not perform properly if one of the tires is getting flat. You can probably still drive the car, but it doesn’t work very well.

When a vehicle is in good condition and has integrity, it performs effectively. Jensen argues, similarly, that when people within an organization act with integrity, the organization will perform much better.

He provides the example of implementing integrity in his firm the Social Science Research Network and experiencing increased output of 300 percent with no increase in costs.

Jensen argues that the interpersonal interactions of business people are a factor of productivity, just as effective utilization of capital and labor are necessary for the success of any company.

Jensen argues that integrity is not just an option—it’s a necessary condition for performance.

These are not unusual or unfamiliar ideas. We all have experiences with companies that we know we can trust, and those we don’t. It’s not difficult to imagine that trustworthy companies will enjoy customer loyalty, repeat business, and likely better financial performance.

Is it good for Tommy to be good? As a child, I thought to be good was for the benefit of others and it really wasn’t all that necessary. But I am learning at many levels that the virtues that contribute to good physical, emotional, mental, and interpersonal health—defined as morals—are good for me too.

The ConversationBut one aside: If I am generous to you and expect something in return, this is not virtue. It’s a business exchange.

Thomas Culham is a visiting lecturer at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University in Canada. This article was originally published on The Conversation


Video Popular

  • Celebrating Arbor Day With Books

    Celebrating Arbor Day With Books

    Trees were once considered sacred and awe-inspiring: Oaks were worshiped by the European Druids, redwoods were a part of American Indian ritual, and baobabs a part of African tribal life. Ancient Chin ...

  • Sharks Eat Their Greens, Too—First Omnivorous Species Confirmed

    Sharks Eat Their Greens, Too—First Omnivorous Species Confirmed

    Not all sharks feed only on meat—at least one shark species also feeds on seagrass. Scientists have confirmed that one of the most common sharks in the world is an omnivore. The bonnethead shark, a re ...

  • Microsoft Flags Dangers to EU of Plans to Limit Data Use

    Microsoft Flags Dangers to EU of Plans to Limit Data Use

    Microsoft said on Sept. 5, that EU lawmakers’ copyright reforms limiting the use of potentially valuable data to non-profit bodies could damage the European Union’s digital development. Co ...

  • How Setting a Schedule Can Make You Less Productive

    How Setting a Schedule Can Make You Less Productive

    It can seem like there’s never enough time—not enough for sleep and not enough for play, not enough for cooking. and not enough for exercise. There’s a relatively new term to describe this feeling: ti ...

  • RiNo, Denver: America’s Best Place for a Bar Crawl?

    RiNo, Denver: America’s Best Place for a Bar Crawl?

    “RiNo reminds me of Williamsburg in 2004—just pretentious enough to be good, not yet pretentious enough to be annoying.” Kevin Burke is joking, of course. As the general manager of American Bonded—one ...

  • Respecting Teachers and Cherishing Virtue

    Respecting Teachers and Cherishing Virtue

    Respecting teachers and cherishing virtues are part of the traditional ethics practiced by the Chinese people. Teachers, who impart morality, knowledge, and values, teach people the proper ways to int ...

  • Home Ownership in Canada Declines, Reversing Long Upward Trend

    Home Ownership in Canada Declines, Reversing Long Upward Trend

    Home ownership in Canada fell for the first time in over 45 years, according to a Point2Homes study released this week. It had reached a record high of 69 percent in 2011, but as of 2016, it fell to 6 ...

  • Aretha Franklin Dresses, Hats to Go up for Auction

    Aretha Franklin Dresses, Hats to Go up for Auction

    NEW YORK—More than 30 dresses and accessories worn on stage by Aretha Franklin are going up for auction. The Queen of Soul died at age 76 in Detroit on Aug. 16. Julien’s Auctions says the items ...

  • 87 Elephants Found Slaughtered in Botswana, Africa

    87 Elephants Found Slaughtered in Botswana, Africa

    An alarming number of elephant carcasses have been discovered in aerial surveys across Botswana in what has been described as a “poaching frenzy.” Botswana was once known as a sanctuary fo ...

  • Yes, Marijuana Can Be Addictive

    Yes, Marijuana Can Be Addictive

    The business world is salivating at the potential $22.6 billion recreational marijuana market in Canada, with more new pot users expected after legalization on Oct. 17. But public-health officials wan ...

  • Google Races to Parry the Rise of Facebook in India

    Google Races to Parry the Rise of Facebook in India

    Google retains only a slight lead over Facebook in the competition for digital ad dollars in the crucial India market, sources familiar with the figures say, even though the search giant has been in t ...

  • Canada in Brief, Sept. 6-12

    Canada in Brief, Sept. 6-12

    Trudeau says he won’t use ‘tricks’ to ram through pipeline construction Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pouring cold water on Alberta’s suggestion that the federal government use legislation or a cou ...