Writing Themes: Justice and Virtue


I have been taking two classes on Ed.X, a wonderful free learning collaborative that started with Harvard and MIT (and has now expanded to many other wonderful universities), for the past three months. The first class is called Justice, which is an undergraduate course given at Harvard by the wonderful Dr. Michael Sandel, who presents the course beautifully. The second is The Ancient Greek Hero, another undergraduate course given at Harvard, delivered by the equally interesting Dr. Gregory Nagy. I was excited to have the opportunity to take both of these classes together, as I think they feed off of each other: Justice is a political philosophy course that speaks to contemporary moral problems, but must draw from the great thinkers of the past. The Ancient Greek Hero is an indepth study of Achilles through The Iliad and the Odyssey, 
along with other ancient Greek literature. I really hated the Odyssey in high school, but really enjoyed reading the Iliad through this course. 

I feel like the best thing that I can do as a writer is to keep reading and to keep thinking. I don’t want to rehash ideas of old, but I do want to apply great virtue and wisdom from the past into my own writing. 

When was the last time that you read a book that imparted a bit of wisdom on you or expanded a bit of your virtue? When was the last time that you read a book that expanded your idea of justice or moved the way you thought about something? I love reading books that move the mountains in a reader’s mind, and I must admit that I haven’t read a contemporary book that has been able to do that for me in a really long time. 

As a middle school teacher, I read a lot of the books that my students were reading in class. Of course, we read the classics and the classics serve to make us think or wonder…but the books that my students were reading for pleasure…the Harry Potters and the Hunger Games and the Twilights of the world…what virtues were they bestowing upon my students? Does it matter if they were or were not conveying a message, lesson, virtue? Should be ask authors to write for depth of humanity? Should we ask the children of today to seek virtue in books that aren’t an explicit religious text? Do virtues even matter in the context of our current world? Have they, possibly, changed? Should we reevaluate what we teach? 

This goes beyond what our young people read–I don’t think that I’ve read an adult book that has made me think and wonder for a long time either. 

I love to write in a way that makes a reader think and wonder. Maybe it is the teacher in me, but I like presenting my readers with a problem that makes them think and then conclude it in a way that makes them think harder. While I haven’t been able to do this in flash fiction per say (1000 words is a HARD confine. I’m getting better every week, though!), I have been able to achieve this in a lot of the longer short stories that I’ve been writing. I’m encouraged by the reactions that I’ve been getting–some of them quite visceral, some of them more subdued… I love using my little passion for words to make people think for a few moments. 

The best way to get me thinking about Justice and Virtue is to continue to learn more and more about it. I absolutely love politics and philosophy. I love discussions of humanity and morality, the body politic and religion. I love history, especially early American history when we were grappling with the philosophies around freedom and liberty. There was also that little bit of hypocrisy (which I loved to teach to my former students). 

I hope that you are choosing to keep learning and striving as a writer. While I love to read about the craft and art of writing, I much more so enjoy learning about other things and then applying that learning to my work. Learning makes writing more interesting. Thinking makes writing worth reading. 

I hope that you, my writing friends, go off and learn something new today! 


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