Virtues in Medicine

Your Good Health

Achieving good health is just like achieving anything else worthwhile: effort matters and details matter. The more you can be in alignment, the more likely you will have optimal outcomes. A key step is being clear with yourself on why you want to be healthy.

Virtues in Medicine

Self-analysis that accompanies illness often leads us to virtue. It can be a means to recovery and good health. This is so because vice has a tendency to be catabolic and virtue restorative. Virtue can also be what you achieve with good health, your why. I want to share with you a few thoughts about virtues and medicine.

Bargaining

“Get me through this and I’ll correct my ways.” Just as Ebenezer Scrooge attained some serious Christmas perspective and exchanged his toxic ways for generosity and charity, illness often connects us to a priority check. When illness-induced priority checks have us looking in the direction of growth and virtue, things are clicking in a special way.

It seems to me there is no higher striving in the face of an illness than to be working at being courageous, hopeful, and in search of wisdom. That goes for the person facing illness as well as for the care team, on every level.

The medical provider knows virtue as a cornerstone of the vocation. Confidentiality, for starters, is a virtue. I would call it one aspect of temperance in speech. The provider protects the relationship and the patient with a virtue, by keeping the topic of the visit confidential.

The seven heavenly virtues combine:

A) Plato’s four cardinal virtues of: 

  • prudence (wisdom)
  • justice
  • temperance 
  • and fortitude (courage) 

with

B) the three theological virtues of: 

  • faith
  • hope
  • and charity.

Hippocratic oath

Another name for temperance is moderation. With temperance, a person learns to command the body rather than be commanded by it. Toward the end of the Hippocratic oath, a reference is made to confidentiality, temperance in speech.

“Whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession, as well as outside my profession in my intercourse with men, if it be what should not be published abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets.”

Virtue as Preventative Medicine

Virtue as preventative medicine leads us right back to temperance. Moderation keeps us intact. Temperance in eating and drinking are clear examples.

Temperance in speech also keeps us healthy. First, consider that all codes of conduct, not just the doctor’s oath, have an entry about speaking in the right way. It’s fundamental. Buddha’s Eightfold Path has an entry to that end (right speech), and the Ten Commandments have two entries (taking the Lord’s name in vain and bearing false witness), to name a couple.

More on virtue with speech

Care with speech and the power of words is often the topic of advice for patients, specifically self- speech. To borrow the phrase from Don Miguel Luiz’s 1997 Book The Four Agreements:

Be impeccable with your words

This is the first of his four agreements that lead to freedom and is worthy of being considered a profound preventative medicine cornerstone.

Be careful what you say, and how you say it. Be impeccable with your self-speech (this is huge for health).
 
Be impeccable with your speech to all others. Don’t lie; avoid the habit of speaking poorly about others. Whatever you say ultimately reflects back to you.

Studies show people are measurably happier and healthier if they consciously commit to speaking kindly throughout the day.

Listening

Part of this same topic is listening. We all know a doctor or nurse who is a good listener is crucial. And to listen to your inner voice is a critical aspect of being healthy. Intuition is such a wild card.

Listening needs silence. Be impeccable with this understanding. Listening to the body is a major protective attribute. It requires practice. Practicing daily exposure to silence will train it. It’s as good as any medicine in the cabinet, if not better.

Here’s to your good health, your alignment, and our striving together.