The Same Strokes for Similar Folks
On Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude
Go away, go, go, care, sadness, and melancholy. —Unknown
Above: The Cardinal
A favorite colloquialism reads, “Different strokes for different folks.”
This simple, oft-quoted aphorism—like most others—rolls off the tongue both quickly and easily.
At first glance, it seems to make perfect sense. After all, there are many roads to Rome and most everyone walks along his or her own path in the long traverse that we call life.
Further, we each literally need different things.
Babies need bottles.
Bodybuilders need more protein; couch potatoes, less dessert.
Goldfish need fresh water; eagles, open sky.
Teslas need electricity; eighteen-wheelers, diesel.
Superficially, this is correct.
Fundamentally, it is dead wrong.1
Sadly, mellow phrases often elide over hard truths. Upon further inspection, its banal message falls apart. Just as onions have layers, so too do maxims. The vegetable’s skin doesn’t make you cry; rather that which lies a bit deeper.
To me, the phrase represents a lazy throwaway. It it is tantamount to labeling ice, vapor, and water three, distinct things when—at their core—they constitute different forms of the same substance: H₂O.
Just as with water, so too with humanity.2 What we need now versus what we needed versus what we will need spans a very narrow spectrum.
Instead of covalent bonds, we are held together—mind, body, and soul—by four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude.
In fact, cardinal’s very etymology evidences their integral nature; it derives from the Latin cardo, meaning hinge. Literally and figuratively, these four simple virtues are pivotal. Without them, we would resemble more puddle than person, as useless as a door sans steadying hinges.
Just like the cardinal directions, they provide “a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”3 Namely, answers to cavernous questions such as:
What do I do?
How do I act?
Who do I want to be?
As simple is often harder than complex and showing far exceeds telling, below are four pieces that explore these topics ever more deeply:
By perfecting our minds, bodies, souls, we are made more perfect for those around us.
By loving ourselves, we are better able to love others.
From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, our relationships make up the colorful threads that together weave our live’s tapestry. When we unspool these four virtues, we increase our likelihood of living a Good Life.
And after all, per the Pastor in Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful Gilead, those are the same strokes towards which we similar folks are all striving:
The twinkling of an eye. That is the most wonderful expression. I've thought from time to time it was the best thing in life, that little incandescence you see in people when the charm of a thing strikes them, or the humor of it. “The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart.” That's a fact…
I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.
Per my about page, White Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.
If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email or following me on Twitter.
With sincere gratitude,
Ironically, its denotation notwithstanding, this phrase—different strokes for different folks—often carries an interesting connotation: it is regularly said in disagreement with how someone else has done things. It seems that mellifluousness does not beget merit.
We latter creatures made up of sixty percent of the former, no less!