Order has always vexed me.
My wife makes lists and I mock her for it…and then feel both guilty and inadequate.
This was the reality that confronted me as I stared into the maw of order and, yet, it excited me. Here was a chance to confront a weakness and show real improvement. Here was an opportunity to embrace virtue in a tangible way.
You see, I do best with concrete concepts. Order, unlike some of the other virtues, is real and grounded. This was the one virtue that clearly lent itself to measurable performance. In his autobiography, Ben showed the way, with a touch of humility and a dollop of hope. He wrote that he was “incorrigible with respect to Order” but though he ‘”never arrived at the perfection” that he desired, he was “a better and a happier man” for the effort. So order, of all the virtues, was the one I relished. I would, like Ben, be a “better and happier man” through my pursuit of order.
I sensed, however, that I would be missing something if I just treated order as a self-help program on organizing my workspace. Order meant more than having clean closets and a tidy garage. I decided to seek help. I spoke to a friend and mentor who had dedicated his life to questions of the human condition. As a minister, leader and teacher he had counseled thousands of people seeking to live a more meaningful, purpose driven life. I inquired about what he told people who asked, “How do I change my life?” His reply surprised me. He told them to change the question. The real question is not “how” but “why”. “Why do I want to change my life?” When you figure that out, he told me, the “how” becomes clearer.
Now no longer was my quest for order a simple problem to be solved, but part of a larger exercise. The “why” of my virtuous pursuit came to inform, or at the very least influence, my plan of order. I came to believe (and still believe) that for order to exist it must be more than a series of lists of what to do next. There must be a “why” behind it all.
So for your week of order, my first suggestion to you is to ask “why”. Why are you doing this course? Why do you want to be more virtuous? Even if the answer isn’t immediately clear, the asking of the question is part of the journey. Let the question inform how you treat this and all the virtues.
As for the specifics of the virtue of order I did come up with a somewhat concrete plan. I do not necessarily suggest that it is right for you, but maybe it can help guide you on your way. Here it is.
Visions: I decided that the big things, the “whys” of my scheme of order, should be called Visions. These are the world-changing, earthshaking, fall-to-your-knees type of dreams tied to who I wanted to be. In truth, they may have been more about achieving a specific outcome or result than creating some soul defining core values, but they were certainly better than what I had previously done. An example of a vision was “become the best father I can”.
Plans: Next in my scheme were plans. These are the roadmaps to achieving a vision. For the “become a better father” vision, for instance, I wrote out a plan that defined what I thought it meant to be a good father, described the type of research I might undertake and broad categories of action that would be relevant. In the end, I had a “plan” to “be a better father”. But even plans need some deconstruction. That comes next.
Tasks: Tasks are those things that are the to-do’s of the plan. These should be, in my scheme, independent of each other, though they may be sequential, in that one leads to another, which in turn leads to the completion of a plan and ultimately (one hopes) to the achievement of a vision.
So there it is: my scheme for order. Visions, achieved through plans, which were accomplished though the completion of individual tasks.
It is an imperfect scheme, I admit, and may not be at all right for you but it worked for me. I still am more spontaneous than planned, more impulsive than designed, but, like Franklin, I am a better man for seeking order.
Go ask your own “why” questions, develop your own schemes and seek your own version of order.
Cameron Gunn is an author and prosecutor living in Canada. His attempt to live Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues, was chronicled in BEN & ME: From Temperance to Humility – Stumbling Through Ben Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues, One Unvirtuous Day at a Time, released by Perigee Press in September 2010. He is a frequent public speaker having been a longtime faculty member of Canada’s largest continuing legal education seminar on criminal law topics, The National Criminal Law Program and a frequent lecturer for the National Judicial Institute of Canada.