Communicating; virtue is the art, the habit, of communicating well.
In every act of communicating there are various parts that we must keep in mind and respect.
First there is the “What,” the subject that we are trying to communicate; the concept. The concept is always universal.
The second part is the “How” the means by which the what is communicated. Some means are more universal than others in so far as that action is shared by all persons.
The third part is the “Whom,” that is the context, the person I am communicating with. How does the recipient of my intended message receive the means that I used to communicate that message.
An example of this is the concept of “hate.” In order to communicate this concept I’ve chosen the English word formed by the Latin symbols “h, a, t, e.” These symbols are the means by which, but the concept of hate is not the same as these symbols and sound patterns. We can tell this by the fact that there are many languages and they use different symbols to communicate the same concept. These symbols are completely arbitrary. However, I cannot simply change the arrangement in order to communicate well. I need to use English in order to communicate to English speakers. I must conform in order communicate well.
This is, of course, not limited to words. We can also use gestures, facial expressions, and direct action to communicate the concept. Some cultures use a middle finger to show this concept of hate, while others spit in the person’s general direction. In fact, we can say that all actions communicate a meaning. Some types of actions and symbols tend to be more arbitrary while other actions tend to me more direct and universal. For example, using a bad word in English to communicate hate will mean nothing to a Spanish speaker, but physically harming someone will most likely leave us with no doubt as to what is meant.
So effective communication occurs when there is cooperation between concept, manner, and context. We must take stock of what we wish to communicate, the means we have chosen, and how that will be received.
For example; an adolescent gets a tattoo in order to communicate who they are but they fail to take into consideration how this tattoo will make others uncomfortable; how it will send a threatening message. It is a lack of virtue, an immature expression.
We also might take hair coloring as an example. A person who colors their hair a bright pink is sending a message, there is no such thing as a non commutative action. What it seeks to communicate is personality through the means of uniqueness. However, because of context, it unintentionally communicates immaturity. We see this clearly if a priest, altar server, or any other public official was to color their hair bright orange. Such a move would create a discontinuity between them and their context. It is out of harmony with the tradition of symbols that are used to communicate effectively with that community.
Another example of poor communication is when someone comes into Church poorly dressed. The context is a ornate church which the emphasis placed on giving the best to God. The Church is nicely decorated, the vessels are of finest gold, the priest and ministers are in ornate garments, but we come in with our street cloths. Here there is a lack of integration into the context, a lack of cooperation and preparation. True, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with street cloths; yes, God sees us as we are; but when we come in street cloths to Mass we are in disharmony with the theme of the Liturgy, with the rest of the Church. We have chosen not to conform ourselves to the liturgy. We are communicating how little the celebration means to us.
Along the same lines is modesty. While the means of communicating modesty varies from one culture to another, the concept of modesty is something shared by all, even the most nudist of cultures. Communicating modesty effectively means understanding how my actions, dress, and words are received. If wearing my underwear in public is immodest then so is wearing a bikini, even if doing so in the rain forest is received differently. I must remember that I am in a dialogue with others, and the more I am detached from the means used to communicate the more effective I can be at communicating.
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I Corinthians 9:19-23
In all of this we often fail to understand that communication is impossible without a level of cooperation with a system of manner and forms. These parameters are not our prison, they are our means by which we express ourselves, and without a system we cannot express ourselves. There is no space that we can be that is outside a system.
Therefore, virtue is this art of knowing my message, choosing the best means of communicating that message by listening to how those means are being received. It is the art of dialogue.
And this is why community life is the gymnasium of virtue. When we bind ourselves by covenant to live with each other we learn how to communicate well.