In past blogs, I’ve suggested that just like muscles shrink—or atrophy—when they’ve been in a cast for weeks, our culture has created a world where we don’t have to exercise certain emotional, social, intellectual or spiritual muscles we used to need in the past. People skills and virtues were more prevalent in the past because people needed them to make it in society. Today, the world of technology and screens have reduced our need for such virtues. A boyfriend or girlfriend today can break up simply by sending a text message. No need to have a hard conversation. Twenty years ago, texts weren’t available. Like muscles, people skills can get little exercise. And muscles shrink when they are not in use.
I realize this could sound old-fashioned, but many of the common virtues our culture once celebrated are no longer visible or practiced in this emerging generation. A sample of atrophied virtues are:
Atrophied Virtues and Descriptions
- Patience Muscle (Delayed gratification)
The ability to wait on a reward that comes slowly.
- Connection Muscle (People skills)
The ability to develop common ground with those unlike you.
- Responsibility Muscle (Moral and ethics)
The ability to do what’s right even when acting alone.
- Endurance Muscle (Tenacity)
The ability to stay committed and complete the work toward a goal.
- Empathy Muscle (Compassion and perspective)
The ability to see and feel what others do.
Why can’t Johnny read? Because Johnny doesn’t have to read. Why isn’t Johnny patient? Because Johnny doesn’t have to be patient for anything. Why isn’t Johnny responsible for his own work? Because mom or the teacher have been responsible for him. Why isn’t Johnny disciplined? Because we never required it of him.
We have created this world and now must fix it.
Coaches and athletic departments we work with have bought into this idea, and are now creating “exercises” for these missing virtues in their players. They see these disciplines just like they see any other injury in a student athlete. They need to be developed so players can use them again. Service projects, communication drills and leadership opportunities are cultivating and “rehabbing” these shrunken muscles.