Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Core Principles of Beautiful Living (Part II): The Greco-Roman system of Virtue-Centered Living

In my last post (Part I), I briefly touched on the nature of civilization and our place in it and also described elements of the Hebraic system whose influence, particularly through the Bible, reached into early American colonial settlements.

In my last post, I also mentioned that the past is full of examples, constructive and destructive, of the rise and fall of civilizations. The roots of the current American civilization are found in both ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman systems. In this post, we will continue to explore how influential groups saw the role of virtue as a center for beautiful living, and what we can take away from them that is uplifting, edifying, and inspiring as we search for systems that create real happiness and lead us to fulfill lives of meaning.

The Greco-Roman Concept of Virtue

Let’s briefly start with the Greco-Roman definition of virtue. It’s pretty incredible. Interestingly enough, our understanding of how the Greeks and Romans understood virtue can be traced through the different translations of the Bible’s New Testament. For better context, it’s important to understand how words in the Bible have been translated. In 1890, Dr. James Strong, an English professor of theology, published a study tool to help any “student understand the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic meaning behind any word in Scripture” (Source: This book is called Strong’s Concordance and is still in use today. In his book, Dr. Strong numbered the words he translated. Virtue is number 703 and in Greek, it is areté. According to Strong’s Concordance, at the website, areté has the following meanings:
ἀρετή, ἀρετῆς, ἡ (see ἄρα at the beginning), a word of very wide signification in Greek writings; any excellence of a person (in body or mind) or of a thing, an eminent endowment, property or quality. Used of the human mind and in an ethical sense, it denotes:
1. a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action; virtue, moral goodness (Wis. 4:1 Wis. 5:13; often in 4 Macc. and in Greek writings): 2 Peter 1:5 (others take it here specifically, viz. moral vigor; cf. next entry).
2. any particular moral excellence, as modesty, purity; hence (plural αἱ ἀρεταί, Wis. 8:7; often in 4 Macc. and in the Greek philosophers) τίς ἀρετή, Philippians 4:8. Used of God, it denotes
a. his power: 2 Peter 1:3.
b. in the plural his excellences, perfections, 'which shine forth in our gratuitous calling and in the whole work of our salvation' (John Gerhard): 1 Peter 2:9. (In the Septuagint for הוד splendor, glory, Habakkuk 3:3, of God; Zechariah 6:13, of the Messiah; in plural for תְּהִלּות praises, of God, Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 42:12; Isaiah 63:7.
But wait, there’s more! According to, the word areté is also used in Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey. In this context, the word areté is used:
to describe heroes and nobles and their mobile dexterity, with special reference to strength and courage, but it is not limited to this. Penelope's areté, for example, relates to co-operation, for which she is praised by Agamemnon. The excellence of the gods generally included their power, but, in the Odyssey (13.42), the gods can grant excellence to a life, which is contextually understood to mean prosperity. 
This idea of virtue, then, is what empowered truly means! To live according to principles of excellence, strength, courage, cooperation, and prosperity. Whenever I hear the word empowered in context today, it doesn’t seem cooperative. It sometimes even seems selfish and self-centered or self-aggrandizing for one’s own glory and gain, usually at the expense of someone else. It doesn’t always come across as a virtuous use of power but of gaining power as a means to control others or situations outside of one’s own circle of influence. Have you noticed this, too? It’s not always like that, but I have noticed it. I think I’ll keep paying more attention to this from now on.

Areté was a significant part of the educational system of the Greeks known as the Paideia: the training of boys to be the ideal citizen. The schooling in areté included physical training, mental training, and spiritual training which centered around their concept of excellence or virtue. (Source: It was of vital importance to the Greeks that their children be raised with principles of virtue or rather, principles of excellence in body, mind, and soul.

The Greco-Roman System

The Greco-Roman system of virtue was highly influential on the generation responsible for the American founding. The Greeks, who greatly influenced Roman culture, art, politics, and philosophy, wrote extensively about man’s need to find meaning, purpose, and happiness. I particularly love Aristotle’s discussions on these themes. The online Encyclopedia Britannica biography of Aristotle (384 BCE—322 BCE) describes him as an:
Ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, one of the greatest intellectual figures of Western history. He was the author of a philosophical and scientific system that became the framework and vehicle for both Christian Scholasticism and medieval Islamic philosophy. Even after the intellectual revolutions of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, Aristotelian concepts remained embedded in Western thinking. (Source:
His writings have lasted through millennia of time because they reach our minds and hearts as universally true ideas and principles. His topics are vast but share a common theme: virtue is the foundation of happy, meaningful--or what I’d call--Beautiful Living. According to the article "Aristotle's Ethics" published in the online edition of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be central to a well-lived life." The article continues to describe Aristotle’s philosophy as including the following:
"What we need, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such goods as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and wealth fit together as a whole. In order to apply that general understanding to particular cases, we must acquire, through proper upbringing and habits, the ability to see, on each occasion, which course of action is best supported by reasons. Therefore practical wisdom, as he conceives it, cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules. We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion" (
Aristotle essentially teaches the same principles that Paul and Timothy shared with the early Christians in the city of Philippi: “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report” (Philippians 4:8). These virtues fit together naturally and, when learned and understood, can be attained by establishing habits.

What a liberating philosophy! I have always felt within myself, the power to act even when I feel discouraged and exhausted mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. We can create habits of happiness through systems! It’s so trendy to talk about being empowered, but how? And in what way empowered?

In their article "Roman Virtues," the authors L. Curtius Philo, L. Hostilia Scaura, and P. Iunius Brutus (I assume these are pen names?) write at length about the nature and structure of the Roman concept of virtue. They argue that even though the Romans did not organize the key virtues nor codify the virtues specifically, there is a pattern to their system. Some virtues were more associated with the private or inner life whereas other virtues were more applicable to the public or socially interactive life. The diagram these key virtues as follows:

However, please note, when discussing the nature of virtue and the Romans viewed it, the authors at explain that:
Historically, some modern interpretations of the virtues have separated the traits into public and private spheres. For example, virtues applicable to private life versus public office being separate exclusive lists of traits. The Roman Republic argues that this delineation is somewhat artificial at best and confusing and misleading at worst. We believe that thinking of the virtues as strongly context specific does not reflect the views of antiquity. The ancient understanding of the virtues suggests ubiquity across both public and private life, at least in regards to the most fundamental and widely agreed-upon virtues" (
In other words, their idea of virtue was so deeply ingrained in their culture: their beliefs, their education systems, their political ideals, their family structures, that they didn’t have to catalog it. They didn’t have a national checklist just like our societies don’t have quantified lists today. It was understood by the majority. It was the ideal. It was understood that those who could embody those qualities, genuinely, and to greater degrees, were sought for as leaders on all levels of society. Prospering civilizations desire the same types of citizens and leaders. Decaying civilizations ignore them, or worse, despise them, to their peril.

Aristotle’s Golden Mean

I taught high school for four years in a local charter school called Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy. The school strives to provide a classical education to the students and has embraced the motto: Truth, Honor, Virtue. I took this motto seriously and wanted my students to develop a deeper level of discernment with regard to virtue. In order to do this, I rearranged all my previously planned Friday classes and instituted what I called “Virtue Fridays” instead. We read classic short stories from well-known authors and discussed the virtues, or lack of them, as a class.

In order to prepare my students for these discussions, we had to get a clear handle on the Roman understanding of virtue. Together, we read and discussed sections of Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics,” specifically Book II. One principle Aristotle believes is that virtue is a matter of balance just like physical health is a matter of balance:
First of all, then, we must observe that, in matters of this sort, to fall short and to exceed are alike fatal. This is the case of strength and health. Too much and too little exercise alike destroy strength, and to take too much meat and drink, or to take too little, is equally ruinous to health, but the fitting amount produces and increases and preserves them. Just so, then, is it with temperance also, and courage, and the other virtues. (Source:
By this he means that too little of something and too much of something are both damaging. He believes that virtues “are destroyed both by excess and defect, but preserved by moderation.” This concept of moderation is also called the Golden Mean--or the perfect center or balance of all virtue--to do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.  An informative list of what the excesses, defeciencies, and golden mean might look like is this:


He also argues that virtues are, “developed by training,” that being exposed to virtuous acts and practicing virtuous acts, one could develop a habit of virtue. He says, “Moral virtue is acquired by the repetition of the corresponding [morally virtuous] acts.” As a teacher, whose school focused on virtue, I took these principles to heart and decided to begin a study of virtue through the great short stories of reliable writers. I have provided a list of some of the stories we studied and discussed as a class.

Book Club Ideas...

If you’d like to start a “Virtue Friday” discussion group to better understand and recognize these virtues, too, let me help you get started by giving you the reading list and worksheet I provided to my students!
In preparation for “Virtue Friday,” I assigned the whole class a classic short story to read. Then, five different students were assigned to prepare for and lead a discussion about the virtue of their choice that they thought the story illustrated. I provided a copy of the short story, a worksheet to help them prepare their discussion questions, and a reminder note at the beginning of each week. It was important to me that all the short stories were written by authors who had created other classic works or who we were going to study that semester. This is my partial list of short stories:
  • “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov
  • “Jeannot and Colin” by Voltaire
  • “The Blind Men and the Elephant” Buddhist Text translated by John Godfrey Saxe
  • “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant
  • “The Great Stone Face” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe
  • “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce
  • “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
  • “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
  • “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell
  • “God Sees the Truth But Waits” by Leo Tolstoy
These short stories are free online. Just type them into a search engine and they will come up easily. A really useful resource for short stories can also be found at the website:

Let me also share a list I gave to my students to help them select virtues to discuss.  In preparing for discussions, I also had them prepare questions that explore the excesses, deficiencies, and golden means of any virtue they could look at more closely.  Please note that this list is not meant to be comprehensive:

Private Virtues

These are the qualities of life to which every Citizen (and, ideally, everyone else) should aspire. They are the heart of the Via Romana — the Roman Way — and are thought to be those qualities that gave the Roman Republic the moral strength to conquer and civilize the world. Today, they are the rods against which we can measure our own behavior and character, and we can strive to better understand and practice them in our everyday lives.
  • Virtus (Virtue/Manliness/Womanliness): Being the best of all that you are capable of being.
  • Firmitas (Tenacity): Strength of mind, the ability to stick to one's purpose.
  • Gravitas (Gravity): A sense of the importance of the matter at hand, responsibility, and earnestness. Seriousness of conduct, speech, temperament, dignity.
  • Integritas (Integrity): Living in congruence with principles. 
  • Honestas (Respectability): The image that one presents as a respectable member of society.
  • Pietas (Dutifulness): More than religious piety; a respect for the natural order socially, politically, and religiously (that natural order is God, Country, Family). Includes the ideas of patriotism and devotion to others. 
  • Veritas (Truthfulness): The quality of being in accordance with fact, truth. The state of being real; the true nature of a thing. Honesty in dealing with others.
  • Humilitas (Humbleness, humility): Being grounded.
  • Comitas (Humor): Ease of manner, courtesy, openness, and friendliness.
  • Clementia (Mercy): Mildness and gentleness. Quick to forgive.
  • Dignitas (Dignity): A sense of self-worth, personal pride. The quality of being worthy; excellence.
  • Industria (Industriousness): Hard work. Diligent activity directed to some purpose; a purposeful activity.
  • Prudentia (Prudence): Foresight, wisdom, and personal discretion; practical understanding, proficiency.
  • Salubritas (Wholesomeness): The quality of promoting health and cleanliness.
  • Severitas (Sternness): Gravity, self-control. Strict and uncompromising conduct in dealing with offenders, strictness of morals, austerity.
  • Humanitas (Humanity): Refinement, civilization, learning, and being cultured.

Public Virtues

In addition to the private virtues which were aspired to by individuals, Roman culture also strived to uphold Virtues which were shared by all of society in common. Note that some of the virtues to which individuals were expected to aspire are also public virtues to be sought by society as a whole. These virtues were often expressed by minting them on coinage; in this way, their message would be shared by all the Classical world. In many cases, these Virtues were personified as deities.
  • Abundantia (Abundance, Plenty): The ideal of there being enough food and prosperity for all segments of society.
  • Aequitas (Equity): Fair dealing both within government and among the people.
  • Bonus Eventus (Good fortune): Remembrance of important positive events.
  • Clementia (Clemency): Mercy, shown to other nations.
  • Concordia (Concord): Harmony among the Roman people, and also between Rome and other nations.
  • Felicitas (Happiness, prosperity): A celebration of the best aspects of Roman society.
  • Fides (Confidence): Good faith in all commercial and governmental dealings.
  • Fortuna (Fortune): An acknowledgment of positive events.
  • Genius (Spirit of Rome): Acknowledgement of the combined spirit of Rome, and its people.
  • Hilaritas (Mirth, rejoicing): An expression of happy times.
  • Justica (Justice): As expressed by sensible laws and governance.
  • Laetitia (Joy, Gladness): The celebration of thanksgiving, often of the resolution of crisis.
  • Liberalitas (Liberality): Generous giving.
  • Libertas (Freedom): A Virtue which has been subsequently aspired to by all cultures.
  • Nobilitas (Nobility): Noble action within the public sphere.
  • Ops (Wealth): Acknowledgement of the prosperity of the Roman world.
  • Patientia (Endurance, Patience): The ability to weather storms and crisis.
  • Pax (Peace): A celebration of peace among society and between nations.
  • Pietas (Piety, Dutifulness): People paying honor to the gods.
  • Providentia (Providence, Forethought): The ability of Roman society to survive trials and manifest a greater destiny.
  • Pudicita (Modesty, Chastity): A public expression which belies the accusation of "moral corruptness" in ancient Rome.
  • Salus (Safety): Concern for public health and welfare.
  • Securitas (Confidence, Security): Brought by peace and efficient governance.
  • Spes: (Hope): Especially during times of difficulty.
  • Virtus (Courage): Especially of leaders within society and government.
In my next post, I’ll share with you some examples of how the Greek focus on virtue affected the founding leaders of pre and post-colonial America. Until then...

Live Beautifully!

Heather Butler
Founder and CEO of Beautiful Living Systems, Inc.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Core Principles of Beautiful Living (Part I): or The Principles of Virtue-Centered Living

"...If there is anything virtuous, lovely, 
or of good report or praiseworthy, 
we seek after these things."
--The Wentworth Letter, Joseph Smith Jr.

Virtue Systems Ancient and Modern

In 1935, American historian, philosopher, and writer, Will Durant published the first book of an 11 volume set of books to be called "The History of Civilization."  The first volume of the set is called, "Our Oriental Heritage."  In the very first chapter, he defines what civilization is:
Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation.  Four elements constitute it: economic provision, political organization, moral traditions, and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. It begins where chaos and insecurity end.  For when fear is overcome, curiosity and constructiveness are free, and man passes by natural impulse towards the understanding and embellishment of life.
I love the idea that all civilizations--in a state of prospering, growing, and thriving--share commonalities.  In the same chapter, Durant states, "civilization is the habit of civility."  There's that word again--habit.  A habit indicates that a system is present and civilizations are built on systems of all kinds.  But what is at the root of civilization?  What habits create flourishing civilizations, societies, families, and personal lives?

A civilization is made up of the sum of its parts--us!  Humans are the individual parts that makeup civilization.  We all contribute to or detract from the civilizations in which we find ourselves.  We become co-creators.  What do our habits of thought and behavior indicate about our modern civilization?  Is it in a state of health or decay, and why? 

The past is full of examples, constructive and destructive, of the rise and fall of civilizations.  The roots of the current American civilization are found in both ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman systems.  How did they see virtue?  What did they value, and why? What have we, as Americans, borrowed from them?

The Hebrew Definition of Virtue

As I tried to understand the Hebraic definition of 'virtue,' chapter 31, verse 10, of the Book of Proverbs in the Bible's Old Testament came immediately to mind: "Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies."  Over time, the definition of virtue has become condensed to refer to sexual purity and is primarily attributed to women.  Based on my findings, this is an extremely insufficient definition.

According to the writer of the article, "Virtuous," at the website,, the Hebrew word for virtue used in Proverbs 31:10 is "Chayil."  The author continues:
This word is spelled with a חיל. This word is used 243 times; translated in most lexicons as:
“army” 56 times, “man of valour” 37 times, “host” 29 times, “forces” 14 times, “valiant” 13 times, “strength” 12 times, “riches” 11 times, “wealth” 10 times, “power” nine times, “substance” eight times, “might” six times, “strong” five times, and translated miscellaneously 33 times. (Source:
Based on this list, the idea of virtue is clearly ascribed to both men and women.  It actually bears a strong military connotation.  Life can often feel like a battle, a tug-of-war between opportunities, desires, social pressures, financial demands, personal roles to fill, and more. But the battle the "virtuous woman" of Proverbs 31 is engaged in, is a battle she wages to prosper her family economically, to build up the reputation and influence for good of herself and her loved ones, to generously give to those who are less fortunate, to work hard and smart both physically and mentally,  to create with her resources at hand, to make plans and prepare for future needs for her entire household.  Though the subject of chapter 31 is a woman, these works can be accomplished by all.  But I do love that a woman gets to embody these principles in ancient scripture!  I think this definition is so much more complex, developed, and relevant than the narrower meaning given to virtue today.  We can change that.

This definition of virtue--as character traits and beliefs that inspire action--is deeply rooted in another Bible event: the exodus from Egypt of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Jewish System

When the nation of Israel was led out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, they needed direction, counsel, and government.  As a nation, they lived for 400 years in differing forms of bondage in a system foreign to their value systems having been driven there initially by a famine. Now, as a newly liberated people, they needed to regain fundamental principles by which to govern their lives as they sought to found a new civilization outside the traditions of their captors.  As a nation, they needed restoration.  Ultimately,  Moses, through revelation, brought the twelve tribes of Israel 10 "sayings" or "words" to provide guidance on how ethical humans should live and interact with one another politically, economically, and morally.  The modern Christian world now knows these as The Ten "Commandments" based on a translation of the Geneva Bible 51 years before the King James Version was published in England in 1611 AD.  (Source:

According to Exodus 20:1-17 in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, the "Ten Commandments" are these:
20 And God spake all these words, saying,
2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
King James Version (KJV), Public Domain
(Source link:;KJV)
These ten "sayings" constitute a virtue system based on fundamental principles of behavior which has been the foundation of both Judaic and Christian belief systems.  A more careful look at the ten commandments will reveal that these ten simple statements are the foundational principles of all society's relations including economic relations, social laws, government organizations, family organizations, social relations, and personal behavior. 

When the Puritans landed in Cape Cod on the Mayflower in 1620, they had the Geneva Bible with them.  They promoted literacy in their children using Biblical principles of moral and ethical behavior based on the ten commandments in textbooks called primers.  Of these primers, the Encyclopedia Britannica says the New-England Primer was:
the principal textbook for millions of colonists and early Americans. First compiled and published about 1688 by Benjamin Harris, a British journalist who emigrated to Boston, the primer remained in use for more than 150 years.
Literacy was vital to these early colonists.  The name they gave themselves, "Puritans," reflected their intention to purify the old religious system of England which they believed to be corrupt after reading and interpreting the Bible for themselves.  The Puritans wanted their children to be able to gain spiritual discernment, too, so they made literacy laws:
As early as 1642, Massachusetts law required literacy instruction to all children, servants, and apprentices. The 1647 Old Deluder Satan Act—in order to ensure that “learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers”—required every township of 50 households to hire a teacher. Towns twice that size were mandated to set up schools that would prepare students for Harvard. (Source:
The Bible, in particular, the ten commandments, greatly influenced the core principles embraced by colonial immigrants in the early 1600s.  However,  Biblical influences with its virtue systems and examples were not the only influence.  The Greco-Roman system also played a large role in the development of the modern concept of virtue that has traditionally framed American systems.
Let's take a break for now though.  I'm going to save that discussion for another day.  This is plenty to ponder and consider today.

Come back next time for part II of "The Core Principles of Beautiful Living: or The Principles of Virtue-Centered Living."  I'd love to include you in my list of followers!  To do this, please click on the blue 'follow' button to the left of this article.  And please invite a friend to share these articles with.  They can help spark important discussions about the nature and meaning of Beautiful Living. You'll get to know your friends and yourself better. Until next time...

Live Beautifully!

Heather Butler
Founder and CEO of Beautiful Living Systems

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Decoding Your History to Shape Your Future for the Better

The Power of History 

“If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ” ― Michael Crichton, Timeline

Ah, Michael Crichton, the truth you speak!  Our lives do not exist in bubbles; we are connected to the past. The conversations of humanity roll onward through our creations, beliefs, values, cultures, proclivities, and ultimately our greater government systems and civilizations.

Sometimes history teaches us to hold the course; some principles remain reliable and true.  Rudyard Kipling warns of this in his poem, "The God's of the Copybook Headings:"

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

According to Wikipedia, Copybooks are notebooks "used in education that contains examples of handwriting and blank space for learners to imitate" ( (education) ).  The Copybook Headings, which Kipling references in his poem, are phrases, proverbs, or principles generally held to be true, despite modern social philosophies to the contrary, which students would copy repeatedly in their copybooks to practice their handwriting.

Thucydides, in The History of the Peloponnesian War, states"History is philosophy teaching by examples."  In other words, the stories of the past reveal what others believed, acted according to, and valued through their choices and the effects which followed.

Othertimes history shows us the need to recreate, rethink, rework, and reinvent.  By the time James Madison (1751-1836) advised Congress on principles of past republics, he had served in his home state's General Assembly, the Continental Congress prior to and during the Revolutionary War, and the Congress under the Articles of Confederation following the successful conclusion of the war. By the first Constitutional Convention, Madison was well versed in statesmanship but his skills in scholarship were equally demanded for the work at hand.  According to the Bill of Rights Institute in the article "Ancient Republics and European Charters:":

"Before entering college, for example, young James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams were expected to read, translate, and speak intelligently about the original Greek and Latin writings of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Cicero, and many others. Knowledge of the past led them to dismay at the bad results of past republics. While they studied the past, they did not revere it. They were not afraid to break new ground. They wanted a political science that worked, as opposed to utopian theories of republics of the past." (Source:

Madison discovered that "The history of ancient republics was full of warnings. Power-hungry men either seduced the public with their charisma, conspired with others to stage distracting false controversies, or offered pleasant diversions while slowly but surely dismantling freedom."

Madison used the failed examples of history to inform the creation of the United States Constitution which was ratified and brought into law on June 21, 1788.  For his service, scholarly leadership, and insight, Madison came to be known as "The Father of the Constitution." (Source:

The Power of Your Own History

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, agreed with Madison's opinion regarding history's power when he said: "The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future." This is true not only for our shared history but is also true on a more personal level.  Our own past, the stories we have lived this far, can teach us to either hold the course or to recreate, rethink, rework, and reinvent our own present and future.

Robert Penn Warren, American poet, novelist, teacher, and literary critic (1905-1989), concurs: "History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future." Our personal history can be a stepping stone of understanding to inform our present and shape our future.

Decoding Your History to Shape Your Future

"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. ― Maya Angelou

Lately, I've been motivated by the vision of a parallel future.  I imagine a future where I acted on my dream with courage and conviction,  I can see myself there, living, working, feeling.  And I lament my present fear and reservation and I wrestle to destroy it so that vision of the future becomes my reality.  The pain of releasing self-doubt and present comfort becomes greater than the pain of missed opportunity. My fear cannot be allowed to hold my future hostage or erase its possibilities.  Sometimes pain, imagined or real, is a great motivator.

The Steps of Self-Realization and Growth

Step #1: Remember and Ponder the Transformative Events of Your Life Up To Today

  • What have you accomplished or created that you are proud of?
  • What process did you use to accomplish or create those things?
  • What events, both negative and positive, stand out to you?  Think about the most prominent events that come into your mind. Think childhood, holidays, middle and high school, family life, family trips, moving to new places, clubs or organizations, friend groups, college, jobs, hobbies or activities, tragedy, and celebration.

Step #2: Find the Patterns

  • For each of these prominent events, you have remembered, write at least one lesson or one understanding you gained from that event.  
  • With each of these events, how have you responded?  Your response will give you insight into what you believe about life, fairness, justice, love, devotion, and happiness.
  • What patterns do you see emerging in your response to these transformative events? 

Step #3: Evaluate Your Transformative Events

  • What qualities have you developed because of these events? Have you become more timid or bolder? More guarded or more vulnerable? More careful or more carefree, etc.? 
  • What beliefs or ideas have you formed because of these events? About the meaning and purpose of living?  About the meaning and purpose of your life specifically?  About your resilience and creativity? About the nature and purpose of family and friends?  About faith in God and in yourself? About money? About prosperity? About education and learning? About your potential?
  • What have you chosen to rethink or learned to let go of based on these events?
  • What have you learned to value and prioritize based on these events? 

Step # 4: Apply or Adapt For the Future

  • According to your best judgment, is there any belief, idea, or value you set for yourself that needs to be revisited and revised?  Were any of your previous conclusions about yourself, about the nature of your life, and your place in it, rashly made?  
  • If you continue making decisions based on your current beliefs and values, what will your life look like in 5-10 years?  
  • Work backward.  Imagine what you'd like your life to look and feel like at the end of it.  What will have brought you the most joy?  What beliefs and values will you have had to embrace to bring that vision into reality?  Are they compatible with your current views and understanding of things?
  • What will you need to embrace ideologically?  What will you need to release ideologically in order to achieve that end vision of your life?

These are big questions and may require time to explore honestly and thoroughly.  It will be both painful and joyful.  Humiliating and gratifying. Take some time to ponder and consider your answers.  Talk about them with someone you trust who knows you and loves you.  Or curl up on your couch to write them down in a journal with a warm cup of herbal tea and a cozy blanket.  Yes, please!

Our history can coach our present and inform our future positively if we become aware of our own reactions and beliefs to both the negative and positive events of our pasts.  Knowledge is power: knowledge about ourselves, about our reactions, about our interpretations of events, about our chosen and learned behaviors.  We have great power to affect our present and future as we come to understand our past as pattern-filled, instructional, and revealing.

An Invitation

I'd love to hear a story about what you've learned and become through one of your transformative experiences.  Please share it in the comments below or email me at and I'll post it on this blog.  I'd love to learn from you!  Until then...

Live Beautifully!

Heather Butler
Founder and CEO of Beautiful Living Systems