By Andrei Costa Colonetti
Practicing Virtues in relationships is not always easy. Sometimes we are in a good humor, everything is going OK and everyone is treating us kindly, agreeing with everything we say. Than, maybe we will forget that practicing virtuous is something that has to be done all the time and we don’t realize that there’s an infinite field of learning about how we can be virtuous in relationships. And sometimes the best opportunity for being virtuous is when things start getting wrong, when people are rude, unfair and irrational with us.
A difficult relationship can be a way that we can improve our virtuous in a more effective way, because in hard times that we pass by are when we need to be virtuous, practicing wisdom, patience, compassion, and other important virtuous. It’s harder for being virtuous when are arguing with someone and in the spur of the moment, take a step back, breathe deeply, think rationally and look the whole situation in a different manner.
A tool that we can use for being more virtuous – and improving our relationships – is the ancient greek Philosophy and their conceptualizations about Virtuous. Aretê, usually translated as Virtue or Excellence, was divided by then in four cardinal Virtuous: Phronêsis, Dikaiosunê, Sôphrosunê and Andreia.
Phronêsis is generally translated as prudence or practical wisdom, is “the ability which by itself is productive of human happiness” (Robertson, 2018). For the Greeks it’s the most important Virtuous, because the base of Phronêsis is knowing what is good and what is bad for our lives. When we forget to have Phronêsis when relating with orders, we can forget what is really important and fall in discussions that don’t lead anywhere, instead of helping us to improve our lives and and allowing us to see reality clearer. Being wisdom also means having a open mind, thinking “What I’m not realizing?” and knowing that what we think has a great possibility of being wrong in someway and what someone else thinks – that we may think that is totally nonsense – maybe can be true in some perspective.
Dikaiosunê is distributing what each deserves, being fair. Usually translated as Justice, Dikaiosunê is referred by some modern authors also as social virtue or morality. It is an essential Virtue for all the leaders, doing teamwork and solving conflicts. For practicing that Virtue is necessary to be emphatic and always putting ourselves in the others place.
Sôphrosunê is a having moderation, being cautious about what we should do. Self-discipline, controlling our impulses and self awareness are the core here. But not only that, practicing Sôphrosunê is also knowing that people commit mistakes as, also ourselves do, so we have to be humble and learn to forgive, not only others, but also ourselves. Sôphrosunê is a Virtue that can save us from saying things that we would regret and also keeping calm and don’t losing our minds.
Andreia is between cowardice and recklessness. Is being courage and having endurece when facing pain. If we ain’t brave and face all kind of feelings that a difficult situation and relationship can bring, we won’t learn how we can practice all the other virtuous. Relations are challenging and learning how to improve a relationship demands a lot of perseverance, specially when we deal with others vices and more specially our vices, that are the ones that we can change more easily – not the others vices.
For the Stoics philosophical chain, ethics and specially Virtue, is a way of living in harmoslosly in three domains that involve our lives: ourselves, having self-love and without inner conflict; other people, even “enemies”, viewing ourselves as a single community; and with all exertanal events, welcoming Fate, don’t craving for more, having fear or complaining (Robertson, 2017). As the Stoic philosopher Seneca quotes: “We suffer not from the events in our lives, but from our judgment about then”. So, a difficult relationship – with relatives, friends, partners, coworkers, etc – will make us suffer or not, depending on how we see it and deal with then.
References: ROBERTSON, Donald. What do the Stoic Virtues Mean?. 2018. Retrieved from:
TAHER, Reham Al. What is the Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues?. 2016. Retrieved from:
ROBERTSON, Donald. The Threefold Nature of Stoic Ethics: Some notes on Stoic Ethics understood in terms harmony and consistency across our threefold relationship with ourselves, other people, and the world. 2017. Retrieved from: