Dawn was yet to come when I reached the small and charming village at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. I had taken a ride on a delivery truck and was wandering aimlessly on the beautiful, narrow and winding cobblestone streets. The moisture from dew reflected the flickering light of the light poles, making up a beautiful setting. The noise of my steps disrupted the silence that ruled at that early hour. I decided to take a chance and walked to Loureiro’s shop. He was a shoemaker who loved wines and books; reds and philosophy were his favorite. Mending leather was his trade; sowing ideas, his art. His shop was known for the unlikely, inconstant hours of operation. When I turned the corner, from afar I saw his old, classic bicycle leaning against the light pole. I felt that it was going to be a good day. I was received with the usual joy, and soon we were seated with two steaming cups of coffee before us, on the counter. I told him I needed to chat a bit and vent, as I was facing a delicate issue. On a recent trip to a big city, where I had gone accompanying the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the order who had been invited to deliver a number of lectures at a prestigious university, I saw the wife of a cousin of mine in a clear scene of marital cheating. When she realized I had seen it, she came to me and asked me not to disclose it. She said it was an old fling of hers and she needed to resolve it within herself. She added she loved my cousin and did not want to destroy the family she had built with him and the two children they had. She also said that once she solved the enigma of her heart, she would be an even better wife. It seemed to me she was being sincere. Indeed, she and my cousin with their two kids seemed to be a happy family. However, omission is, at times, almost a lie. To tell my cousin or not, this is my dilemma, since I was committed to always being honest, always sticking to the truth and never distancing myself from good morals.
Loureiro listened without saying a word. At the end, he sipped a little coffee and made a comment: “I see no dilemma.” What did he mean? I was surprised. I told him that every good person should guide their choices according to good morals, which are formed by virtues that dignify the human character. The craftsman nodded in agreement. I added that being fateful to the truth was a cardinal virtue. This time the shoemaker shook his head and said: “Not always.”
I said I had not understood. Loureiro explained: “The purpose of exercising the virtues is to direct people towards doing good. Humility, justice, courage, compassion, among others, in addition to love, of course, are some of the essential virtues whose function is to guide the walker on the Path. Out of logic, it is necessary to fit them inside you in a harmonious way, so that one does not clash against the other. Had that happened, ironically or tragically, good would end up being lost, for the inadequate use of the virtue to reach good itself. Common sense is also another precious virtue, as it is used to create a set of priorities that are suitable for each particular case.” I said I would understand it more easily if he explained it to me through an example. The craftsman obliged: “Let’s focus on the important and undeniable commitment we have with the virtue of honesty, the one that prompts us to always tell the truth.” He sipped a little coffee and continued: “Imagine an executioner goes to your home searching for a friend of yours who is hiding in a room. The murderer asks if you know where your friend is. Do you tell the truth or do you lie to save a life?”
I lowered my eyes. I was beginning to understand the importance having a balance of the virtues. Loureiro continued: “Any virtue that is not committed to the light, to doing good, is not a virtue at all, even if it is disguised as such. Any action that does not have love as a goal is not a virtuous one. This is where the difference between moral and moralism lies. Moral is the endpoint of virtue. Like virtue, moral needs to be flexible to suit the actual case, to be light to adjust to reality, and it needs love to do good. Obstinacy and intolerance imprison moral and disfigure it into moralism. Then the light goes off and the shadows reign again.” I wanted to know the difference between moral and virtue. He obliged “Moral commands; virtues are the instruments. Light maps moral; the virtues allow you to get there. Moral is the canvas; the virtues, the paints.” I think Loureiro noticed a quizzical expression on my face, and went further: “The good is the dwelling of the good morals we try to build; the virtues are the bricks. Knowing how to align them requires wisdom for the house not to collapse.” He paused briefly and then gave another example: “A mother’s love for her child is of precious moral and fundamental importance. It is a wonderful, necessary base for a life. But that is not enough. It is necessary to understand the wisdom of “yes” and “no”. She needs the virtues to educate the child about the differences between shadows and light. Values such as dignity, patience, generosity, purity, among others, are essential to form the character she will help shape, particularly during infancy.”
“Just like the virtues are tools of the moral, the wisdom is necessary for love to be exerted in all its magnitude.” He drank a little more coffee and continued: “In the good mother example, love without wisdom may weaken itself, preventing the child from moving forward and giving room to narcissism, spoiledness and weaknesses. On the other hand, wisdom without love may be too dangerous, for leading the child away from the sunny side of the Road, by making him excessively brute, insensitive or harsh. Just like the morals and virtues complement each other, love and wisdom complete the circle of light.”
I said that I understood, in theory, the reasons presented by the cobbler. However, in practice, the situation of my cousin still elicited distress and questions in me. So, I used a valuable, but dangerous reasoning. I said that if I were in my cousin’s shoes, I would like to be told the secret. Loureiro furrowed his brow and rebuked, gravely: “In the example of the murderer that we used earlier, if you were in the executioner’s shoes you would like to be told where the victim was hiding, right? What if you were the victim, what would you like the friend to do?”
Ashamed, I lowered my eyes once again. The shoemaker paused briefly to complete: “To put yourself in someone else’s shoes is an extremely important exercise. However, that is not enough. There is not only one other person, but many, each one with their own interest and values, not always in sync with yours. Isn’t the choice up to you? Therefore, one should have the discretion to realize the true feeling that drives one’s actions, and which of the virtues should be the instrument for making that decision, so that light is formed at that moment.”
“If you are distressed for not knowing what to do, you should not forget that all suffering is due to unbalance between ideas and emotions; new and outdated ideas that still clash, one against the other; feelings that are confused, opposing. It is all because you are thinking only of you.” I asked if he was saying I was being selfish. He winked an eye and said, in a roguish way: “In a way, yes.” Then he adopted a serious tone: “By putting yourself in the shoes of the other, your purpose should only be their best. That is great. However, oftentimes we let our own shadows bring the sorrows and memories of our past that still corrode us and, out of inattentiveness, they end up tainting our decision and, in consequence, the life of others. Hence, ultimately, they use the shadows, not the light, to examine the issue. This is terrible. Light and shadows are available for a decision to be made and a word to be uttered. Can you see how delicate and important a choice is?”
“I would go even further. Who knows the intimacy of your cousin’s marriage, its pains and pleasures? What if, instead of putting yourself in his shoes, you put yourself in his wife’s? What is her story? What are the wounds, traumas, deceptions she has yet to heal? How much help does she need and what is the best way to help? We know so little about ourselves, how can we decide to be masters of the truth and of the fate of others? Didn’t you say they seem a happy family? The fact is until now you were only concerned with yourself and what to do with the truth you became aware of, regardless of anything. So let me ask this, is your intention to construct or to destroy? The answer will define if virtue is in talking or silencing.”
I took the cue and said that nothing happens by accident. If the secret was somehow revealed to me, it is because I should do something good with it. The craftsman nodded in agreement, and added: “Yes, of course you should do something good, not only with the secret itself but with the entire situation related to the issue at stake, and take the best lesson from it. The secret is just part of the lesson that life is generously providing you with. What to do with the secret will reveal much more about you than about your cousin’s wife. Does good lie in disclosing the secret or in the lesson of learning how to deal better with your own virtues, a precious opportunity for personal improvement?”
He made a brief pause, and continued to question me: “If you are still distressed, doesn’t that mean anything? Would a sound soul allow itself to be invaded by the pain of moral inadequacy? What is yet to be transformed so that doubt is always a factor for growth, not unbalance?”
I lowered my eyes one more time. Yes, I suffered. ‘If there is suffering, this means there is still a lesson to be learned, something to be transformed within yourself’, I recalled the Old Man, who kept saying this all the time.
Life is extremely generous, but it has an odd way of teaching. However, it is extremely effective, there is no question about it. We remained silent for a long while. Little by little, the ideas settled in my mind and the feelings found a place in my heart. I understood that virtues, despite their undeniable importance, are not an end in themselves, but tools that must be wisely used to let there be light. The moral, in turn, will have value only if coated by love, without which nothing will make sense. One more veil was removed. I smiled.
Loureiro realized that, gave me back a nice smile and concluded: “Love will always be the crossing and the destination. Wisdom, in turn, plays the role of guardian of the Path.”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.