Dr Dan Winder and I met at his cosy offices in St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. Suitably, it is the actor’s church as Dan is a theatre producer, director and an actor, and the artistic director of Iris Theatre. We curled up on the chairs and drank coffee as the cat wandered in and out and talked at length about virtue. Suitably, Dan’s entry into a discussion of virtue was Shakespeare’s list of qualities required for kingship, taken from Macbeth. These include: justice, verity, temperance, stableness, bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, devotion, patience, courage, and fortitude.
Dan believes that virtue is lived out in the small day to day actions one takes. For him, virtue involves emotional and physical closeness and includes personal expressions of affection and intimacy. In short, behaviour based on true empathy with others is virtuous behaviour. For him, being in a supportive environment – being loved and seeing love – makes it easy to be virtuous and to see the impact of virtuous behaviour. Watching people help each other, and helping others, makes Dan feel complete and connected to a greater whole. To that end, virtue meets a deep emotional need to be of service. It also meets a clear rational need which is that virtue eases social interaction, helps makes connections, and thus provides some of what he needs to do his job. It was Dan’s upbringing that enabled him to understand the benefits of virtue, and the positive impact it can have on himself and others. Nevertheless, he believes he has made conscious behavioural choices and, to that end, believes the individual plays the key role in embedding virtue in society as a whole. Choosing to surround yourself with supportive people makes it easy to see and participate in virtue, and reap the benefits.
The biggest barrier to embedding virtue in our society is the current pursuit of money and fame for their own sakes. In his line of work (theatre) he sees a lot of this and observes that it inflicts so many people – the 99% who don’t win talent programmes – with a sense of failure and shame. He hastens to add that there is nothing wrong with money and fame but that the pursuit of money and fame for their own sakes is clearly damaging in so many ways. Another barrier to embedding virtue is that we just don’t talk about it in spite of the fact that virtue leads to a sense of wellbeing and improved psychological health. Many people in power, who could lead the debate and help embed virtue, are closed in on themselves and focused on maintaining their power rather than effecting positive change in the institutions they are leading.
Dan believes if everyone took even five minutes out of their day to sit and think quietly they would develop perspective and harness the energy that is needed to be a little more patient and a little more helpful, enabling you to serve others and, in doing so, serve yourself.