Dr Ed Kessler is, among other things, the director of the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths which is “dedicated to teaching, research and dialogue in the encounter between Jews, Christians and Muslims.” He received me with great kindness on a rainy day in September and we talked about virtue in his cosy office tucked away at Wesley House in Cambridge.
Ed mused that virtue is an old fashioned word, one that does not get a lot of air just at the moment and conceded that he does not think about virtue per se in that he does not use the word to define what he does think a lot about which is “doing right”. Ed believes virtuous behaviour can be demonstrated when doing small things like picking up litter, or big things like helping people off the path of sin and on to the path of righteousness. His virtue comes out of engaging in education which he does because he thinks the process of teaching is the right thing to do.
Ed believes that virtue is practically relevant to the average person and that people think a little more about it today than they did ten years ago. This is because we are challenged so much more than we used to be. We see much more suffering and many more causes for concern (terrorism, global warming, refugees, immigration, the financial crisis) are daily front page news. It is difficult, however, to translate the raised thinking into action because humans are naturally conservative and change averse. Under stress we tend to retreat to what we know rather than reach out and across boundaries to effect change.
In order to embed virtue Ed believes we need to acknowledge where we go wrong, reflect on it, and the go out there and do good which is what he tries to achieve every day.