They’re not like peaces or squash. Plumpness isn’t for them. They like being lean, as if for the narrow path. The beans themselves sit quietly inside their green pods. Instinctively one picks with care, never tearing down he fine vine, never not noticing their rips bodies, or feeling their willingness for the pot, for the fire.
I have thought sometimes that something-I can’t name it- - watches as I walk the rows, accepting the gift of their lives to assist mine.
I know what you think: this is foolishness. They’re only vegetables. Even the blossoms with which they begin are small and pale, hardly significant. Our hands, or minds, our feet hold more intelligence. With this I have no quarrel.
But, what about virtue?
I am working with a group of philosophers who are developing the understanding of animals as having virtue, for nonhumans can be compassionate, kind, nurturing, and empathetic. By looking through a lens of virtue ethics at other beings we may break down our preconceived notions that humans are separate from nonhumans and that we are alone on the evolutionary tree. Now Mary here goes a step farther. What about the virtue of beans? What about the virtue of the earth, the sun, the universe, the “watcher” of our lives? Virtue, it may be argued, is something we intentionally create within our characters over a life time. What then of a young toddler who gives her toy to her friend? I do not see much preconceived intention in that act, or a lifetime of refinement. I am not saying that we can’t change who we are as we strive towards the future, in fact, I’d say the blessing of life is that each of us, where we are, can change and move towards the virtue we wish in the world. Yet at the same time there is virtue with which we are born. So why cannot virtue be born in plant and pig? Which virtues might that be? The one that comes to mind is the virtue of interconnection. Interconnecting is not a classic virtue, yet it seems to be the one I hold in common with bean and beaver. We are born interconnected, the gift we give to one another, the silent embrace that watches over us all.
What virtues do you see in nonhuman life? In your own life?