• Matthew Emerson

The Problem with Wholesomeness: Virtue and the Modern Age


You're scrolling through Facebook, digging through the countless memes that pop up on your feed. You eventually find one that makes you smile. Your heart burns like an oven and you share it. You type a short post and you write, "this is so wholesome."

That's the word. One of the most popular meme pages on Facebook this day is aptly titled "Wholesome Memes," and I must confess, many of those photos have made me smile warmly at some time during me day.

This is all well and good, but I think that this highlights more about our present day culture than one would expect. Wholesomeness has become the great virtue of our day. Out of anything a person can be, we look to people to be wholesome. What does that word even mean?

According to Merriam-Webster it is defined as, "promoting health or well-being of mind or spirit." [1] Although, in the popular consciousness, it has come to simply take on the meaning of being nice. Excessively nice even. If a person is wholesome, they tend to not breed any conflict. They just make you feel warm and fuzzy and comfortable. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when this is the virtue that is held up above all others, which it seems to be, then we can start to have some problems.

In the ancient world, there were four cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. Unlike wholesomeness--these all four of these virtues were expected to be most visible during times of difficulty and conflict.

Keanu Reeves shares an interesting point in this vein. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Keanu was asked "what do you think happens when we die?" To which he responded, "I think the people who loved us will miss us very much." Awwwww everyone responds. What a sweet answer, right? Well, yes it might be sweet, but it kind of dodges the question doesn't it? Of course our loved ones will miss us, but that's not the intent of the question. But instead of taking a stand and actually stating an opinion on what happens in the afterlife, the answer dodges all of that for a kind, inoffensive answer that makes us all feel good. This does not breed virtue.

If people are not willing to take a stand for what they believe in, they should not be surprised when their values disappear from the world around them.

This may be as simple as calmly and gently admitting to someone that you disagree. They might be offended. They might be irate. Yet iron sharpens iron; and if you raise your objections in a peaceable manner, willing to listen, you will probably grow closer rather than further apart. We're drawn to people who have a sense of steadfastness about them, a sense of integrity. So be wholesome--but be more than that. Be virtuous.

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wholesome

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