How do we distinguish vice from virtue?Save
By Megan Nicol Reed
My answers to their questions are always laced with the tiniest traces of regret. You know those thorny, trip-you-up kinds of questions so beloved of doctors, insurance companies and border control. Do you smoke? How many standard drinks in an average week. Any previous criminal convictions? No, never, I say. Five, maybe, I calculate. The odd speeding ticket, I admit. While I know I should be thankful to have, thus far at least, led a relatively clean life, there is a part of me that wishes it wasn't so. A part of me that can't help but think that, perhaps, I'm actually a little bit dull.
The first time I met my husband I caught him out in a lie. Temporarily on reception at the company he worked for, I was tasked one Friday afternoon with tracking him down. Supposedly in a meeting, he was, in fact, playing golf. Well hello there, bad boy, I thought. It was and is his instinct for hedonism that we have most often argued about, and also, self-contradictorily, it is the quality in him I was and am most attracted to. His many vices both thrill and vex me.
In film and literature the sexy baddie always has a vice. Cigars or strippers or whisky sours. But though I have at times wished I had one too, if only for the layer of intrigue it might lend me, I've never been able to summon up the requisite enthusiasm for any of the traditional wickednesses. I never got smoking; where is the pay-off? And while I enjoy a drink or two, I don't enjoy the loss of control that comes with too many. Which puts paid, then, to most drugs, not to mention that there is something about all that paraphernalia, the process itself, which leaves me cold. As for gambling, I've been bored to tears on the rare occasion I've stepped foot in a casino. Even Lotto strikes me as a fool's game: so many ifs, so few sureties. True, there's always sex, but one's appetite for fleshly adventure tends to abate with the passing years.
However, if we were to reconsider what constitutes a vice, if we were to take a more expansive view, perhaps we could widen the net. I would argue that for a vice to be justifiably called a vice, it should inspire both a battle of willpower in you and consume a fair whack of your waking hours; that you should be fixated upon it, and display a level of intentionality towards it. And, finally, that there exists someone who finds your habit morally indefensible. Anyone who saw me at Sylvia Park food court last Wednesday, hunched over the table, jealously guarding my plate from my children's grabby mitts, cramming hot chips into my mouth, would have been left in no doubt as to my gluttonous tendencies. And were they to have glimpsed me a short while earlier, almost buried beneath a teetering pile of jeans, shirts and dresses en route to the changing rooms at Zara, they might have been affronted by the feverish intensity of my consumerism.
What, though, if we were to cast the net even wider still? Turn the notion of a vice as something forcibly wicked on its head? While I would never wish to become that miserable guy in human resources who proclaims to be addicted to green tea, or that vile school mother, who reckons she is absolutely hooked on high-intensity interval training, I've been wondering, what might happen if I were to apply some of the skillset, some of the time I spend on shopping and thinking about my next meal to new and healthy habits? What happy outcome could I expect, were I to call upon the stamina and the determination I possess when scouring the racks of Country Road or polishing off that cream sponge, to the practice of yoga or the reading of the classics? Is it possible that if we could just learn to like, to prioritise, what is good for us, then we might actually make a vice of a virtue?