“Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.”

— David Starr Jordan

Someone once asked me if I knew how to eat an elephant.  As I sat and pondered the question, she shared the answer:  One bite at a time.

There it was.  She had presented a seemingly imponderable question and then provided the obvious truth that would lead to completing the task at hand.  Wisdom sometimes tells us that there are very large tasks that need to be done; but wisdom is only the beginning of accomplishment.  Next comes skill, and skill must be developed through practice.  We must try and fail, try and succeed, until we become adept at the art required to take us through the task.  Wisdom and skill provide us with the plan and the tools for approaching our life’s work, but they are only the beginning.

How often do we spend years pondering the truth of wisdom and then become comfortable in the company of our own philosophy, adding to it each day but never letting it move into action and be tested?  How often do we make the decision to put our wisdom to work and then become stuck in a perfectionist loop of practicing our skills over and over so that when we approach the challenge we will do it flawlessly?

This is why we need virtue.  Virtue grows in the sort of character that can accept that flawless only exists in the land of thinking and planning.  Virtue lies in accepting our limitations and then forging ahead toward the challenges of life with the satisfaction that our wisdom and skill will be enough to see us through.  Virtue rises from its chair, rolls up its sleeves and begins to nibble at the elephant, one bite at a time.  It refuses to give up, even when it needs to stop and catch its breath from time to time.  It doesn’t fret about the scraps of pachyderm that may lie under the table and need a cleanup.  And the best part of all is the way that Virtue, with all his practicality and elbow grease teaches us more about the wisdom that gave birth to our effort and more about the skills necessary to complete the job.

Whatever your elephant might be, tie on your napkin, grab a fork, and dig in.  There is virtue in learning that although we are not perfect, we are more than good enough to face a challenge and see it through.