Conclusion. A Way Forward
^My argument is that the virtue of gratitude is liberating for individuals both as moral agents and as members of professions. The empirical evidence from positive psychologists supports the view that the virtue of gratitude increases subjective well-being and prosocial behavior (McCullough et al., 2001, pp. 249-66). A grateful person has the confidence to be curious about the world, to become more response- able, and potentially, therefore, to become more responsible. He or she takes up the conversation of the generations in order to endow the future with a legacy characterized by gratitude and the desire to understand, to act justly, and to be compassionate. To offer and accept the gift of service transforms the giver, the gift, and the recipient. It is of the essence of the pattern of human maturation that we learn to give appropriate attention to the many aspects of our experience, to bring them together, to share what we know, and to enjoy the inherent beauty of our world. An appreciation of the virtue of gratitude can reform a vocation and transform the personal relationships that underpin the experience of professional practice for both the professional and the client.
I have set the vision in a Christian theological framework not because I think that Christianity is the only possible framework that can be helpful; rather, my claim is that the theological framework presented in Christianity is a profoundly life-giving simile that stimulates the moral imagination and encourages a vision of the total context of professional practice. Its generality and inclusiveness, rooted as it is in God’s redemptive creativity, makes it worth exploring: it can be revelatory. Our sense of gratitude is the embodiment in our lives of the gracious presence of God that leads us into the Real Presence of God himself.
I am reminded of Wittgenstein’s remark, “A good simile refreshes the intellect” (Wittgenstein, 1980, p. le). But the intellect is informed not merely by reason but by feeling and emotion. A wholehearted expression of gratitude involves the whole of the self: I am a genuinely grateful person with all that that implies.
In this concluding chapter, I shall explore what I believe to be four of the essential features of the professional life. First, as a virtuous professional, I require awareness that I am a self; the professional is a person. Who I am, who I can become, and what my character is lies at the heart of my professional practice; I remain at all times and in every situation a person responsible for myself and for my professional practice.
Second, I require a sound liberal education in order to grow in response-ability. Only thus will I be able to act responsibly with gratitude for my inheritance and with the intention to leave a fruitful legacy for future generations. The art of open conversation is an integral ingredient, without which, my experience with be narrow and introverted.
Third, personal awareness and a sound general education are lifelong conditions for virtuous professional practice and must be attended to continuously. Professional competence is essential, but it is grounded in personal experience of the world: only as I keep that in mind will I remain free to understand and give attention to my professional responsibilities.
Fourth, I am aware of the happy prospect that as a person grateful for God’s presence, I can accept that a professional life is a vocation to bear witness to the fact that the world is good.
In summary, we are concerned to be ourselves, to appreciate the totality of the context in which we operate, and to gain the liberal education and the professional skills necessary to act responsibly and serve the common good. Each of these features is involved with all the others. Moreover, none is ever completed. All involve a lifetime commitment.
I shall conclude by underlining the practical relevance of theological exploration and its encouraging potential for one’s personal life and professional practice. Theological language is performative: to speak it is a reminder that our world is characterized by the presence of God. In particular, it points to the possibility of love, a relational term frequently neglected in professional relationships. Iris Murdoch notes the failure of philosophers to talk of love: “Contemporary philosophers frequently connect consciousness with virtue, and although they constantly talk of freedom they rarely talk of love” (Murdoch, 1970, p. 2). Yet she later writes, “We need a moral philosophy in which the concept of love, so rarely mentioned now by philosophers, can once again be made central” (Murdoch, 1970, p. 46). Within the theological framework I have outlined, our practice is informed by love because we are addressed as persons made in God’s image by the God of love. The concepts of conversion and Resurrection declare the world to be loving and lovable.