The Nine Virtues: Vision

May 7, 2016
Vi"sion (?), n. [OE. visioun, F. vision, fr. L. visio, from videre, visum, to see: akin to Gr. &?; to see, &?; I know, and E. wit. See Wit, v., and cf. Advice, Clairvoyant, Envy, Evident, Provide, Revise, Survey, View, Visage, Visit.]
4. Especially, that which is seen otherwise than by the ordinary sight, or the rational eye; a supernatural, prophetic, or imaginary sight; an apparition; a phantom; a specter; as, the visions of Isaiah.
The baseless fabric of this vision.
No dreams, but visions strange.
Sir P. Sidney.
5. Hence, something unreal or imaginary; a creation of fancy. 

Vi"sion*a*ry, n.; pl. Visionaries (&?;). 1. One whose imagination is disturbed; one who sees visions or phantoms.
2. One whose imagination overpowers his reason and controls his judgment; an unpractical schemer; one who builds castles in the air; a daydreamer.

Vision, contrary to wisdom and piety, actually seems a fairly straightforward virtue to understand, for me. Vision is the ability to see things both as they truly are and as they might be: a combination of what Terry Pratchett called “First Sight” (seeing the things that are really in front of you instead of the things you want to see) and the ability to imagine a better world and the path toward it. Vision requires wisdom; I can’t imagine one without the other. Seeing much doesn’t matter without being able to understand it, and wisdom requires that understanding be applied to reality, not to a convenient fiction. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable calling them two separate virtues, though; I’ll definitely be going back over this list when I’ve finished the DP to examine everything as a whole.

Who is visionary?

The most visionary people I know of are activists - people who have looked at the world the way it is, said, “That is not acceptable,” and dedicated themselves to working for change. Mikki Kendall, Andromeda Yelton, Nikki Haley, everybody running Black Lives Matter and SlutWalk and everyone who fought for gay marriage when no one thought there was a chance in hell that it would happen.

And - in another realm entirely - look, I get really emotional about the space program, and I’ve never entirely understood why, but I think now that it’s because it’s made up of pure distilled vision. We want to know what’s out there, we want to go there and see it ourselves, and it’s hard-to-impossible (but it keeps turning out to not be impossible) and people have sacrificed their lives to the human desire to know, to see, and to grow. To the dream that some day we could go further from home than our ancestors ever knew was possible. If that’s not visionary I don’t know what is.

Who is visionary in the lore?

Ah, and here’s Fionn again, who touched the Salmon of Wisdom and ever after made decisions by putting his thumb in his mouth to think. (That’s such a delightful image in so many ways.) But vision is particularly important in Irish mythology - seers and poets are practically the same thing, and poets are tremendously important. Manannan Mac Lir is the keeper of wells, a source of knowledge and foreseeing; I’m inclined to put Dian Cecht in the tradition of visionaries as well, for his solution to the problem of Nuada’s kingship.

When have I been visionary?

I feel like I’ve been doing nothing else this past year and more, attempting to find and make my place in the world. I’ve always had a difficult time figuring out what I actually want - I’m inclined to follow the path of least resistance and make myself happy within that. It’s worked, for the most part, but last December I walked face-first into something that would have made logical sense for my career and long-term goals and would have made me miserably unhappy. I have since been trying to figure out what to do instead of the logical thing, envisioning a future for myself that is not the usual or expected one. It’s exhausting work - but important, for myself and for the world generally, I think.

Your understanding of the virtue.

Vision is more than wisdom, but it has something in common with it: the ability to look at the way the world is and see it slightly differently. Where wisdom deals with things as they are, vision deals with things as they could be. True vision must be grounded in reality - it’s easy to dream up castles in the air, but much harder to build them. But it can’t be constrained by reality, because so often the things we think of as natural laws are nothing more than walls we’ve built up around ourselves. The visionary is able to see over the walls to what’s on the other side, and to know when they can be knocked down.

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