By Jason Metcalfe, Research Associate
Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, School of Education, University of Birmingham
In all that we presently do, we must desire to, and act with, deliberation and reflection, to maximise the greatest good for all those around us, be it our neighbours, nation or the global community.
On the 5th April 2020, HRH Queen Elizabeth delivered a rare public special address concerning the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst the address was watched live by an estimated 24 million viewers in the United Kingdom alone, it has been viewed, heard and read by millions more in the major news outlets around the world.
Like many of us in self-isolation, the Queen spoke from her home at Windsor Castle about the progressively difficult and disruptive period that we face both individually and collectively. The Queen thanked all those serving in the NHS, all the key-workers that carry out essential roles and keep our nation functioning, and all those who remain in their homes – helping to slow COVID-19 and protect those who are most vulnerable.
The Queen’s speech was undeniably inspirational, particularly about the pride that we shall take in the future when we look back on how we responded aptly to this challenge, and how this generation shall be regarded in terms of strength as alike any other. One could not help but be reminded of the previous historical speeches delivered by British monarchs and politicians in times of strife, and given time, this speech will arguably be regarded as one of the greatest from her reign.
The speech was concluded by the Queen on the moving point about how better days will come in the future, and that we will soon be with our colleagues, friends and families, ending on the note that ‘we will meet again’: a phrase carefully selected to hark back to the title of Dame Vera Lynn’s well-known song, commonly associated with the struggles of the Second World War.
Yet, how are we as strong as the generations that have come before us? Those have seen wars, conflicts and pressures on scales that are only inconceivable to us today. It would be true to say that the Queen appealed to our national spirit, but it would also be fair to say she went beyond this – in appealing to our underlying and enduring qualities of character. Consider, for instance, the traits explicitly referenced by the Queen in her speech, including: selflessness, appreciation, duty, resolution, pride, self-discipline, humour, helping others, and compassion.
If we apply the Jubilee Centre’s Building Blocks of Character to these traits, we could view appreciation as an intellectual virtue, selflessness and compassion as moral virtues, and pride, resolution and self-discipline as performance virtues. All of these virtues were referred to by the Queen in the context of this present crisis, indicating that the language of virtues is not as alien to us as some may think it is. Moreover, the Queen implicitly referred to the civic virtues of service and neighbourliness when she spoke of people coming together, delivering food parcels and medicines to the vulnerable, converting businesses to help the relief effort, and checking on neighbours.
The one additional virtue that needs mentioning, perhaps more so than any other at this time, is practical wisdom. This intellectual virtue integrates all others, it is developed through experience and critical reflection, and enables us to know, desire, perceive and act with good sense. Whether we are a key-worker, volunteer, or a person who stays home, it is our individual actions that shall collectively make the greatest difference. In all that we presently do, we must desire to, and act with, deliberation and reflection, to maximise the greatest good for all those around us, be it our neighbours, nation or the global community.
The Queen’s speech reminds us of the fact that the chain of British society is as strong as its strongest virtues.