Another form of persuasive character is virtue.

Virtue can mean different things to different people, but broadly speaking, it describes a person who is kind, considerate, generous, helpful and treats others fairly and honestly. (And virtuousness doesn't have to be serious; virtue can also be light-hearted and good-humoured.)

Ultimately, being a good person with a reputation for goodness can be persuasive.

Another way to label virtue is to call someone a "mensch", which is a Yiddish word that describes someone with "noble character".

For example, Patagonia is a clothing company that has long cultivated a "socially good" brand:

Patagonia don't buy this jacket

How does this ad attempt to convey virtue?

In this ad, Patagonia adopts an extreme position for a business, telling the audience not to buy their products at all; they don't need them.

Instead, they tell the audience to repair what they have or cut down on their consumption entirely, in the interest of reducing material consumption and waste, and preserving a more beautiful planet for everyone (which is on brand for Patagonia, since the company is about adventure-wear).

Why Patagonia is fighting for public lands

Patagonia mural ad

Here's an example from an episode of The Simpsons, where Homer takes a new job at a nuclear power plant that is run by a supervillain called Hank Scorpio.

When they first meet, Hank Scorpio tries to put Homer at ease by showing him how alike they are, but really they're nothing alike—Hank Scorpio is just a mensch (and also a supervillain):

How does Hank Scorpio attempt to convey virtue?

Hank Scorpio knows he's more powerful and higher-status than Homer, but he does his best to be nice to everyone, meet people where they are, provide gifts, stay active in the community, etc.

He also attempts to cut James Bont in half with a laser and blow up France with his nuclear doomsday device, but among his community and employees, Hank Scorpio is a real mensch!

Here's a snippet from an unidentified American Indian chief speaking to the Massachusetts Congress in 1775. How does this speech demonstrate a virtuous character?


You remember, when you first came over the great waters, I was great and you were little — very small. I then took you in for a friend, and kept you under my arms, so that no one might injure you. Since that time we have ever been true friends: there has never been any quarrel between us. But now our conditions are changed. You are become great and tall. You reach to the clouds. You are seen all round the world. I am become small — very little. I am not so high as your knee. Now you take care of me; and I look to you for protection.

Brothers! I am sorry to hear of this great quarrel between you and old England. It appears that blood must soon be shed to end this quarrel. We never till this day understood the foundation of this quarrel between you and the country you came from. Brothers! Whenever I see your blood running, you will soon find me about you to revenge my brothers’ blood. Although I am low and very small, I will grip hold of your enemy’s heel, that he cannot run so fast, and so light, as if he had nothing at his heels.

How does this speech demonstrate a virtuous character?

The unnamed chief talks about helping the colonists when they first arrived, being friends, offering and receiving protection. He notes their growing power, but also says he will help them fight their even more powerful enemy.

These are all mensch-like qualities, and the American colonists were doubtless happy to hear these sentiments.

(However, being a mensch in politics can ultimately be futile unless you also have power yourself.)

It's hard to tell others that you're virtuous because it's not virtuous to be self-aggrandising. (That's why Hank Scorpio didn't want to be called Boss.)

It's usually better if someone else can attest to your character.

For example, here's a snippet from American comedian and goat farmer, Jon Stewart, attesting to the character of New York City emergency workers who responded to the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center (in a furious address to Congress in which he demands they be provided adequate healthcare for illnesses stemming from the disaster zone):

They're here to continue fighting for what's right. Lou's going to go back for his 69th chemo. The great Ray Pfeifer would come down here his body riddled with cancer and pain, where he couldn't walk, and the disrespect shown to him and to the other lobbyists on this bill is utterly unacceptable. I would be so angry at the latest injustice that's done to these men and women, and another business card thrown our way, as a way of shooing us away, like children trick or treating, rather than the heroes that they are and will always be.

The official FDNY response time for 9/11 was five seconds, *five seconds*. That's how long it took for FDNY, for NYPD, for Port Authority, for EMS to respond to an urgent need from the public, five seconds. Hundreds died in an instant. Thousands more poured in to continue to fight for their brothers and sisters.

The breathing problems started almost immediately, and they were told they weren't sick, they were crazy. Then as the illnesses got worse and things became more apparent, "Well, okay, you're sick, but it's not from the pile." Then when the science became irrefutable, "Okay, it's the pile, but this is a New York issue. I don't know if we have the money." And I'm sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I'm angry and you should be too, and they're all angry as well.

They have every justification to be that way. There's not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage that didn't tweet out ‘never forget the heroes of 9/11’, ‘never forget their bravery’, ‘never forget what they did, what they gave to this country’...

They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. 18 years later? Do yours. Thank you.

How does this speech demonstrate virtuous character?

The emergency workers are clearly virtuous: brave, responsive, and self-sacrificing.

This speech, an angry defence of virtuous people, went viral and caused such a public outcry that Congress was shamed into taking action.

(It's telling that the first responders alone didn't have enough power to get Congress to take action; they needed mass support to get a result.)

You have a try. Using this image as inspiration, imagine you are speaking up in support of a mensch. How would you describe their good qualities?

Child detective showing his badge

Using this image as inspiration, imagine you are speaking up in support of a mensch. How would you describe their good qualities?