NEW YORK—The root cause of the downfall of four-star general David Petraeus was immorality, said Kuo York Chynn, an 89-year-old retired doctor.
“An immoral relationship. He’s married to his wife for 36 years. Is that moral? That’s not moral,” Chynn said.
Chynn sees a lot of immorality in the world. So in an attempt to inspire college students to reflect on and pursue morality—such as the four cardinal virtues of ancient Greece: prudence, justice, courage, and self-control—he started a unique essay contest. Students select one virtue and write about it. They describe a personal experience practicing that virtue, and obstacles they encountered along the way.
“It’s not about how much money you can make, or how successful your career [is],” said Chynn, emphasizing it’s more important to be a virtuous person.
The Asian American/Asian Research Institute partnered with the Chynn Family Foundation to put on the contest. Thirty-eight submissions came from 14 different schools within the City University of New York network of schools.
The winner, Jesaiah Prayor, and the runner up, Nicole Wong, both chose the virtue love.
“If it were an option,” Prayor writes,” I would not go to school to become an engineer, a lawyer, or a doctor; I would go to school to become a superhero.”
Yet instead of warding off bad guys and saving the assailed, Prayor discovered showing unconditional love is a better form of heroism.
“True heroism is not defined by the amount of lives you save but rather by the amount of love shown to your fellow man,” writes Prayor. “It is within the moment we discover how to love others that we acquire the greatest wisdom in this world.”
Prayor’s mom hit him with a belt once out of anger. Months later he was still bitter. But he learned “love on a merit based agenda” was not the way to go, and was able to overcome the bitterness. His mom became one of his closest friends.
“I couldn’t picture a world where people didn’t show love,” said Prayor, 19, a sophomore at Queensborough Community College. He chose the story because it caused him to struggle before overcoming.
Nicole Wong tells the story of when her family endured a tough time after her brother stole thousands of dollars from their parents. They struggled to forgive him but thought they had done so. Then he stole again.
Her brother was sent to an aunt’s house and she vowed to help her family by being a light in a time of need.
“Philosophers believe that society ‘regards morality as being concerned primarily with minimizing the … pain … that all human beings can suffer,’” writes Wong, quoting an article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “and accordingly I found that the only way to please my parents, do good deeds, and express my love was to focus on minimizing my family’s suffering.”
“Sometimes I did what I thought was right and they ignored my efforts or yelled at me for seemingly no reason, but I would simply nod politely, cry in my pillow at night, and wake up every morning determined to do everything in my power to prevent my father from cursing and my mother from crying,” she continued.
“During that time, I kept my cool and I just kept everything afloat for my family,” Wong, 19, a sophomore at Queens College who wants to be a lawyer, said. “I guess that was a time where I felt like I loved my family even though it was hard.”
She concludes in her essay: “If we can take the experience of loving our families each morning and use it to love everyone else throughout the day, then no matter how ugly situations may get the world can be a beautiful place.”
Brandon Jordan, 18, a freshman at Queens College, chose courage as his virtue. In his essay he describes multiple rounds of breakthroughs in his life using courage, such as beginning to participate in his Student Congress after previously being too fearful to talk about politics anywhere but the Internet.
Jordan later overcame anxiety and learned how to play a new instrument while picking the guitar back up. He had stopped playing feeling depressed after an especially bad performance at a concert.
“Throughout my life, I felt consumed by fears, anxieties, and judgments by others. But now I realize, through the power of courage, that life is a ride,” writes Jordan. “Courage excites a feeling like no other virtue when we see how our individualism can be intertwined with our world around us.”
“I hope to do something special for the world, to elevate the planet with something,“ said Jordan.
Jordan, who is interested in a future in politics and art, music, and writing, won $200 as second runner up. Wong won $300, and Prayor won $1,000.
“I was thrilled,” he said, describing when he learned he won second runner up. “I think it represents I have the potential to do something.”
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