Joho the Blog » terry fisher

May 30, 2012

The virtue of self-restraint

Last night was the annual Berkman dinner. Lovely. It inevitably turned into a John Palfrey love fest, since he is leaving Harvard very soon, and he is much beloved.

People stood and spoke beautifully and insightfully about what John has meant to them. (Jonathan Zittrain and Ethan Zuckerman in addition were predictably hilarious.) But Terry Fisher gave us an insight that was so apt about John and so widely relevant that I’ll share it.

Terry listed some qualities of John’s. The last he talked about started out as John’s very occasional sarcasm; he can be bitingly perceptive about people, but always in private. So, said Terry, JP’s remarked-upon and remarkable niceness and kindness are not due to naivete. Rather, they arise in part from another of John’s virtues: self-restraint. And, from that, said Terry, comes much of the kindness that generally characterizes the Berkman Center.

That struck me not only as true of John, but as such an important quality for civic discourse. Self-restraint is an enabling virtue: its exercise results in a further qualities that make life on a crowded planet more fruitful and enjoyable.

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