WHAT ARE STRUCTURES?

The word “structure” is used in different ways. Here it means a prescribed way of acting or, to put it simply, a directive.

The word “structure” is used in different ways. Here it means a prescribed way of acting or, to put it simply, a directive. Here are some examples: a schedule, a speed-limit, fasting on Fridays, attending Mass on Sundays, a recipe, and a melody. In each case, something is prescribed for you to follow.

 

There’s another feature to a structure, as understood here. After you follow a structure, you can observe by some external means whether you followed it. Contrast this with the directive not to nurse a grudge. Whether or not you have followed this directive can be hard to see, since the grudge you bear may be buried in your heart. There may be no external sign by which to see whether you have followed the directive not to nurse a grudge. But with structures, there are external signs that tell you. As examples, notice that you can see on your speedometer whether you followed a speed-limit and you can observe from your external acts of eating whether you fasted. So, structures are not only directives, but externally verifiable directives.

 

Since they have external features, structures are sometimes spoken of as “externals.” This might lead some to say that they are not important, since what is inside and not what is outside matters. But while it is certainly true that the internal has primacy over the external, still structures are important. The reason is that they are indispensable helps for interior conversion. They help us to do the interior work of growing in the virtues and in such growth is true conversion. This, then, is the value of structures: they are valuable not in themselves, but in their ability to cultivate the virtues. 

 

Cultivating the virtues is an interior work that can be difficult to monitor. On the other hand, it is easier to monitor structures, since they have an external character. So, we want to take advantage of this by making use of structures (which can be monitored and therefore managed) in such a way that they help us to grow in the virtues (which can be difficult to monitor and therefore manage). 

 

In sum:

  • Structures are observable in two ways. We can observe (that is, follow) them as prescribed ways of acting and we can observe (that is, notice) whether we followed them since they have external features.

  • Structures are not valuable in themselves, but as ways to cultivate the virtues.

  • The external character of structures allows us to manage them more readily than interior matters and, making use of this, we should employ structures to foster growth in the virtues.