The Nine Noble Virtues For Kids

(And Other Interested Parties)

By Annette Hinshaw

The Nine Noble Virtues (NNV) are guidelines for how you should behave, both what kinds of choices you make and how you act. In the Ásatrú religion, the NNV are there to help people decide what to do in their everyday lives. Virtues are usually thought of as a grown-up subject, but kids want to know what's right as much as adults do. The purpose of this article is to help kids (and grownups) have a better idea of how to practice the Nine Noble Virtues in their everyday lives. Remember that word. Anything you talk about and don’t act on is just smoke and mirrors. The NNV are always about right actions and how you treat other people.



The Ásatrú (oz' a true) are the people who are loyal to the Aesir. The Aesir (with the Vanir) are the gods in Norse Mythology (for example, Odin, Thor, Freya). Someone who follows this path may be called an "Ásatrúr" (oz a true' er). The Ásatrú are trying to rebuild the religion that the people who lived in northern Europe practiced before Christianity became the main religion of Europe (between about 600-1100 C.E.). A good book on Norse mythology for kids is Norse Gods and Giants by Ingrid and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire.


Ethics is the set of values you use to decide what to do when you have a choice of actions. If you act for the good of others more than for what is good only for you, you are said to have "good ethics" or to behave in an "ethical" way.


Your character is the set of qualities that make you who you are. The qualities that people would name when they describe you are what "characterize" you (could be good or bad) and make you a person who is different from anyone else. If your ethics cause you to do good things even when you might rather do something else, you are said to have a "good character." If you almost always make the same kinds of ethical choices, and don't let other people talk you into things that you believe are wrong, you are said to have a "strong character."


The word virtue comes from the Latin word for man, and originally meant a good quality that humans (men) practice and which makes them different than animals. Nowadays a virtue means a good quality that causes humans to help each other and to act for the good of their families and communities rather than just for what gives them personal pleasure.


Originally, the word "noble" meant that you were born into a high-ranking (and probably rich) family in your society. Early societies assumed that high-ranking people would take care of and defend the people whom they ruled, even at the cost of their own lives. Now the word "noble" often means behaving for the good of others, being the best possible kind of person, even when you have to give up things that you want in order to behave "nobly."

Nine Noble Virtues:

Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industry, Self-Reliance, and Perseverance


The word "courage" comes from the Latin word for "heart," and it basically means that you are brave. You can be brave physically, which might mean that you are willing to fight for what you believe is right. For example, you might defend someone who is being hurt by a bully who is bigger or stronger than the person he or she is hurting. Another kind of courage is called "moral courage." It means standing up for what you believe, even when it would be easier to keep quiet. Suppose someone uses words that put someone down because of their skin color, or their religion, or where their parents came from. If you speak up and say that people should be judged on what they do, not on how they look or what they believe, you are practicing the noble virtue of Courage. If you hear someone tell a lie that could hurt someone else, and you call them on it, you are acting with courage. Courage also means doing what you believe is right, or refusing to do what you believe is wrong, even when other people laugh at you and your friends won't support your choices.

Almost everyone understands what being brave is about. However, an important thing to understand is that being brave doesn't mean that you aren't afraid. What makes people "courageous" is doing the right thing even when they are afraid. Another important idea is that being brave doesn't mean you should be stupid. If you see someone being beaten up by a bully who is too big for you to fight without getting hurt yourself, use your "courage" to find an adult to stop the fight. Courage is the virtue that gives you the "heart" to do the best you can to defend others and to do what's right.


The virtue of Truth sounds pretty simple. It basically means that you don’t tell lies. However, there is more to practicing Truth than that. For example, the easiest way to avoid telling lies is to never do anything that you aren't comfortable telling people about. You need to be honest with yourself, too. Don’t give yourself excuses for doing things that you believe are wrong that make them sound like they are okay. You don’t make stealing right by saying that no one will miss what you take. Telling lies so you won’t be punished for doing something you know you shouldn’t have just makes what you did worse, not better. Part of practicing truth is having the courage to always own up to what you did.

Probably the most important thing to know about practicing truth is that not everyone agrees about what is true. Sometimes things that seem to contradict each other can both be true. There is a story about a group of blind men who "looked" at an elephant and then argued about whether an elephant was like a snake, a wall, a tree, or a vine. Each one had an idea that was true (the elephant’s trunk, body, leg, and tail), but none of them had the whole picture. If you really believe something is true, you don't have to make other people agree with you. You are only responsible for yourself. Maybe the people you disagree with know something you don't. Maybe they aren't ready to see what you do. Good friends can "agree to disagree" on lots of things without having to quit being friends.


The basic meaning of Honor is respect. When you honor people, you express your feeling that they have earned respect for a particular action or for the way they lead their lives. Your personal sense of honor is your commitment to live by the standards you believe should earn you respect from others. All the NNV are part of practicing honor. If you act with courage, tell the truth, are loyal to others, behave with discipline, are hospitable and industrious, rely on yourself to accomplish things, and persevere until you finish what you set out to do, you will certainly command honor from others. More important, if you live that way, you can honor and respect yourself as well and never need to be ashamed of what you have done.

You practice honor by respecting others' rights and beliefs and by keeping your word. You also practice honor by making others respect your rights and keep their word to you. Honor means treating other people the way you want to be treated and also getting in their faces when they don't treat you or your friends with respect. Most important of all, practicing honor means keeping your promises. Sometimes that means that you have to think before you make a promise. If you're not sure you can do something you are asked to do, it's okay to say you'll try, but aren't sure you can deliver. It's not okay to give your word and then not even try to do what you promised.


Fidelity is just a big word for being faithful or loyal to a person, to a group of people, or to an idea. For example, if your friend is being teased by others in a way that makes him or her feel bad, fidelity is standing by your friend, defending your friend, and refusing to join in the teasing, no matter what. If you believe that it's important to tell the truth, you practice fidelity by never telling a lie. Obeying the laws of your community is one way to practice fidelity. If someone in your family is in trouble, you try to help them if you can, even if you don't agree with what got them in trouble. However, fidelity does not include doing something you believe is wrong to give them that help. The important part of practicing fidelity is to be careful about who you give your loyalty to. If you belong to a group that thinks it's "cool" to use drugs or to lie to their parents, your being faithful to the group could also mean breaking the law or behaving dishonorably. If a group you belong to does not support your doing what's right, you need to withdraw your loyalty and get out of the group. That's part of practicing fidelity also, being faithful to your own ethics.


The word discipline originally comes from a word that meant teaching and learning. The idea was that when you teach, you put out a pattern of knowledge or behavior that students fit themselves to. The basic idea is that there are patterns that are worth learning to fit and also that the way you learn is to change your behavior to fit such patterns. For example, the best way to have a strong body is to learn the pattern of eating healthy and exercising that creates a strong body, and then to practice fidelity to that pattern. The NNV are a discipline, a pattern for thinking and acting which you practice until they are so much a part of who you are that they almost define who you are. Discipline sometimes seems to mean something unpleasant, like when a parent disciplines (punishes) a child to teach the child how to behave. Because many forms of learning (discipline) include some form of punishment when you fail to match the pattern, many people think discipline is an unpleasant thing. It depends on how you look at it. For example, dancers may work very hard and even experience pain to learn a particular dance, but the reward is the pleasure of creating the beauty of the dance, both for the performer and the audience. The trick in practicing discipline is to choose to learn and practice patterns that make you or your life better so that the end result is worth any trouble the process may create. The most important discipline you practice is self-discipline. That is, you decide you want to match a pattern and then you keep working at making the pattern a part of how you live until it is part of your character. For example, if you make eating right and exercising so much a part of your life that you are uncomfortable if you are not living that pattern, you are much more likely to live a long life and to be healthy even when you are very old.


Hospitality is the virtue where you recognize that, in addition to being an individual, you are also part of a community. In the ancient Norse world, hospitality meant opening your house to travelers and treating people who came to visit you with the same kindness and respect as you give your own family. The idea was that humans survive by helping each other and that, in a way, all humans are part of the same family. You practice hospitality when you treat other people like they are your family, with kindness and respect. We no longer live in a world where you can safely invite strangers into your home. You can do other things, though, like treating strangers with courtesy. You can also help people in your community by helping with food drives for the poor and other projects like neighborhood cleanup and doing house repair for disabled people. Doing chores like shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor or helping children cross the street safely or helping a friend get settled in a new house are also forms of hospitality. Of course hospitality is also making your friends and relatives welcome when they come to your home, and perhaps offering them something to eat or drink. The other side of hospitality is behaving well when you are a guest in someone else's home. It might mean avoiding a fight with your cousin or helping the younger children get something to eat at a family gathering. In general, if you treat other people the way you would like to be treated, you will be practicing hospitality.


Basically, industry means working to accomplish something. It also means doing more than the least you can get by with. If you have a job, you do the best you know how, and take pride in doing it right, whether or not other people notice that you did more than you had to. If someone asks you to do a job, and you accept responsibility for it, they can count on you to complete it and to do it on time and to meet the standards they set. You practice industry by how well you work, but also by how well you play. Play is where you renew your energies and where you explore new ideas and ways to look at the world. To be an effective human being, you need a balance of work and play. In the same way that you try to get the most done for the time and effort you put into a job, so should you try to play so you have the most fun and the most joy in living. The idea behind the virtue of industry is to be wholehearted in whatever you do, to get the most you can from the time and effort you spend. How you judge that depends on what is important and enjoyable to you. What do you think is more industrious play, watching TV or playing soccer with your friends? Reading a good book or watching a ball game? Watching an ant hill or dancing to a music video? Hint: there aren’t any "right" answers. You choose what is most valuable to you.


Another word for self-reliance is responsibility, especially for yourself. As much as you can, you need to be independent of the help of others. For example, if you’re supposed to go to soccer practice, don’t count on your Mom to remind you. Notice what time it is, and be ready when it’s time to go. Another way to be self-reliant is to find ways to get the things you want by earning money or trading things rather than always expecting your parents to get them for you. It also means things like cleaning up after yourself when you make a mess. Being self-reliant does not mean that you don’t get help from others. It just means that you do what you can for yourself, and only ask others for things you can't do--like drive a car or solve a really difficult math problem. On the math problem, though, you need to try hard before you give up and ask for help. As you grow older, there are more and more things you can do for yourself. Practicing self-reliance means that you learn to do those things so you don't have to depend on other people so much. It also means that when other people need help, you give it to them, but you also do what you can to teach them to be able to do for themselves the next time.


Perseverance is the virtue of keeping on until you finish the job. It's easy to get discouraged about projects, because all projects all have places where they stop being fun or where it looks like you're never going to get through them. In fact, sometimes, you just fall on your face and make a mess. Practicing perseverance means getting up and trying again or trying another way to do what has to be done. On the other hand, if what you're trying to do is not worth your time and effort, you don't get credit for being stupid. A lot of people have special talents, but people who "keep on keepin' on" will always do better than talented people who don't persevere. The best combination of all is to persevere in learning how to use your special talents and in learning new skills and abilities. No one can beat a combination of ability and perseverance. And if you fail sometimes, that's okay too. It's the people who fail and get past their failure that really succeed in life.


The NNV sound pretty impressive, but all they are is the habit of doing what our ancestors found out works best, to make good men and women, and to make a safe and happy family and community. As you can see, they are ways to behave that even a kid can practice, every day, and in every part of life. By the time you grow up, the habit of practicing these virtues will help you become successful in whatever you choose to do in life. Besides, who wouldn't want to be noble?

(Acknowledgement: Lew Stead’s The Value of Ásatrú was the original inspiration for this article.) 05/20/98

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