Strive For Good

We try and we fail to:

  • Stop making bad choices
  • Stop being lazy
  • Stop being dishonest
  • Stop giving up when times are tough
  • Stop being unfaithful
  • Stop being pessimistic
  • Stop being so selfish

It could be that our approach is wrong. Rather than trying to stop all the bad things we’re doing, and then beating ourselves up every time we fail, maybe we can attempt to put more “good” into our lives. We can start striving for the good and make it a daily practice. We can:

  • Seek wisdom
  • Be disciplined
  • Choose justice
  • Be courageous
  • Have faith
  • Maintain hope
  • Make charity a priority

Virtue consists more in doing good than refraining from evil. –Aristotle

Perfection is impossible. Better is obtainable. It is possible to be a little better each day. If baby steps are all we can muster, well, that is still progress. Let us strive to do good each day, and the behaviors we perceive as evil will eventually dissipate.

Practice Truth

Justice 12/18/2019

When I first started reading philosophy in High School, I didn’t really know what it was. I thought it was the ramblings of a bunch of old men content to sit around in their robes and tell others how to think. And even though I didn’t understand any of it, I was intrigued. I didn’t know much back then, but at least I could try to think.

By reading philosophy I only gained a little knowledge. I could try to spout off some of the things I learned, but none of it was applied knowledge. I could only tell you what someone else thought. To some small degree I was embodying Thoreau’s words: “There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.” I was only scratching the surface and putting none of it into practice.

A few years ago, I took a deeper look into stoicism. Reading the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, I was challenged to do more than only read. I was challenged to live this philosophy. I had to learn to practice what I was reading. I had to test the principles and see if they really worked. I had to go back and analyze my own performance and see where it went wrong. Was it the philosophy that was bad or was it my application? Finally, I had to validate whether or not this was something I could adhere to as a lifelong practice. If it wasn’t feasible to do throughout a lifetime, I didn’t want any part of it.

Philosophy is the science of truth. –Aristotle

How does this relate to justice? A just person seeks righteousness. He longs to discover the truth and then to put that truth into practice. It is a high virtue to do the right thing. Not only for others and for society, but for the individual. We must all find our own truths. Others can guide us along the way, but we must be critical thinkers in our education and then put it into practice. Discard what doesn’t work and hold dear to the ones that do. Be righteous, my friends.

In the Pleasure Zone

Justice 11/6/2019

Okay, so the title may have you thinking of something else. And though the epicureans had some really great insights, I tend to lean toward more of a stoic mindset.

A goal I have in mind for my son is to help him pursue the things he loves. Whether it is in sports, art, or intellectual pursuits, I want him to go after the things he enjoys. My hope is that he finds joy in pursuing healthy endeavors that will benefit his life down the road.

When he is told to do something he doesn’t want to do, he will get mopey and resist doing it at all costs. But if he chooses of his own freewill to do the exact same thing, he will have no problem with it and complete it quickly and to the best of his abilities. This probably rings true for most children. Just maybe, it even rings true for most adults.

Did you ever notice that the projects you want to work on get done at a higher level than the ones you don’t want to do? You can get into the zone doing the projects you love. The time spent on them doesn’t matter. You can work harder and longer and not even a grudge while doing it. You take pleasure in the work and the results show.

The opposite is true as well. The projects you don’t want to do tend to get pushed back. The level of motivation to complete them is lacking and the quality of the work isn’t quite up to the best of standards.

It would be nice if we only did the jobs we loved. Unfortunately there are times we have no choice but to do them. The only thing we can do is control our attitudes. We can find a way to take pleasure in the work we are doing, knowing that it is a reflection of our character. We can motivate ourselves to get into the zone and complete the work at a quality we know we are capable of producing.

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work. -Aristotle

What Good Have I Done?

Last night I opened up Twitter and in my notifications was a question that made me pause and think. “Now that the day has passed, what good did you do today?”

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I will keep constant watch over myself, and, most usefully, will put each day up for review. -Seneca

A new habit that I am working on is writing in my journal before going to bed. What am I writing about? I’m putting my day up for review and noting my short-comings. I am looking at where I went wrong and how I can do better in the future. Did I allow my temper to get the best of me? Did I not do the things I wanted to get done? I look at where I went wrong, but there is a question I don’t usually ask myself. What good did I do today?

Yesterday, I did a lot of good things for myself. I got up early. I exercised, read, and wrote. I drafted a future post on the virtue of Temperance. I went to work. I went about my day as usual and did a lot of good things -for myself. To my knowledge, I didn’t do anything evil. I don’t even remember having any bad thoughts. But did I do any good? I did what I felt was right, but is this enough? I didn’t see an opportunity to do a good deed, but was I really even looking?

Virtue consists more in doing good than refraining from evil. -Aristotle

When I came home, I found out my son got in trouble at school. He hit someone for no reason. I asked him why. He said because he wanted to. He was not provoked nor upset by the other person. He, for no apparent reason, wanted to hit the other boy. I did my duty as father.

What is my duty? As a father, it is my duty to raise a boy into a strong and productive man that can contribute to society when he gets older. He has his name and reputation to protect, even at the age of six. He cannot do that if he is being a bully. He must actively do good and not only refrain from evil.

The rod of correction gives wisdom, but uncontrolled youths disgrace their mothers. Discipline your children, and they will bring you comfort, and give delight to your soul. -Proverbs 29:15,17

“What good did I do today?” It is good that I did my duty. But if he did not get into trouble, would I have done any good? My plan after work was to play with my son. We were going to exercise a little, wrestle a bit, and then get into some Legos. My “good” was in being a good father and husband. It may not seem remarkable to some, but I view it as my sacred duty. Yet I could have done more on this day. I will catalog it in my journal and make the attempt to do more “good” tomorrow.

Again, thank you Chip for creating this awareness to actively do good.

The War Within

There is a war raging within all of us every day. It is a war that began in our earliest years and will continue on until all our final breath. It is a war against our base desires. Those desires that would keep us from accomplishing  our individual missions.

Some will win this war, because they choose the stay vigilant. They are always at the ready and can fight at any given moment.

There are others, who in moments of inspiration, fight with all their might. They will try to win the war in the shortest amount of time possible. In time, they will realize they have spent all their energy. Yet, the war still rages. They will give up in exhaustion and lose all the ground they gained. They will lay there until inspiration strikes again, and then they will pick up their arms to repeat this never-ending cycle.

Then there is the rest. Those who never even know that a war is taking place. They lay dormant, giving in to every indulgence. From the surface, they seem to have no hope. No aim. No purpose. No drive to live a fulfilling life.

If you are not among the vigilant, you are going to lose the war. It sounds ominous, but it is true. The only way to win is to don your armor. Take up your shield every day and prepare yourself for the onslaught to come.

You are at war with yourself. It is a war you can win if you fight every day. You can win with discipline.

Start by identifying the enemy. Is it procrastination? Gluttony? Lust? Greed? Identify the enemy. Create ways to overcome it. Make a plan. Win the daily battles. Win the war.

The man who overcomes his desires is braver than he who overcomes his enemies. -Aristotle

Repeated Folly

In an ideal world, we should grow in wisdom as we grow in years. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we continued to make the same mistakes over and over? And yet, how many of us still do it? Do you still make the same financial mistakes, still eat the things you know you shouldn’t, or engage in the same aimless pursuits that neither benefit you nor your family?

To grow in wisdom, we have to stop the cycle of bad decision making. Regardless of our age, we have to grow up. The poor choices we made in our youth cannot be the same poor choices me make in our senior years.

Aristotle was correct in stating that it takes bravery to overcome your desires. The easy path will not get you the results you were hoping for. We live in a world where consumer debt is a normal aspect of life. Rather than working and saving up for a desired item, we rush to buy it now. What a shame when we are still paying off that debt long after the item is no longer useful. Wouldn’t it be an even greater shame if we never learned the lesson and kept repeating this cycle our whole lives? The brave person says no. She says I will not give in to the immediate gratification but will wait for the greater reward.

Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic has become one of my favorite philosophical resources. The wisdom found in his works are timeless. Take for instance his teachings in the 27th letter: On the Good Which Abides:

Count your years, and you will be ashamed to desire and pursue the same things you desired in your boyhood days. Of this one thing make sure against your dying days –let your faults die before you die. Away with those disordered pleasures, which must be dearly paid for; it is not only those which are to come that harm me, but also those which have come and gone.

So with guilty pleasures, regret remains even after the pleasures are over.

Virtue alone affords everlasting and peace-giving joy.

It would be a waste to spend our lives chasing the things which have no lasting value. As children, this course of action might have seemed acceptable. But as adults, this behavior is folly. If however we choose to live a virtuous life, we can find a joy beyond our wildest imagination.