Who are you when you are by yourself? When nobody’s looking, are you the same person? In times past, only villains wore masks. Today, almost everybody has one on. The masks hide our identities. But in truth, they really show us who we are.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. –Oscar Wilde
For years, I pondered these words from Oscar Wilde. I thought it was literally about what we say, but it goes beyond that. Put a mask on, and we show the world who we really are. The villain wears it to hide his identity, but his heinous deeds are exposing the darkness of his soul. It is in the shadows that his true self comes out.
Under the cover of anonymity, we speak our true hearts. Words that we would be ashamed to be credited with are released into the public without a second thought. Maybe this is why you see so many secondary/anonymous Twitter accounts. It is much easier to spew hateful things when no one knows who you are.
Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness. –Yousuf Karsh
Can you be the same in public and in private? Can you develop a character in darkness that once exposed to the light is free from defects? This is the transparency we all expect from other people. But do we expect it from ourselves?
Yes indeed, I am going to Bob Dylan for a little insight into justice.
Making snap judgments is almost natural. From an intuition standpoint, it may even be evolutionary. But is it always right?
A predisposition based on upbringing, cultural norms, and the popular opinion of others is probably even less correct.
The easy way out is to criticize the things we don’t understand. It is easier to go with a bias rather than a well-researched conclusion. But the research gives substance to the conclusion. It gives meaning which always trumps the “in my opinions” of the world.
I have been guilty of criticizing the things I don’t understand. I have brushed over the differences of others for an easier judgment void of critical thinking. This is contrary to the voices of my heroes, the very heroes I claim to listen to. Consider:
“Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding. –Solomon (Proverbs 9:6)
“It is no virtue to be steadfast and consistent in defending a false idea. Welcome correction, and change your thinking to fit reason. Don’t twist reason to fit your opinions.” –Marcus Aurelius
However, the truth will never be discovered if we rest contented with discoveries already made. Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating. –Seneca
Don’t criticize what you can’t understand. –Bob Dylan
In an ever-changing world, there is one constant that will never change: wisdom. And in order to get wisdom, you must first get knowledge and then understanding. This is the path that will disrupt misconceptions. It will demagnetize us from our false assumptions and move us closer to justice.
Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important…
Maybe it is a part of our nature. It could be innate or just developed over the course of our early years. Heck, it might have even been a consequence of our ancestors eating the fruit from the tree of good and evil. We know what is right and what is wrong. We know what is important in this life. Knowing is a good thing. It is a starting point for doing.
Doing gives substance to knowing.
It is not enough to only know what is right and what is important. We all have to do. This is the discipline part. It is a practice to constantly walk the straight and narrow.
At times, it is hard. Why do the right thing when the opposite seems to lead to personal gain? We live in a world where Evil prevails. It is celebrated in the things we watch and listen to. Villains are celebrated and heroes disgraced. But to sacrifice your honor by following what is popular is to be just as bad. As Cato said, “In doing nothing men learn to do evil.”
is the high road to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.
This is the kind of pride that does not lead to a fall. This is the self-esteem and personal satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that you are traveling down the right road.
Do the right thing. Do what is important. This is justice, the path that leads to righteousness.
Turn neither to right not to left, keep your foot far from evil. –Proverbs 4:27
1984. Big Brother is always watching. Back in 1949 when George Orwell wrote this, it was really science fiction. Now this fiction has become reality. Can you go anywhere without being seen, noticed, or recorded? Between your phone, the satellites, and anybody else looking to make a viral video, there is a chance you are always in the spotlight.
One would hope that with this knowledge, humanity would improve, that it would live more virtuous. But it doesn’t; we don’t. We don’t look at it as an accountability tool to coerce us into doing the right thing. We look at it as a burden.
Living the virtuous life isn’t a public show for the masses. It isn’t a yoke holding us back from freedom. It is something we practice to make our lives and the lives of those around us better. It is striving to do good all the time, whether in the public eye or in your private life.
Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. –J.C. Watts, Jr.
Building our character is done internally. The fruits of our work is manifested in our actions, whether for good or for evil. The cover of darkness doesn’t hide the person we are on the inside. If anything, it only shines a greater light on who we truly are.
Consider for a moment the people you spend the most time with. Are they elevating you, holding you down, or is it completely neutral? Now consider these words from Jim Rohn: You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Are you averaging up or are you averaging down?
The five people I spend the most time with:
My wife. Of course, I average up here. There are many reasons, but one is that she puts within me the desire to become a better man and husband.
My son. Indeed for many of the same reasons as my wife, but there is also another element. In him, I see the youthful exuberance I can’t remember having when I was younger. With him there is no thought of the past or anxiety concerning the future. He is living in the present. I spend a lot of time trying to stay in the present. For me, it is not that easy.
My Father-in-Law. From the “Old Marine” I have learned so much. It is always a pleasure to spend time with him.
My Mother-in-Law. She’s a trooper. The epitome of Semper Fidelis. Is there not anything she would do for her family? Another one that averages me up.
The fifth is actually a collection. It is my current work team. I average up with them as well. They are all seasoned veterans of the job, and their expertise goes way beyond my own in the position. I am the low man on the totem pole, and you know what? I am absolutely fine with that. Here I am the student and trying to add as much value to the team as I can. They are leveling me up professionally.
There are many others that I wish I could spend more time with as I know there is tremendous value being in their presence. Who do you spend your time with?
From good people you’ll learn good, but if you mingle with the bad you’ll destroy such soul as you had. –Musonius Rufus
What are the things we put off? You know, the things we know we should do just not right now.
If you think about it, this list for some of us could go on forever. So many things that we should do and can do, but we put off until another day. After the holidays, I will stop eating so much and start a new exercise program. I’ll get around to cleaning the garage when the weather is nicer. On and on and someday maybe, which often turns in to someday never. Unless what you have to do is on a deadline, and then it is a mad scramble to turn in a “not your best” effort.
Imagine the benefits of starting now. Imagine the satisfaction of knowing at least it is over and done with. Could you be better off if you did right now what you want to put off until tomorrow? I know I could be better.
You could do good today, but instead you wait until tomorrow. –Marcus Aurelius
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:
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.
Monday was about asking the right questions. Today, we need to examine the things we love. What are the things you love in your life? Are they improving the quality of your life or are they keeping you from the things you want?
Excessive clutter in our homes and workplaces can be a distraction and affect our productivity. If we hold onto too many possessions they can end up taking control of our lives. You wouldn’t say you love your clutter, but it is a distraction. And if it has your attention, well then…
Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are. –Jose Ortega y Gasset
Do you love your distractions? Those are the things that are preventing you from getting the really important things done.
Is scrolling through Instagram interfering with your workout?
Is Netflix the reason why you didn’t complete that assignment?
Are those cute little cat videos getting in the way of your household chores?
We live in a world full of distractions. Do we love them? We won’t openly admit it, but if it is getting our attention, then maybe we secretly do love it more than what we openly say we love to do.
What do you say you love to do? What are the things you love that you tell your friends and family about? Do they match up with what you are actually doing? Is your attention really going toward those things?
If your actions are not syncing up, it is time to go back and take a deeper look at them. If you are loving the wrong things, it is time to turn your attention to the right things. We all should have an idea of what is best for our lives. There should be an ideal quality of life that we see for ourselves. This is where our attention should be. The things we love and the things we do should drive us toward the things we want to become.
The things that we love tell us what we are. –Thomas Aquinas
You might not believe you have any power, but we all have some. Some have the power to influence millions. Others may only have influence in their own homes. All have the power to control their own selves.
Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power. –Seneca
If you cannot properly control the power you do have, why would having more power be of any benefit? Be a good steward of that which you are given and who knows, you may be worthy of wielding more in the future.
Jesus told a parable about the good steward (Luke 12:42-48). The steward is basically the master’s household manager. The master goes away and the good manager does what the boss wants him to do: take care of the business as if the master was there himself. This household manager is your dream supervisor. The one you want to work for.
The same parable talks about the unjust steward. That’s the joker whose subordinates all despise. He’s the supervisor we usually get stuck with, when we are in an organization with a disengaged leader. He abuses the power he has and the employees, the customers, and the reputation of the company all suffer. The bright side is that karma eventually gets these bad stewards.
The measure of man is what he does with power. –Plato
We are all stewards of the power we have been given. What we do with it is up to us. Good stewards of their power will find that more will be given to them. And the unjust stewards? In time, they will get what is coming to them. It sucks when they are over us, but we have to be patient. We can’t control what others do with their power, we can only control what we do with the power that has been given to us.
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.