Simplicity and Virtue

on August 10 | in Individual Improvement, Inspirations | by | with Comments Off on Simplicity and Virtue

The great failing idea behind most self improvement is the addition of positive habits to our repertoires.

We suppose that we are essentially good people living good lives, and that the path to being better people living better lives must necessarily be an increase in positive behavior. And it makes a certain sense since most of us bear no real ill-will… just a sort of muddled thought and aspirations toward the sunrise. Surely if we try a little harder, we can bear a greater weight and climb to higher heights, right?

Looks good on paper, anyway.

We are inspired to complexity by the times we live in. Our gadgets and gizmos seem to get more complex and achieve greater power. The interfaces that offer a thousand choices are bewildering and useless, but they offer a certain sense of infinite possibility. In our elaborations and subtleties, we seek to make ourselves ever-more-complex systems with myriad capabilities and points of integration. Surely, the more connections and capabilities we have, the more effective we’ll be in all of the situations of life, right?

Just as in our gadgets and gizmos, though, our efforts to become more complex conflict with our desire to be more refined. When we talk about things like capability, capacity, and usefulness… whether we talk about technology or our individual lives, more is not better. The more modes of expression and simultaneous efforts we put out there, the less effective we are in any one area.

Self-improvement through addition is the way of becoming mediocre at more things.

The slothful and negative habits of civilized society are added in. We wear dozens of hats at work, more at home, more in our various communities. There’s a thousand versions of each of us, one for each of our roles and subdivisions depending on the situations we find ourselves in. The professional versus the husband, the father versus the activist, the friend versus the counselor. In all of that, we suppose the virtues are different… the virtues of a good consultant seem opposed to the virtues of a good father, not at the top level but once we delve into things like negotiations and influence.

You have a hard day at work, you relax with a drink, you don’t spend time with your children, you make up for it by leaving work early for play, then you feel a desire to try harder at work. And so it goes. The rut is a mental cycle.

To be happy, accomplish less – but whatever you do, do it with all your heart.

When it comes to the idea of being virtuous, people don’t understand each other. The blogs about financial independence and business extol one set of apparently desirable characteristics, while the blogs about parenting and community seemingly extol another. Being frugal is good, being greedy is bad. Having a wealthy mindset is good, hoarding wealth is bad. There are subtleties in all things – who says you should treat a client, a friend, and a child the same way? It seems a bad idea to apply the same virtues in different relationships, because it seems like different things are good in different contexts.

The problem of virtue arises when we feel clever like that about our relationships – when we objectify our roles into games that can be won. The simple truth is that it’s good to be honest, it’s good to be polite, and it’s good to be compassionate. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking to the waiter or your child, to your client or to your boss – it’s good to stand for what you believe in, it’s good to create positivity, it’s good to not be wasteful. Whatever you might want to call a virtue, what is morally good is good across the board. If it’s subject to variance depending on the circumstance, it’s not a virtue at all – it’s a behavioral tool to get what you want. Virtues are about being, not getting.

Self-improvement through subtraction is about excellence in just a few things that matter.

Virtue comes about from simplicity. It comes about from deciding what your ideals are, and then reducing away all of your excuses and machinations of desire so that you’re the same person in all contexts. It’s about being and doing, purity and the cleansing of addiction. Virtue leads to freedom… freedom from desire, freedom from the rut, and freedom from triviality.

Virtue comes about from treating all living creatures with the same loving-kindness and caring. You have to retreat from your situational end goals and ambitions. King Midas ever desired more gold until he turned his daughter to metal… his recovery into virtue came about from releasing his situational ambition for wealth. You can’t be a greedy professional who desires riches and fame and then come home and be a good father. You’ll contaminate your relationships if you try to hold conflicting ideals in yourself – if you change what you find to be virtuous to get the most benefit out of the situation you find yourself in.

Reduce and simplify your habits to fit your virtues. Think on your ideals and describe your virtues in terms you can apply in all situations. If it is good not to be greedy with your children, then it is good not to be greedy at the dinner table or in negotiations at work. If it’s not acceptable for your colleagues to try to overload you with work, then why do you leave all of the affairs of the household to your wife? The complexity needs to be all stripped down. What is good, is good.

Reduce and simplify your interactions to just your virtues. If it is good to speak the truth, then speak only the truth. If it is good to help a friend, then try to help anyone in need. The sophistication of man is his decadence – his weakness and his ignorance. The simplicity of man is his empowerment – his strength and his spirituality.

Strength comes from persistence and simplicity – in virtue.

Let us seek to cultivate this simplicity in all things in our life. The first step toward simplicity is “simplifying.” The beginning of mental or moral progress or reform is always, -renunciation or sacrifice. It is rejection, surrender or destruction of separate phrases of habit or life that have kept us from the higher things. Reform your diet and you simplify it; make your speech truer and higher and you simplify it; reform your morals and you begin to cut off your immorals. The secret of all true greatness is simplicity.
William George Jordan, The Kingship of Self-Control


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