To be a moral and just individual, you have to do that. Or…is it this? Or maybe it’s a trick question and I don’t do anything. Don’t move, don’t speak, don’t think. Any one of those things may result in a stain on your permanent record, eternity-wise, and when it comes to eternity, you’d best not screw around.
To save your soul, many religious leaders, writers, philosophers, scientists, and moms have been telling you what to do for a very long time. Keep your elbows off the table Jim. Don’t color on the walls Sarah. Stop chewing those shoes Sparky.
These rules of action have a two-fold reasoning behind them. First, they make you able to take part in a society without ending up in restraints, and secondly, they are meant to guide you to a life well-lived and if some people are right, an eternity in paradise.
Sadly, I’m here to tell you they are wrong. They messed up. Here’s why.
Training for Competition
Take a look at any sport where the level of control is very low. What does “level of control” mean? It means there are many variables involved in how the sports plays out, thus lessening your ability to train for a specific thing. Less control in practice.
Take football, or basketball. A minimum of ten guys on the field of play. Each time you add another person, or another variable, the amount of things that can happen become magnified greatly.
You just can’t practice for everything that could occur. You could try, but practices would be 24 hours long with an hour for sleeping and other non-essential stuff like that.
Take a look at this amazing video of Roger Federer.
Do you think he’s ever taking the idea of training between the legs shots seriously? Who knows, maybe he has, but the point remains that they are so rare that training them seriously is a huge waste of time.
Where am I going with this?
Well, in an effort to make the athlete better, the coach or the athlete him/herself tries to improve abilities that would carryover or transfer into as many actions as possible, whether a shot between the legs or a front-flip into the end-zone.
They will lift weights to improve general strength, plyometrics to improve explosiveness, sprints to improve speed, etc.
While carryover is not 100%, there is no doubt that performing these things can drastically improve an athlete’s performance.
The Competition of Living
My father’s greatest advice came when I was training these particular things to get better at football.
“Make it so your coach has no choice but to leave you on the field,” is what he told me. Basically, be such an asset on the field that to remove you is to jeopardize a win.
And while he was speaking about football, he was speaking of life in general. Don’t be the kind of person who knows exactly what action to do, because in sports, in life, there is not a flow-chart of action. There are no set moral codes that tell you exactly how to act in every situation. There are too many variables involved.
Not everything can be practiced in advance.
Enter the Greeks
We weren’t always so obsessed with the action itself. The ancient Greek’s view of ethics was more centered around the character or virtue of the person.
Like general training for sports, training one’s character involved cultivating certain virtues. Instead of lifting weights, you train your ability to reason morally.
How did you educate yourself and morph yourself into a virtuous person? With knowledge. You see, the Greeks also had a view on virtue, or what they referred to as Arete. One’s Arete has more to do with excellence than our contemporary view on virtue.
It is centered around being the best possible human you can be, whatever sort of human you were supposed to be.
In other words, the notion of being moral had to do with being moral, not doing moral things.
Focus on the Person
When you focus on creating an individual personally interested in having excellent character, you end up with an individual who governs themself, who is able to think through novel situations and still be on the moral path.
The most important part is that if they have a personal stake in the matter, they are more likely to take responsibility for their own actions and beliefs, and when it comes to virtue, personal responsibility is key.
This also makes the moral education of a person more fun, more interesting, and more connected to other disciplines. You force them to gain knowledge about a certain thing and then discuss the morals involved, and there usually are plenty to discuss.
The bottom line is this: When you focus on an individual and train them in a manner that makes them morally athletic, when competition time comes they are able to perform whatever they need to do remain excellent in character.
If you focus on the action, a person’s moral integrity will quickly fall apart when they realize sometimes rules are not as clear cut as you think, and certain variables get thrown into the mix that screw up the schematics you were handed.
In business, in sports, in family, in life, when it comes to doing the right thing, it boils down to being a valuable person, not merely producing valuable things. There is a distinct difference.
A person who produces value can fish, but throw him in the desert and he quickly dies. A valuable person adapts to his new surrounding. Value is his soul and he can’t help but produce it as consequence.