Benefits: Define what it means to be a “good”, or better, person.
So That You Can: Be a better person by personifying this definition.
Go From Inspiration to Action With the Worksheet Below!
To Be a Better Person, You Need to Understand This
What if I told you that you can’t become a better person by wanting to be a better person?
Then, I told you that trying to “help” others does more harm than good most of the time?
And then, I told you that you really have no idea what’s good for yourself or anybody else?
Wow! You’d probably feel pretty crappy about yourself, wouldn’t you? You’d probably start questioning all the time and effort you’ve spent trying to be a better person. And, you’d probably be a little apprehensive about offering help to anyone ever again.
I know. I get it. Because this is the exact road I went down after listening to a lecture from the great Alan Watts. In this lecture, Watts discussed virtue, the falsehoods hiding behind “virtuous” acts, and the dangers of living according to the virtues you’ve been taught. And I knew, after listening to the carefully chosen words of this wise man, that I’d stumbled across some knowledge that is both brilliant and terrifying.
So what did I do? I Stayed Curious! of course. Because, like you, I want to be a better person, and I had just learned that I might be going about it the wrong way. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? But I was up for the challenge of shifting my mindset, and I know that you are too!
What Exactly Do You Need to Understand
First of all, I don’t know that you really “need” to understand what I’m about to share with you. Especially since Watts told me that I don’t know what’s good for other people. So, how can I possibly know what you need? Only you can figure out what you need. But, search engines like that word, so there it is.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s at least agree that what I’m about to share with you is valuable information you can use for your personal development, in whatever way you choose to.
So, with those thoughts in mind, we’re going to discuss:
- Some illusions of virtue,
- What it really means to be virtuous, according to Aristotle,
- And three things you can do to become a better person (a virtuous person).
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All Do-Gooders Are Trouble Makers
I felt my muscles tense as I heard Alan Watts speak these words — all do-gooders are trouble makers. After all, I’m kind of a do-gooder, aren’t I? Maybe you consider yourself a do-gooder as well. Maybe we both think we’re virtuous people, but we’re really just fooling ourselves. Maybe we’ve created an illusion of virtue.
My mind continued to reel as Watts went on to recount an old parable involving a monkey, a fish, and a flood. During this flood, the monkey’s hanging out in a tree and sees a fish moving around in the water. The monkey thinks the fish is struggling and in danger of drowning, so he picks the fish up out of the water and brings him to the safety of the tree. But we all know that a tree’s not a safe place for a fish. In fact, it’s a death sentence.
And there it was, perfectly illustrated — this illusion of virtue.
The monkey was a do-gooder who thought he was helping the fish, but it was just an illusion. Because what’s good for a monkey isn’t good for a fish. And, even if the monkey had pulled another monkey out of the water, how would he know that what’s good for one monkey is good for another. Perhaps the other monkey is a strong swimmer and felt safer in the water than in the tree. Who knows.
The point is, as I alluded to in the opening paragraphs, we don’t know what’s best for other people. As much as we like to believe that we do. And imposing our needs, beliefs, and opinions on others is not a virtuous act.
As a do-gooder, this is a hard pill for me to swallow, and maybe it is for you too. I’ve often taken pride in my ability to “help” people. To offer advice when I saw things that I didn’t think they could see — because I thought that advice could make their life better. And, I believed that I would be a better person because I had helped someone else become a better person.
As I continued to listen to Watts, I began to suffer a mild identity crisis. But, after examining my expectations, I realized that this way of thinking, my monkey mentality if you will, has backfired on me several times in my life. So, I started searching for a happy medium, and I think I found one that I’ll share with you soon. But, there’s another illusion of virtue we should discuss first.
And, in case you’re not sure if you are a do-gooder or not, I thought it might be helpful to end this section with the definition of a do-gooder. According to Cambridge Dictionary, a do-gooder is:
Someone who does things that they think will help other people, although the other people might not find their actions helpful
Now, let’s move on to that other illusion we were going to discuss.
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What’s Virtuous Today Might Not Be Virtuous Tomorrow
What Makes a “Good” Person Good?
Find the Golden Mean
Is It Possible to Become a Virtuous Person?
Only Have 1 Minute
Sources & Inspiration
Alan Watts – The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions, posted to YouTube by After Skool on 12.22.20
Jordan Peterson – Why be Virtuous?, posted to YouTube by Bite-sized Philosophy on 4.17.17
Aristotle & Virtue Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #38, posted to YouTube by CrashCourse on 12.05.16
What Are the Four Virtues of Stoicism? | Ryan Holiday | Daily Stoic, posted to YouTube by Daily Stoic on 11.21.19
The Seven Virtues: Cardinal & Theological Virtues, posted to YouTube by The Religion Teacher on 10.21.20
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