I was skimming B.F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity and came across this quote by La Rochefoucauld --
"No man deserves to be praised for his goodness unless he has strength of character to be wicked. All other goodness is generally nothing but indolence or impotence of will."
If you're not familiar with the term Indolence -- (I had to look it up myself) -- it's laziness, a lack of animation, an inability to compel yourself to act.
Impotence of will is the inability to follow through and persist with plans.
So what La Rochefoucauld is getting at is, if someone wishes they were able to lie, cheat, steal, and otherwise do awful things to get ahead and yet doesn't simply out of a lack of drive, that's not praiseworthy.
To be praiseworthy, you have to cultivate your ability to do things -- which lets you do things both good and evil. Then, and only then, does directing yourself on a path of avoiding wrongdoing become praiseworthy.
Practically speaking, many people seem to be pleased and hold themselves in high esteem that they've never "done all those awful things that politicians and senior executives do" -- but lo, when someone who claims a mantle of morality when low is made high, how often do their principles stand?
The person who commands vast will, vast resources, vast skill, and faces temptation and opportunity to do wrong and profit from it -- and then does the right thing -- that is praiseworthy.
The takeaway is twofold -- be wary of praising someone for being moral if they don't have the capacity to follow through with their plans, because who knows if their moral resolve will be so solid once real temptation is there?
And secondly, be wary of holding yourself in too high of esteem when you've never been elevated to positions of ownership, stewardship, skill, prestige, etc. It's easy to criticize people who hold stations we do not with the assumption that we would do much better, but without having built the skill and resources and battle-tested our own morality in tough times and places.
Indolence and lack of will are not praiseworthy; praiseworthy is the person who could do anything, and chooses to do well.
This is generally correct, but it is also praiseworthy to strategically position yourself over time to make doing the right thing easier, to decrease the amount of willpower required to complete a task, to increase your tolerance for laziness without it leading to failure, to constructively constrain yourself so that you have no option other than to succeed.
I'm currently reading 'The Four Agreements', the first being 'be impeccable with your word' (fantastic book BTW). I can see from my own experience that its very, very rare for people to be impeccable with their word. The hundreds of little lies we tell ourselves & others on a daily basis. Gossiping, over committing & under delivering, undermining others, pointing fingers, not accepting responsibility - the list goes on & on.
I believe we all have power - not the power like CEOs or politicians - but we do have power in our own limited way with work, our family & friends. Its so easy to take 'shortcuts' with our work & in our relationships by being dishonest and truth be told most of us do it - I know I certainly do. Bad character is almost the 'default' human condition. If we start to try to improve character in these small ways - being impeccable with our word both to ourselves & to others. Is that not strength of character as well?
By the way, your blog is such a relief when one is surrounded by the uninspired and the irrational. It reminds me of a complex mix of Machiavelli (with strategy), (Edward) Gibbon (with the ability to abstract important and inspirational insights from history), Castiglione (with courtly behavior), Mitnick (with hacking) and Jefferson (with strength of character). It's making me realize it's time for me to get out of this bucket of crabs and seek out the inspired.
Thank you, that means a lot to me and is high praise.
I think you should always look for inspired people, at least until you have enough that you always have smart people around to talk to. Feel free to ping me with any strategic/historical/ethical thoughts on your mind if you want to get a dialog going.
I agree. My error was that I did not look, but instead waited for chance to bring the inspired to me. Fortunately, I did happen to stumble by accident across your blog, and the subsequent reading of it caused me to realize that I cannot rely on chance any longer. There is much joy to be had with engaging those who are praiseworthy. If it is my goal to be around inspired people, then it is obvious I must take steps to do so-- seek them out, and not wait for luck any longer.
"God (also, Reality) helps those who help themselves."
I owe a lot to your blog; I imagine many others, less vocal than myself, do as well.
Yeah, I feel the same. I've been following Seb around for three years or so now and I owe him and his writing a lot.
Agreed. I think it's critical to be deliberate about the things that matter --
Good, makes-you-think post Sebastian.
I was thinking something similar: You have to earn the RIGHT to help. It's not enough to be willing to help. You have to know what you're talking about.
This applies to when I was a super beginner, read about providing value, and go about telling everyone "let me know how I can help!"
Nobody took my offer.
Made me feel bad. How the hell am I ever going to get started providing value if no one would accept my help?? Why won't they??
Now I have a fair number of people asking me for advice. Because I actually have a skill set. That I help and give value in specific ways.
The willingness to help isn't enough. I had to hustle and earn my right to help.
Direct analogies your article: my thoughts
Great article. Thanks.
Flesh this out into a full length blog post? It's 90% there already, and an important insight I think for people.
An interesting post; it reminds me of the quote:
"Only a warrior chooses pacifism; others are condemned to it."
I love that word, praiseworthy. As a side note, do you know that's what the name Mohammad means?
I should have looked up the meaning of your name before having written that, since it, too, means praiseworthy:
masc. proper name, from Latin Sebastianus, from Greek Sebastianos, "man of Sebastia," a city in Pontus that was named for Augustus Caesar, first Roman emperor, from Greek sebastos "accorded a great deal of respect; venerable," a translation of Latin augustus, the epithet of Caesar.