One of the popular goals these days is the improvement of society as a whole and human beings individually. Certainly a noble goal, and one I can support. So if we had to hold up some examples of human beings who exemplify what we are aiming for, who would we select? I recently asked this question to my Facebook friends and found a certain degree of similarity between the nominees.
None of the people could seriously be considered libertines.
On the contrary, these people possess a high amount of either self-control, self-sacrifice, or perhaps even both in uncommon amounts. This is no accident. It is difficult to achieve a high measure of compassion and caring for others while focused entirely on the gratification of oneself. It is contradictory to expect to attain high degrees of civility and enlightenment while actively indulging the animal.
So why is it, then, that society continues on a path toward less discipline, less self-denial, and more of a “just do what feels good” mentality? Why is it we encourage, even applaud, diminished levels of personal responsibility, while continually pursuing ways to avoid unpleasant consequences of choices gone awry? We encourage accountability for others, while actively avoiding it for ourselves.
We cannot improve ourselves without self-sacrifice, self-denial, self-control. If we’re seriously trying to build a better person, it must start with ourselves. We must expect more of ourselves, not less. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard than we currently do. We need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, even when no one else is watching. We need to choose to choose the moral choice even if everyone else goes a different way.
It starts with discipline. It starts with saying, “I might enjoy doing X more, but Y is the right thing to do, and therefore I will fore-go the pleasurable for the commendable. ” It comes from telling oneself “no” repeatedly.
We will never, as a society or as individuals, achieve a higher existence so long as we continually seek to remove restraints and bypass consequences. True greatness is marked as much by what we will not do as what we do.