“He who knows what good is, will do good.”
We can only assume that Socrates said this quote himself, as he never wrote down any of his philosophical musings. That job fell to Plato, one of his students that found no quarrel in sticking words into his mouth.
Likely, if these were of Socratic origin, the words came from another mouth whom Socrates was engaging in conversation.
He had a knack for acting more ignorant than he was in order to loosen the tongues of the elite and illicit blatant statements that could then be further scrutinized through more questioning.
Ultimately, it was this practice of ousting the noble know-it-alls that got Socrates sentenced to death.
Does Socrates’s quote mean that when we sin it is only because we know no better?
Sin is when we know something to be wrong and do it anyway.
Of course it is possible to go against the tides of our conscience! Many of us do it everyday.
How many doughnuts have you eaten, knowing you’re not gonna take the time to exercise today?
Thing is, it is these poor choices that lead us to unhappiness.
And who would deliberately make themselves unhappy besides a person who is totally lacking empathy for their future selves?
Can that be the ultimate take away here?
To care about your future self.
To look at the doughnut and say to yourself, “Someone is going to have to deal with you later.”
A wise man once said,
“The most innocent person on the planet is the self. Even a baby can cry out for help when it is being attacked, but the self, especially the future self, can be silenced with a simple and secret will.
“And that is the most cruel attack of all.”
Can you look at yourself in the mirror, knowing that what you are doing to yourself you are also doing to an unborn soul?
Is Our Future Self Really an Unborn Soul?
I don’t know. Is it?
Is there something else you call consciousness?
Technically, I will become conscious of the guy who did or did not eat the doughnut when the time comes, but until then that experience remains unborn.
All I know, and it’s not much, is after I eat this doughnut, a couple of days from now there’s gonna be a guy who is sitting there wanting to enjoy a jog, but instead looking at his belly.
Maybe or maybe not will he find the will power to go running. But right now, I have more will-power than that guy is sure to have. So perhaps, my present self should be the one running as to make it easier for my future self to later enjoy?
I mean, I wouldn’t want to make life hard for my wife or kids. Who would?
So, why do I make life hard for my future self so readily?
Is there a solution?
All the bad choices we take part in lead to future stressors, whether they be personal, emotional, or communal. So, how can we more easily escape the desire to take part in these poor choices?
There is great power in goodness.
In alcoholics anonymous they say to take it one day at a time.
So, I like to weigh my days in the currency of how much good I have done.
When we go to our beds, have we made ourselves just a little bit better than the day before?
And this is really just another way of saying,
“Have I made the world a better place?”
Because really, changing the world starts by looking at the man in the mirror.
We should be grateful that Christianity and Jesus gave us the most valuable tool of repentance so that we need not dwell on our failures.
But, while it’s easy to justify wrong doing by assuming that nobody is perfect, we still need to be conscious of our own pursuit of well-being.
Western Christian Theology even goes as far as defining grace as the mercy of a God who wants you to have it, not because you’ve earned it.
That’s fine. A clean conscience is a healthy one.
But it doesn’t mean you’re not an asshole for staying drunk all day and then saying three hail Marys at night.
After a past love of mine left me for being too nice, I’d decided to totally abolish the words I’m sorry from my vocabulary.
Don’t be sorry for what you’ve done. Just don’t do anything that you aren’t gonna be ashamed to re-tell. You’re the storyteller and in the end, God’s the audience.
If you believe in all that.
Do more good than bad.
Run a marathon if you’re gonna drink some beer.
That’s kind of a poor example. But, it’s better than drinking a beer because you have no one to go running with!
Get stronger in body or mind.
If that opportunity doesn’t arise for the day, then reach out to a friend or loved one and grow deeper roots. Then if all else fails and you feel you’re falling short of positive change for the day, say a prayer for others, or tithe to a church or charity (they always do some good with your money).
Aristotle imagined that things on Earth occurred because of how the stars moved, and that something out there was moving those heavenly bodies, and that eventually there had to be a first thing that was out there at rest. That thing he called the first Mover.
It’s important to move. Move the body. Dance, jog, do yoga. Work, interact with others. But remember that every single dance is coming from an original place of rest.
What are your resting attributes?
I suggest grace and mercy.
I liked how Anne Rice depicted the eldest vampires, of her novels as statues of marble. Like they were so immortal they just turned to stone and became immovable.
When you take things like grace and mercy and plant them in your soul like divine statuettes, lay them to rest there, deciding that you will always come from that when you interact with people, then those two icons become your beacons.
You’ll watch all the other attributes of man and woman swirl around on the outside of your experience like some stormy maelstrom. But if you remember your place of rest, it can be peaceful.
Someone once said that anything you find yourself in can be experienced as heaven or hell. It’s heavenly if you decide that you are doing it willingly. It’s hell if you decide to imagine that someone else is making you do it unwillingly.
Through Rhyme or Reason
During the 1200’s a philosopher and theologian named Thomas Aquinas was a teacher in Paris. In that time, there wasn’t much difference between philosophy and theology, as people like Thomas were out to show that you could learn the same things from reason as you could in the good book.
Of course, it is a whole lot safer to crack open the bible and learn not to lie, cheat, or steal, than it is to come to that conclusion through your own reason. Because, let’s face it, some people are less reasonable than others.
Either way you go about it, you’ll not realize your own movement toward the greater good without patting yourself on the back for your choices. It is smarter to reward yourself for choices that you’ve made that have led you to greater goodness than to boast about the abilities you’ve gained.
When I say I am good at martial arts, I am in danger of slacking off on my training. When I say, I am proud to be practicing every week that has led to growth in my martial arts, then I am more likely to continue with my consistency.
Real happiness comes from achievement and the recognition of self-growth.
The real question is what kind of story do you want your day to tell? One of growth or one of stagnation?
Go ahead and lie, cheat, and steal, just don’t expect to be happy.
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Jay Horne is an author and publisher out of Bradenton, Florida. He is a husband and father of four.
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