Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you. – Thomas Jefferson
If you’ve never been in a situation that required you to be courageous, how would you know whether you’re courageous?
The comic book version of Plato’s position on ethics is “to be is to do,” but it had problems handling that very question. If you’ve ever been in a situation that required you to be courageous, you may have had a wide disparity between how you thought or hope you’d act and how you did. I’ve experienced people rise above their expectations and people fall far, far below them, and I’ve also been virtuous in unexpected circumstances and vicious in easy situations.
Aristotle’s position – “to do is to be” – addresses this problem nicely. While learning about virtue might help you become more virtuous when the time comes, there is no substitute for working your way through the situations where you’ll be required to test your mettle.
As much as we all love excursions into the history of philosophy, the reason I’m writing about this is because I’ve met a lot of people recently who are frustrated about how they’re performing. They thought they’d be rockstars but fear is creeping up on them. Or perhaps they thought they’d be more productive than they are and theory isn’t matching reality. Or maybe they’ve had a great deal of success and have no clue how to handle it.
There are also a few people doing an excellent job of arm-chair quarterbacking about how everyone else is doing something wrong or substandard who aren’t quite entering the fray themselves. It’s easy to dissect and criticize from the sidelines and quite difficult to have your virtues tested in the marketplace. I’m not saying that we should all walk a mile in each other’s moccasins, but perhaps some of the judges should spend more time walking and guiding and less time talking and chiding.
The way things appear to be from a distance is often quite different than it is when it’s right in front of your face. Sometimes they’re easier to handle than you thought and sometimes they’re harder. But until it’s in your face, you don’t know what or how you’ll do. That’s what makes this adventure so maddening and exciting at the same time.
We become better versions of ourselves in the trenches of living rather than in the safety of plans and theory. To never fall below your own expectations is to have expectations so low that you’re not living. And to avoid doing anything so as to remain unmarred by the scuffs of the real world is keeping you from bearing out whether you’re the virtuous person you think you are.
Obviously, I side with Aristotle – to do is to be. What are you doing to be the person you think you are or want to become?