I’ve long thought that there are three parts to being a good person
- Wisdom: Knowing what the right thing to do is
- Courage: Having the bravery required to do it
- Choice: Choosing to do it
All three deserve their own articles but for now let’s look at courage. My initial reasoning for courage was simple. Knowing is the right thing to do doesn’t mean anything if you’re too much of a coward to do it. When I was younger I would always imagine extreme scenarios when thinking about this virtue. Would I give up my life if asked to pledge to a false faith. Would I really choose death over giving up 5 innocent people to the secret police. As I’ve got older and stepped into the real world more and more, my experience has been that most people are essentially cowards and won’t even pay the most minor costs to do the right thing. Experiences I’ve had include:
- A debating coach preferentially giving tournament spots to people she liked. Very few people in the club being willing to speak out, despite knowing this was happening and agreeing it was wrong, because doing so might loose them spots.
- A consultancy lies on it’s timesheets, overcharging clients. None of the highly-paid, ultra-employable engineers besides myself are willing to go on the record and say to superiors that this behavior is immoral and literally illegal
- A company made up of woke, socially conscious millennial being fine with defrauding the NHS by selling 1 min text chat’s between a counselor and child/teen as equivalent to full 40 min counseling sessions
Still, the problem with courage is that it describes only resistance to forces from the outside world. To be good, it’s not enough merely to be able to resist external pressure or social coercion. You also have to be able to master your own daemons. Whether it’s the urge to cheat on your partner, greed for the last cookie or biases against other peoples due to your upbringing, many character defects, irrationalities and compulsions can lead you to immoral behavior. Resisting these internal daemons is just as much a part of being a good person as resisting external daemons.
What word captures the ability to do what is right irrespective of both external and internal pressure? I think strength is that word. A person who is strong will do what is right even when doing so is hard. A person who is weak will cave, whether it’s to threats or to their own impulses. One issue is that whereas courage was too narrow, strength is a bit too broad. It can imply physical strength and also non-moral self-control. Still, I feel like capturing a slightly bigger area than I mean to is better than excluding half the area I want to cover.