Act in accordance with virtue, but stay away from vices. Yes, sure, that sounds all good and well, but what does it actually mean? Let’s start off with a common way of looking at it; as specific practices that are either good or bad. Virtues may be; practicing moderation, gratitude and courage. Whereas for vices I like to think about it in terms of the seven deadly sins; lust, greed, gluttony, wrath, envy, sloth and pride.
Now, what can be said for what makes something a virtue or vice? That which I have noticed is the duality of passion and rational. What do the deadly sins have in common? – they are all examples of the ways in which passion may show itself at its extremes. Now, this does not mean that I believe passion to be synonymous with vice, but rather that vice stems from passion – yes there is a difference. Passion in and of itself is not bad, as long as it is practiced in moderation and aided by our rational. The problem as I see it arises when the collar is removed, when passion is given free reins; to become a creature of passion. You may ponder “Is there anything bad with acting entirely in accord with passions?”, well, yes, actually I think there is. Say that you are a person who acts more in accordance with passion than with your rational. This can be exemplified as chasing short-term gratifications such as alcohol, fast food and sex. In the moment of indulgence you may feel exceptionally well, but to “chase it”; to see short term-gratifications as a way to become happy, well that’s where I believe the problem lay. Short-term high-chasing leads to short-term happiness, and therefore one would need to constantly chase new highs to remain happy. Obviously this is not a long-term viable solution, for if there is one thing common among all animals it is the ability to adapt (for betters or for worse). This “shortcut” to happiness leads down a path that will ultimately leave you with a void, one that constantly grows larger as a consequence of neglecting your long-term well being and fulfillment. Sure you can fill the void fast by way of the seven deadly sins, but only momentarily, for it needs to be filled again as the temporary high subside.
Are we doomed to be forever unhappy and unfulfilled? Well, I don’t think so, but it is important to realize that the road towards fulfillment and happiness is arduous and ridden with trials. Should you act in accordance with virtues, then this would mean that you were capable of containing the beast that is passion, taming it, to make wolf become dog. However, to act in moderation and aim towards becoming the best version of yourself (that which by way of consequence may lead to courage) – this will allow a person to build himself into someone who he can be proud of. To look at your actions in retrospect and say “I am proud of the way I acted”. That is actually a great way of fostering virtues and discovering vices; reflect upon your actions in retrospect and if you are displeased with the way you were acting, then this is reason to change. Extremes of passion such as lashing out on a loved one, overeating or drinking too much – is this in accordance with the person you want to be? I am not saying that it will be easy to take the path of virtue, for it will not, and I for one am struggling with it every single day, but I think it’s worth it, how about you?