It is easy to justify taking a pen from the office. What could it matter? It’s just a few cents. No big deal.
It’s easy to justify cutting in front of others in line. What could it matter? It’s just a few minutes. No big deal.
The fallacy of such thinking is that it denies the obvious truth of accumulation. It ignores the fact that every “no big deal” — when multiplied by many days or many deeds or many people — add up to a very huge deal.
The daily chocolate treat adds up to extra pounds every year. The daily pen or paper clip adds up to thousands of pilfered dollars over a career. The multiple groups who cut in line in front of those who came earlier add up to someone missing the opening act or not getting a ticket at all.
As Aristotle said:
We are the sum of our actions, and therefore our habits make all the difference.
It was Aristotle’s position that correct moral behavior was at the midway point — or mean — between the extremes of two vices. To find the appropriate behavior, we must decide which vice we tend toward and then move back toward the other until we find the center.
I have long held the opinion that every character trait has both a positive and negative extreme, which follows along this idea. Being reserved can run the gamut from being painfully shy and withdrawn to simply knowing when to keep private information to oneself. On the other side of that equation, being outgoing can range from being warm and friendly to being loud, obnoxious, and offering too much information. On that path, the center point to be desired would be someone who is open and congenial, while maintaining appropriate boundaries for the situation.
The moral virtue of discipline is a mean that lies between two vices, one of excess and the other of deficiency.
Having the discipline to find the optimal point in our behavior is challenging work, but the payoff as we get better and better is enormous.
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