Why do we always complicate things? For ourselves. For others. For the world. True, it is a complex world. It is a world of possibilities. Choices. Directions. Decisions. Unknowns. However, our tendency is to fuel the complexity. We gyrate on decisions. We thrash through options. We agonize over possibilities. Why?
Desire. What we want drives complications.
First, there is the stuff we want. We hunger for things: phones, cars, clothes, houses, furniture, decorations, toys, etc. Much of the chaos with which we wrestle in life comes directly from the pursuit of stuff, the storage of stuff, or the maintenance of stuff. I want that big new house, however, it’s really more than I can afford. Fortunately, I am approved for enough to buy it and stretch to the monthly payment. Complication. My new car needs maintenance. Complication. Christmas is coming and my kids want ___________. Complication. I just received a raise. Where will that extra dash of disposable income go?
Along with our desire for things, we have desire related to the behavior of others. We want more love. More recognition. More respect. More time. More affection. More attention. The people around us can always be better, right? Often, we just want someone to pick us. At work, we want the client to pick us to work with them. Or, we want our boss to pick us for the promotion. At school, we want the cute boy to pick us for the prom. Eventually, we want the smart, beautiful, girl to pick us for her partner. Always, we want those around us to see our brilliance, our goodness, our value.
What will we do for these thing we want? Pretty much anything. It begins early. Toddlers throw tantrums trying to figure out the right combination of noise and flailing to get what they want. Young girls and boys compromise themselves trying to get others to pick them. Students compromise themselves trying to get better grades, to make the team, or to just get mom or dad to say “yes” to something. Sales people compromise themselves trying to get a client to pick them. Couples compromise themselves trying to get the bigger house, car, or whatever it is that really successful people seem to buy. As we age, we compromise ourselves trying to hold onto our youth.
My, oh my, how we desire. We will go to great lengths to achieve what we want.
Wait a minute! Many of our desires aren’t bad by themselves. Wanting good things for our children is a worthy aim. Wanting that promotion is not bad. Wanting to win that new client is a heathy objective. Dreams are desires too, right? Our dreams are important and worthy endeavors, aren’t they? Of course they are. Until they’re not. Until we’ve lost ourselves to the pursuit. Until we compromise ourself to the point that our desire commands us, lessens us, or twists us.
You know the comprises. We all see them every day. Early on, it’s the small lie so mom lets us have what we want or so we avoid trouble. Just a couple of days ago, I found my four year old grandson standing outside of our house – he had snuck over while mom was putting his baby brother to bed. Once he realized he had made a mistake, he asked me not to tell his mom. “What would a knight do?” I asked. He hesitated and I went on, “He would tell the truth and promise to do better next time.”
Four years old! From there, we only escalate the game as we figure out how far we can push the boundaries. Black and whites turn to grays as we build our own internal continuum of compromise. The small ones are merely gateways to the big ones. Yeah, gateways, just like drugs or crime. Rarely does anyone begin with robbing a bank, we’ve got to build to it. No, most of us will not become bank robbers. However, we all see the spectrum every day. How far will we go to get what we want?
As I read over this post, I think, “This is all so very obvious.” Is it? The forces shaping us are powerful, coming from many directions, and aren’t necessarily centered in any particular moral code. From the mob mentality of the social media to the games our children play to the talk shows to the movies and on and on. We are taught early-on about the wily world of compromising ourselves to get what we want. Our moral compass is continually assaulted with the magnetism of the shiny, the beautiful, the desirable, and the compromised. The “right thing” is no longer obvious and there are many competing messages about what we should or shouldn’t do when confronted with such choices.
From the stuff we want to the things we want to happen, it really doesn’t have to be complicated. The answer of course is virtue, moral excellence. The answer is noble and upright living. Willing the good of the other. Treating others as we would like to be treated. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. When we lead with virtue, the compromises begin to look different. It’s likely that our conscious is already attuned but it sometimes needs some intellectual support – intentional awareness. We still know the right path even if it isn’t always the easiest or most expeditious.
Leading with virtue is recognizing the small compromises that put holes in our moral fabric and stopping them in their tracks. It is making the simple decision, even if it feels difficult. The structure of a moral code is actually quite liberating. Leading with virtue is owning yourself and your choices in a complete way. Virtuousness is about delayed gratification in the pursuit of something more as we subdue our desires in the moment for what is good, true, and beautiful in the future. To lead with virtue is to envision ourself on the other side of compromise in a way that makes us proud.
As complex as everything seems, the truth of the matter is that most of it is really quite simple. We complicate the world. More often than not, decisions are much easier than they seem when we distill them into their essence. No, not all decisions are moral decisions. However, if you greet the complex questions of your day first by leading with virtue, i suspect clarity will emerge more quickly. The machinations and manipulations to achieve our aims will begin to look exactly like what they are: moral compromises.
One more thing. Don’t confuse virtue with compliance, contracts, or laws. The broad legal nets we cast are meant to protect or ensnare. Virtue lies above and beyond the minimums of contracts, laws, and regulations. Often, when we start parsing words in a contract, we are walking the path of compromise and need to be very cautious. Political compromise to achieve some broader aim may or may not be virtuous, however, we must be on our guard against the persistent compromises that lessen our humanity, mar our soul, and move us way from the thriving existence inhabited by our best self.
Goodness can be cool, sexy, appealing, and successful. However, it will take more work. When you lead with virtue, it will work out better. If not now, eventually. When you lead with virtue, you strengthen the best parts of yourself and plant your flag on high ground. You also inspire others to do the same. Oh yes, others notice. Our reputations are billboarded with lightning speed across the social networks we’ve built. People know. People watch. People follow.
Lead with virtue. Every time.