On Being Virtuous vs Seeming Virtuous

We are told to judge a person by his actions. Then, people who act virtuously should mean they are virtuous people. But can you be virtuous if your thoughts are muddled with vices? Meaning, your acts are good but your desires or wants are bad. So, its a struggle of suppressing what you truly desire in order to project a certain type of image. A virtuous being. The kind that you see on social media where people only post their highlights, the best and edited parts of themselves. More so than ever before there are people claiming to be one way for the public while being different in their private life. But does that matter? Perhaps these people deserve praise for showing self-restraint, discipline, self-control, showing that they aren’t lead by their immediate emotions that there is a calculated thought behind their behavior.

So, if action alone is to be the judge of character, then it’s easy to be a virtuous individual for it’s easy to seem virtuous in overt actions. It’s easy to do the right then when everyone is looking and expecting you to behave properly. Just like obeying traffic lights in the daytime but how about at midnight? When there isn’t a car in sight? Do you still obey?

Perhaps then, the action of an individual is just one part of the puzzle. Another piece maybe their internal thoughts and desires. Or, the action itself could be broken down to several pieces where the smaller acts hold as much weight as larger ones. Those acts that you perform without the threat of the mob.

Maybe the overt action is controlled and disciplined, but what about the smaller acts? Can someone who is suppressing his vices really keep them locked up in all aspects of life? We do hear stories of supposed good and virtuous people being found guilty of horrific actions. Bill Cosby comes to mind. The disharmony in one’s thoughts and actions will show itself at some point. Maybe this is why we feel put off by a person who puts down those less fortunate than them. Someone who talks rudely to a waiter or makes fun of a janitor. These smaller actions can be the real them seeping out when they don’t feel the pressure to be virtuous or moral or excellent. It’s here we see the sight behind the mask.

I suppose the point of all of this is to withhold judgment about another person’s character until you have sufficient evidence. In our media-driven world, we often see people doing good or bad, see people at their highest of highs and also their lowest of lows and we quickly formulate a judgment. Claim some to be good people and others to be bad. This judgment could be correct and is probably some evolutionary tactic to identify those who can harm us and those who can aid us. But such judgment can also set you up to be fooled or betrayed. Someone you trusted could turn out to be untrustworthy through later actions and those judged as bad due to some overt action could change and this change could be seen in their smaller acts yet you may be blind to such things because of your previous bias’.

It’s always better to detach and be objective. To take into account sufficient evidence. To formulate an opinion but be flexible enough to change it and to harmonize your actions, large or small, with those of equally good thoughts and desires so one can practice virtue at all times, be excellent at all times, be moral without cowardice.

People believe that virtue and vice are only communicated through overt action but in reality, virtue and vice are emitted in the breath of every moment. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance).


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