This goes against the grain of the way I have thought about virtue in the past. But after I read this quote, and heard the ongoing stories about Tiger Woods and his infidelities, it made me reconsider.
I use to think the man or woman who wanted something bad or unhealthy but stood against the desire and didn’t indulge was being virtuous. I am not saying I completely disagree with that. They are virtuous in many ways.
It also glides into a perfect fit with the ideal of the rugged individualist who battles his or her demons and comes out victorious. It makes a good story in other words because really, what is more boring than a truly virtuous person, right?
But the quote really does bring out the idea that the KEY to being virtuous is not in battling your desire, but to not have the desire. Of course you might be saying, fine but how do you get RID of the desire? Isn’t that the billion dollar question! Think of all the industries that would go belly up if we got rid of the desire instead of spending our lives fighting the desire. The diet industry would lose a lot of financial weight. The tobacco industry would go up in smoke. Alcoholics Anonymous would have some problems keeping their glass full as well.
I do know in my own life I have only won the battles when the desire has left me. I had to reach a crisis point, a bottom, for that to happen with alcohol, which it did in 1993. But once I hit that bottom the desire left. If, however, you don’t have a revelation or event that stops the desire stone cold and it wants to stick around a while, the key to success over a vice is in large part a function of how much you feed it. Find something to replace it and stick with it. If you are an addictive personality, which you likely are if you struggle like that, then find another addiction! Become an exercise whore, or a furniture maker extraordinaire, find something and stick with it. And then let time work it’s magic and sweep the desire into the past.
Drawing and commentary © Marty Coleman
“Virtue consists, not in abstaining from vice, but in not desiring it.” – George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950, Irish playwright