Don’t Let Your Virtues Become This Vice

So we’ve begun to get serious about our training, both physical and philosophical. Before, we never read, and now we do. Before, we were lazy and slothful, and now we’re regularly going to the gym. Before, we would eat everything we felt like eating—too much of it usually—and now we’ve got a diet and we’re sticking to it.

This is great. We’ve conquered that vice.

Now there is a new danger. That this virtue becomes a new vice–the vice of pride, of superiority, of obnoxious self-satisfaction. You know the type…because, well, they won’t let you not know how great they’re doing, how they can’t believe they used to eat that, what a rush it was to finish that marathon, or just how transformative all these mind-blowing books have been. Ugh.

Apparently, these folks existed two thousand years ago, too. As Epictetus warned his students:

“When you have accustomed your body to a frugal regime, don’t put on airs about it, and if you only drink water, don’t broadcast the fact all the time. And if you ever want to go in for endurance training, do it for yourself and not for the world to see.”

This is good, timeless advice. Progress is wonderful. Self-improvement is a worthy endeavor. But that’s sort of the point. It should be done for its own sake–not for the congratulations or the recognition. Are you really running that marathon for the medal?

Don’t let your progress become pride. Otherwise, you have just traded one set of vices for a new one. And the worse part is that because of your new healthy lifestyle, the rest of us risk having to endure it for your many remaining years.

P.S. This was originally sent on December 12th, 2018. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism. 

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