I wrote recently about how grace and nature both need to grow together in our lives. Lots of Christians seem to be fascinated by spiritual growth, but occasionally forget that basic human elements of us need work, too!
In order to grow and change for the better, we need to know both what we are growing towards, and where we are growing from. Most of us have an instinctive understanding of what it means to be a better person. Virtuous people are not selfish – they are generous. They care about others. They are willing to speak the truth, in love. They inspire and encourage others, simply by being themselves. Most of us know what kind of person we’d like to be.
But the first step in becoming a better person, in growing towards being the kind of person who is other-focused and life-giving, is really to know ourselves. We need to know our starting point!
If we don’t know our individual tendencies, it’s going to be very difficult to become more virtuous.
The ancient philosopher Aristotle wrote about virtue lying in the middle of two extremes: for example, courage is the mean between being afraid of everything (cowardice), and being afraid of nothing (foolhardiness.) But each of us naturally tends towards one extreme or the other.
If I am the type of person who tends to be afraid of nothing and rushes head-long into any situation, then in order for me to grow towards being truly courageous, I need to be more afraid of (legitimate) things. But If I am the type of person who tends towards being afraid of everything, in order for me to grow more courageous, I need to be less afraid of things.
The coward needs to step outside his comfort zone and try to be more bold. The fool needs to step back and stop to consider his actions.
Imagine if the person who struggles with cowardice doesn’t know himself well. He might think he’s actually quite bold, and decide that in order to be more courageous, he needs to step back from challenges. If he does that, he won’t be growing more courageous, he’ll be growing more cowardly! He might have the right goal in mind, but because he doesn’t know his own starting point, he can’t take the right steps to achieve it.
We’ve got to know our natural tendencies, where we are growing from.
In another post, I’ll look at some of the things that make it difficult to know ourselves.
In the meantime, have you ever considered what side of virtue you’re standing on?