What’s the point of playing nice if nobody else is?
Some of us put a lot of effort into having integrity, being true to our word, being generous, being compassionate, being fun to have around at parties.
Some of us try very hard to be ‘good’ people.
But then, a lot of people don’t. Or they don’t seem to.
So what happens? Do nice guys finish last? Do people who are trying hard to do the right thing just get taken for a ride by those who just don’t care – those people who are out for whatever they can get?
Maybe that does happen sometimes, but I think there are still three powerful benefits to living a virtuous life.
I’m going to call these benefits:
1. The Material Benefit
Your reputation opens doors for you.
If you have a reputation as someone who gets results, as someone who is always true to their word, as someone who will always do the right thing no matter what personal temptations are thrown in their way, this can go a long way in life.
People will want to work with you, and will offer you repeat work. They’ll trust you and let you inside projects that you never otherwise would have. You’ll also have access to positions above your station, because reliability is often more important than flashy skills.
In the TV series Game of Thrones, the Lannister’s motto is: “A Lannister always pays their debts.”
At first blush, that’s a pretty un-sexy motto. It’s no “Roaring like the God of Fire.” But think about it. It’s incredibly powerful.
How likely are you to lend to someone if they have made it a point of family honour to always pay back their debts, above all else.
Pretty likely, right?
Your reputation opens doors for you. It helps you get stuff done. This is the material benefit of virtue.
2. The Universal Benefit
In many ways, out commitments to our virtues are affirmations of abundance.
So say your African refugee taxi driver gives you the wrong change – it’s $50 too much.
There’s a temptation here. You can stay quiet and pocket the money. Or you can ‘do the right thing’, and give back what is not yours.
If you do the right thing, it is a powerful statement of abundance. I have enough. I have enough wealth to live in alignment with my values. I have faith that the world will look after me in other ways.
The more you make affirmations like this, the more that becomes the reality you inhabit. If you believe that you will always have enough, you will.
Putting a virtue into action is a powerful demonstration of belief, and will have a powerful impact on your reality. The same is true of all virtues.
This is the universal benefit.
3. The Deeply Personal Benefit
Finally, virtues have a capacity to shape your psyche and shape your soul.
Most virtues are fairly universal. No one really believes honesty is a bad thing. It’s just that in the moment, we see there might be something to be gained by being dishonest, just in this particular situation.
People are not fundamentally dishonest. They are just opportunistically dishonest.
So virtues are fairly universal, because, I think, they just feel good.
And not in the sense that it feels good to do things other people approve of, but that it feels good, intrinsically and on its own.
Your virtues shape you in a particular way. They give you a particular posture. They help you hold a particular stance.
This shape is, I think, closely aligned with the shape of your true soul. It’s the shape that happens when you align yourself with those spiritual qualities of good, and just and love.
The more you align with that shape, the stronger you become. The more immovable you become. The more expansive you become.
And, I’d say, the more beautiful (truly beautiful) you become.
These are ends in and of themselves. This is the deeply personal benefit.
So hold the line
So I know it’s tempting if your life is full of self-serving and opportunistic bastards to turn your back on virtue, and just ‘play the game’.
But hold the line. Your virtues are their own reward.
They are worth the sacrifice and effort.