Category: Virtue

Two Ways To Stop Caring What Other People Think

Caring what other people think is deeply human, deeply useful for social bonding, and ineradicable as a habit. But this human tendency can also make us fearful, cruel, ignorant, lazy, mediocre, and unhappy. A lot of folks who went along with the Soviets and the Nazis probably did it – in part – from a […]

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You Don’t Get Credit for the Moral Advances of Others

Oh, you’re anti-racism, hmm? You believe women should have equal rights? You’re against war? You think Nazis are bad? Good. But that belief (and repeating it on social media, etc) doesn’t make you a hero. Being “more enlightened” than your ancestors in these ways doesn’t actually make you smarter or wiser. All of these beliefs […]

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Will Your Ancestors Welcome You As an Equal?

“I go to my fathers. And even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed. I felled the black serpent. A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunset!” King Theoden, dying on the battlefield of Pelennor in The Lord of the Rings Imagine if after dying you joined all of your forebears in Valhalla, or Hades, or […]

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Desire Is the Enemy of Courage

It sometimes occurs to me that my passions conspire to keep me from acting courageously. It’s ironic: I want to spend my life doing interesting, adventurous things that require courage. And that very desire often keeps me playing it safe, taking the cautious path. At least, it seems that playing it safe is the “safest” […]

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Danger Is Temporary: Cowardice Is Forever

Who takes pays the greater price and takes the greater risk – the brave man, or the coward? The man who volunteers to defend his village against the dragon only experiences pain and danger momentarily. He either dies (temporary pain passing into nothingness) or lives (temporary danger or pain), but his negative state is temporary […]

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A Running List of Traits Modern People Undervalue (For Now)

If you want to understand how to succeed socially, you should use the same principles you might use to succeed economically. Personality and relationships are subject to rules of supply and demand, just as apples and printers and airplanes are. In the next decade, there will be plenty of market opportunities for entrepreneurs who want […]

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Fools Leading Fools

I have a special contempt for people who think they can fool the world. These are the people who will tell you that “ordinary people” can’t think. These are people who also fail to exercise the basic thought required to know that 1) they might not be as extraordinarily intelligent as they think and 2) […]

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What You Lose When You Run Late

When was the last time you were late for something? Were you sheepish? Did you apologize, look down, and stumble over your words? Did you run like a madman and arrive sweating and disheveled? Or did you just feel sloppy and off balance? When you run late, you sacrifice your dignity. When you sacrifice your […]

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What Is “Honest Work”?

I’ve heard the term “honest work” a lot in my life, and it’s always had an appeal for me. Now it’s something I want more than ever – but I’m not sure exactly how to define it. Here is an attempt. I would think honest work would at least meet these criteria: Honest work is […]

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The Badassity of Migrant Workers

If the pioneer and frontiersman spirit has disappeared in most Americans, it’s alive and well in migrant workers. Imagine traveling all the way from Guatemala to Maine to pick blueberries, or from Nicaragua to Alberta to tend cattle, or from Mexico to Washington to harvest hops. There are people who do this, and they are […]

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The Treachery of Niceness

Some of my most important life lessons have come through either 1) the suffering of hard experiences or 2) the suffering of hard truths. The suffering of hard experience is not too hard to find. You can get it fairly easily at the gym, on the trail, at work, or in any work to solve […]

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Elitism for Everybody

While not everyone is great, everyone can be. This may be my most American idea. As Gordon Wood argues in American Characters, we live in a populist country founded by elitists: a strange twist in history that has given to a mass population personal role models who had extraordinary (if flawed) personal character. We’re taught […]

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Honor Is a Game of Chess, Not Checkers

“It’s chess not checkers.” That’s what my jiu jitsu coach told me once when I asked about when to or how to use a takedown. In as complex a fighting style as jiu jitsu (just like in chess, as opposed to the simpler game of checkers), there isn’t really a clear answer about when to […]

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In Praise of People Who Fix It Immediately

There is one subtle trait that can tell you a great deal about people: how long they take to solve problems. Today my roommate/landlord dropped by on a short trip back to our place – mostly just to use the laundry machine. But when he heard my report of a water leak issue, he immediately […]

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Be Someone’s Moral Measuring Stick

My father and my grandfather told me to “be the man [I] was supposed to be” since I was young. In their code, this means telling the truth, acting honorably, playing fairly, working hard. It’s the code of farmers, and it’s rare to find in the city, where the simple code sometimes invites scorn or […]

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What S*** Are People Going To Say About You When You Die?

In Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” the terrifying Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Ebenezer Scrooge several scenes from a London after his death, including one in which a group of Londoners raids his house while his corpse lies unburied. It’s pretty obvious that these people have no great opinion of the dead man: “This […]

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You Can’t Spell “Courage” Without “Rage”

There is a courage of impulsivity (you might just call it boldness), but then there is a courage that has to come after long hesitations or deliberations. This is a courage that comes much more slowly than boldness, but it’s usually much more significant. It’s also angry. Hesitation is powerful. The dread that creates hesitation […]

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You Are Responsible for Your Own Disillusionment

We aren’t so much disillusioned by the failures of others as by our own failures. We aren’t just disillusioned with our ideals because of the corrupt systems at our companies or in our countries. Plenty of people keep their idealism while fighting corrupt systems. We are disillusioned because we go along with the systems. We […]

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Choose To Be Right in the Long Term

Ever feel underestimated or misunderstood? Think that other people are clearly wrong about something, or clearly planning something you don’t agree with? When I’m in these situations, I’m strongly tempted to set things right then and there. I’m a decently eloquent and logical person, so I’m usually pretty good at making a case for myself […]

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Every One of Your Actions Sets a Precedent

I wonder whether scientists like Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer had any inkling in their youth that their work in physics would one day be used to produce nuclear weapons. Yet by cooperating with the government that produced these weapons, these men (even Einstein, more indirectly) created the forces that could destroy all life on […]

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Your Word Becomes Your Destiny (or a Judge)

Committing a plan or a value to spoken word or written word is a powerful act, and it always has consequences. Even if you have an idea you haven’t acted upon yet – say, a vacation to Puerto Rico – just putting that idea out of your mind and into a communicable form changes your […]

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He Who Takes the King’s Coin Becomes the King’s Man: Be Careful About Accepting Help

Here’s an old principle that is often forgotten: “he who takes the king’s coin becomes the king’s man.” This wisdom has many layers. The most common understanding is that taking pay from another person or group reduces your independent judgment and action when it comes to them. If you work for Ford, for instance, you’re […]

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The Silver Lining of Social Media’s Negativity Obsession (and How To Defeat It)

Shockingly evil things + news often seem to defeat good things + good news in the war for human attention, especially on social media, TV, etc. There’s one silver lining to all this, though: The good is going to have to become that much better to stand out and win. Good people are going to […]

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Good Fiction Is Like Case Law

Good fiction is a lot like case law. Stick with me here. You’ve probably been in moral dilemmas before that are harder than some court cases. And you’ve had to play the judge. Should you cover up a friend’s misdoing? Expose it and rat him out? Or expose it and take the blame? Should you […]

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Keeping Your Word Is Counter-Cultural

I was talking the other day with some friends about the phenomenon of flaking and non-committal answers out about in the culture today. I fully admit that I was engaging in some unnecessary cane-shaking. But I’ve heard the complaint and seen the cause often enough to know that something is going on: many of us […]

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The Value of Knowing Awful People

“Surround yourself with people you want to be like.” “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” This is all fine advice. I’ve found it to be true in my own experience. But like all advice, it has its counterpart. As good as it is to have admirable, wonderful […]

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The Problem with “Here I Stand, I Can Do No Other”

“Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” According to some tellings, this is how Protestant Christian reformer Martin Luther responded to demands that he recant positions which the established Church of his time considered heretical. This is a badass speech, and it’s archetypal in our society. It’s the speech […]

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A Lesson from My Grandmother’s Frugal (and Generous) Life

I’ve put together this tribute from the notes for and my best recollection of the the eulogy I spoke at my grandmother Ruth McMinn McIntyre Shull’s memorial service in July 2019. The eulogy given differed in a few small respects (live edits, etc). Like many of her generation, my grandmother was the definition of frugality […]

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Game of Thrones Philosophy Breakdown Finale: A Look Back on the Song of Ice and Fire

*SPOILER ALERT FOR GAME OF THRONES, OBVIOUSLY. Don’t listen to this if you haven’t watched the show!* The Night King is dead. Cersei is defeated. The new tyrant Daenerys has been stopped. And our boy Jon and his boy Tormund and their good boy Ghost have ridden off into the sunset of the true North. […]

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Why Be Moral? Let Your Curiosity Have a Say

Why be kind, just, ethical? I’ve already spent a good amount of my time thinking about this question – and there is more than one good answer. But I’ve been fascinated lately by a new way to think about the reasons for “being good”. Perhaps one of the most powerful moral motivators I can imagine is […]

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