In 458 B.C., Rome was at the edge of defeat. A Roman force led by Consul Mincius had been sent out to crush the Aequians, a nearby tribe, once and for all, but had become stuck after being surrounded by their enemies on Mt. Algidus. This left the field open for the Sabines, another tribe which had beef with the Romans, who could now march towards Rome unopposed.
In this time of dire peril, the Roman Senate decided a swift course of action needed to be done. Otherwise Rome would be wiped off the map. They agreed that only one man could do the job, Cincinnatus.
They gathered at his farm and found him working the fields. After being told of the situation, Cincinnatus reluctantly took power as Dictator and raised an army to march against the Aequians. He defeated them and successfully relieved the trapped Roman Army.
However, this is not the point of the story. What is remarkable is what he did after all this. As a Dictator, he was in a position of absolute power. Yet, after the two weeks that it took to get the job done, he relinquished all this power, and returned to his farm.
Here was a man who was in a position that other men scheme their entire lives to get, yet he gave it all up to go back to a simple life. For him, it was the duty that was important. He did what he had to do. His duty was to command the army and save Rome.
Once that was accomplished, his duty was done. Through the ages, Cincinnatus was given as a moral example of a man of character, of modesty and selflessness. His devotion to others and the greater good became legendary. The Ancient Romans were supposed to take example of him and behave in a similar way.
The moral of the entire story is that your actions define you. The ancient philosophers believed that it was not enough to do good deeds, but you needed to do them for the right reasons. It was not just the outcome that counted, but also the way it was achieved.
In our lives, we are often confronted with moral dilemmas. Do I go the selfish route or do I take the moral high route. Often, the moral route is the tough one.
Unfortunately, often it does not yield results and is not appreciated by others. Humans, by nature are selfish creatures and will try to grab things for themselves at the expense of other people. If you use the moral compass to guide you, then you will have to be swimming against this current.
This is hard to do. Often, other people will try to drown you while you are swimming. Sometimes, you might fall prey to temptation and succumb to your human nature and decide to try the selfish route, and instead of swimming against the current, decide to take the easy route and let the current carry you downstream.
Yet, then you will be reminded of your moral duty, and once again start swimming against the current.
You will have to live with the fact that this will usually not be appreciated by others. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people just look out for Number One, and don’t care about others.
Your good deeds towards them will soon be forgotten. The fact that you went out of your way to help them, will not be appreciated. You might even end up being portrayed as the bad guy.
This should not faze you. What should comfort you, is knowing internally that you did the right thing.
I already wrote about the plight of Boethius, one of the last few of the learned Romans, who in the 6th century had been wrongly accused and ended up rotting in jail. That’s where he penned his reflection on why good men suffer, while bad men often prosper.
His conclusion was that people often focus on the wrong things. They mistake the means towards the end with the end itself. They focus on money, fame or other such things, when instead they should be focusing on virtue.
What defines a person is how they behave towards others, how they do the right things for the right reasons, and how they appreciate the few people who are good to them. This last point is often lost on people.
Many times, people focus on pleasing all the assholes that surround them, and forget to be thankful for the people that have stood by them in good and bad.
These people can be your family, the few true friends that you have, or sometimes even a person who you never knew before, but who went out of their way to be good to you in your hour of need.
Unfortunately, it is these people that very frequently, you behave the worst towards. Instead what you should do is to keep them close by your side and be thankful every day that you have them. If you wronged them, try to make up for it.
Often, your pride will get in the way of acknowledging when you did wrong, but in cases like this, you really do need to set it aside and be humble. If you want to be a hardass, be a hardass towards the assholes, not towards the people who were in your corner.