The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
If there is a hundred dollar bill dropped in front of us while no one is watching, would snatching the opportunity considered “smart?” If there is an opportunity for us evade taxes and take advantages of the system’s loop hole, would profitting from such tactic “smart?” If we can cut corners and manipulate others to do the work we don’t want to do, would that be a “smart” thing to do? Here, Aristotle would not only said that it is not “smart.” But worse, giving in to our own greed and desire is what Aristotle would describe as a weakness of character.
For Aristotle, a moderate man becomes moderate because his ability to abstain from his greed. A courageous man becomes courageous because in spite of his fear he is able to act in ways which opposes it. The ability to rise above one’s impulses is the essense of human being. It is what make human “human.” It is what make us “excellence.”
When a group of monkeys are hungry, they do not rationalize whether the act of stealing food is moral or immoral, they do whatever their impulses demand of them. When a dog is in shock or in a state of panic, it will attack even its owner if its instinct calls for such action. A moth does not rationalize whether flying toward a bon fire is “good” or “bad.” Its impulse demands it to do so, and thus it must fly toward its own demise.
Humans have similar impulses that animals have. We sometimes desire things that are detrimental to ourselves like drugs, junk foods and alcohol. When a hundred-dollar bill is dropped in front of us while no one is watching, we can be tempted to take it. When we have to listen to someone in a discussion but he or she is off topic or is making completely no sense, we might be tempted to be frustrated and shut him or her out. But despite these impulses, we do not always lash out, became trapped as the slave to our own temptations, or give in to our desire of stealing. Instead, we learn how to be a good citizen by returning the money although we could have taken the money, we learn to quit bad habits to live a better life instead of a pleasurable one, and we let go of our frustration because see that giving others the proper respect is more important.
Humans only become stronger, or “excellence,” by overcoming ourselves. We are endowed with the capacity to be excellent. Character building is the development of one’s human capacity to be excellence. There is nothing to overcome by giving in to our desire and selflshness. In fact, how would humans then be so different from animals if we becomes the slave of our own desire? Being the master of our own desire is something only human can do. This development of one’s excellence is what Aristotle would have described as the greatest and truest path toward True Happiness. So be kind when there is no reason to be, abstain from anger even when other is at a fault, and love even though we get nothing for it because these are what humans are made of. Without them our society would be no different from that of a jungle.