I find it necessary to write on the characteristics of the just person because it seems no longer praiseworthy to remain just in the face of temptations, adversities, and threats. We emphasize wealth, fame, and power, it seems that if there is a choice between acting justly and wealth, fame and power, it would be stupid to choice the former. The truth is some values are irreplaceable and worth pursuing regardless of what people think. I do not think sufficient focus has been put on how important it is to do the just thing despite how unpopular, or politically incorrect it may perhaps be.
It seems that no one cares about how someone becomes successful. Here I want to maintain that it is expedient to always act justly regardless of how people may judge the action.
When I was a little younger than I am now, my mother used to tell me this story: there was a man who became wealthy by literally selling one of his children to the devil for money. Well, he had an avalanche of money pretty quickly after the child’s death. There was a poor neighbor who knew about the matter. One day, the rich man was going home from his store, and he saw the poor neighbor coming home from work. The wealthy neighbor stopped to give the poor one a ride. the neighbor refused saying, “I do not want to associate myself with you due to the means by which you acquired your money”. The moral of the story was to teach me honesty or the value of achieving success through just means.
It matters how one makes one’s money. A man who makes his money by the sweat of his brow is honorable while another who makes his money through evil or corrupted means is disgraceful. Dont get me wrong; Success is not intrinsically bad at all, but it must be achieved through honest means. We must disdain those who try to achieve success through corrupted and vicious means.
Plato, in the Republic, was asked the following question: is it good to be just if no one would know about it? In other words, is it rational to be just for the sake of being just? To illustrate the point, Plato’s brother, Glaucon, uses this metaphor known as the ‘Ring of Gyges’: while tending the flock of his master, a shepherd found a golden ring that allows him to become invisible at will. With that newly found power, he quickly arranged to be chosen as one of the messengers who reported to the king on the status of the flocks. Arriving at the palace, he used his new power of invisibility to seduce the queen, and with her help he murdered the king, and became king of Lydia himself.
Glaucon asserts, “If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, would he not be thought by the onlookers to be a most wretched idiot?” (Book II, 360d). Thus, this story suggests that being just is not easy; many are only just because they are afraid of the consequences of getting caught. If there is a way they can get away with it, they would not act honestly. We act justly only if that can bring us fame, which in turn would bring us money. For Plato, It is in our interest to be just even when no one would notice it. It is advantageous to be honest though there may be no chance of getting rewarded for it. Whoever abuses the power of the Ring of Gyges enslaved himself to his appetites, while the man who chose not to use it remains rationally in control of himself and is therefore happy (Book X, 612b). One does not become happy through fame, power, or wealth; one is made happy when he/she cultivates the virtue of excellence. So the person who does not abuse the power of the ring is virtuous and intelligent, and so is happy. So being just leads to happiness.
It does not matter what people think about the man striving to be just. The question that carries any weight is whether the unjust man is happier than the just man. About this, Plato says, since the unjust man succumbs to completely unlimited desire, he can never be satisfied with anything he has. Thus, in the deepest of his soul, he is unhappy while on the outside everyone might think he is happy. On the other hand, the just man is rarely recognized because his justice is an internal matter. He lives his life according to this justness. He is a man of true simplicity of character who wants “to be, and not to seem, good”. The just man has sometimes the worst of reputations even though he has done no wrong. That happens to him, according to Plato, as a way to test his justice and see if it can stand up to unpopularity and all that goes with it; he has an undeserved and lifelong reputation for wickedness, and make him stick to his chosen course until death … The just man will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned. his eyes will be put out, and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified, and learn at last that in the world as it is we should want not to be, but to seem, just (Republic 361e). Beware that passage was written around 430 B.C. Does this description remind you of anyone? This, then, must be our conviction about the just man, that whether he fall into poverty or disease or any other supposed evil, for him all these things will finally prove good, both in life and in death. For by the gods assuredly that man will never be neglected who is willing and eager to be righteous, and by the practice of virtue to be likened unto God so far as that is possible for man (the Republic, Book 10, 613a-613b).
Such is Plato’s description of the just person. Do you still want to be just after this? It takes a lot of courage to act justly, doesn’t it? Despite this mountainous description, Plato rightly tells us that it is good to imitate the just man than the unjust one. Now, tell me whether we should not honor those who try to be honest. If a man is willing to go to such drama for the sake of acting justly, if there is no reward for the just man in this life and yet he remains just, tell me a society should not promote and encourage such behaviors and values. This description is nothing unlike what Christianity demands by the way. No wonder Christians are so few. Honestly, it seems impossible to choose being a just person. Yes, it is impossible from a human level, but it is achievable because of the grace that we receive from God through the sacraments. On a human level, of course we would fall, fail, and probably give up, but Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to strengthen and encourage us in the slightest effort we make toward being just. Therefore it is within our reach.
It is not easy to remain just in the face of such pressure, but to those who are trying out there I want to say ‘courage’. Don’t give up the fight! You will not regret it, and thank you. Tremendous recompenses are in store for you as Solomon said,
“The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if to others, indeed, they seem punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself” (Wisdom 3, 1-5).
Yes, honesty when no one is watching us, or when no one around us is pursuing it is difficult, but greatness is accomplished only through trials. One day, your heroic action will brighten like the noonday sun and we will all see who gets the last laugh. We all have before us greatness and mediocrity, justice and injustice, eternal bliss and eternal torment. Are we going to choose greatness, justice and eternal bliss. If you do, you may for a time have to endure many trials, but this is so that your virtuous acts, which are more precious than fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness result in honor, praise, and glory when the Just judge is deciding our fate.
Father Brice’s example of his Mother’s story, which teaches the importance of achieving success honorably, is very moving. The verses cited in the Book of Wisdom are very relevant and comforting, too. Such a lovely account!
Father Brice’s relating his Mother’s story is a very sweet way to remind the reader that only success achieved honorably is good. The reference to Wisdom3(1-5) is both relevant and comforting at the same time.
I am touched by the story that Father Brice’s Mother told him when he was growing up, as related in this post.