False Advantages and Distinctions
There are many people in society who make a mistake in identifying the factors that bring respectability. Since their psychological need is not fulfilled through the right means, they resort to deviant and destructive ways to satisfy this urge. Like a drowning man who tries to catch hold of every object in order to save himself, they do not leave any stone unturned in order to earn false distinctions and fake respectability and take recourse in every insignificant means.
For instance, in some persons the appeal of unlimited wealth and innumerable assets may emerge as an urgent need and thirst. This urge, like an inner tyrant, can overshadow their faculty of reason, their sense of justice and awareness of their true interests. Such an unwholesome state turns man into a most tormented and helpless creature who tortures himself in addition to being harmful to others. If the number of such persons were to increase in a community and were they to become a majority, such a society would be in deep trouble.
The problem is that possessing wealth in excess of one's needs is usually accompanied by one of these characteristics, each of which by itself leads man into misfortune and wretchedness. Either it makes one deviate from the straight path of moderation to indulge in the pursuit of one's desires, or makes one so madly in love with riches that wealth becomes for him an idol and object of worship, on whose altar he is ready to sacrifice everything. Of course, this does not mean that one should not try to obtain wealth and provide for the needs of one's life. But it is a fact that a wealth in excess of one's needs does not affect one's felicity in the least.
Nevertheless, such a feeling in a person is not the basic goal of any psychological need, nor does it guarantee his welfare. The cause of most psychological disorders in people is excessive attention to this one-sided urge, which is far removed from the very notion of spiritual need and its real satisfaction.
Obviously, improper goals cannot be expected to yield worthy and satisfactory results. Inner anguish and dissatisfaction is the logical result of choosing unreasonable and inappropriate goals. Thus we come across countless people who are rich but who have no sense of personal honour and dignity due to their being devoid of spiritual values. They remain defenceless, perplexed and forlorn in the midst of roaring waves of the sea of life, and ultimately their life ends in the same state of defencelessness and forlornness when everything comes to an end with them.
Inner dignity is a refreshing feeling that arises from the depths of one's soul and pervades everything. One who has inner dignity will also enjoy society's respect and honour. True, may people have the desire in their hearts to obtain the highest degrees of honour and wish to shine like stars on the horizon of their community and to impress others with their personal glory and fortunes. They wish that their name be on people's lips and their picture in their hearts. However, in order to attain such a goal one must be realistic and base his life on the foundations of true dignity.
A Western thinker says:
Wealth is not money alone. There are many people with apparently meagre means of life, but if we look carefully we would have to count them amongst the richest of men.
Self respect, personal dignity and other human virtues constitute a spiritual asset safe from the hands of any thief. There are many people who possess these qualities but lack material riches and who command the respect of wealthy people. Money can be acquired with toil and perseverance. How about honour and dignity? These are things which money cannot buy.
I don't know why people ignore the truth and attach so much worth to wealth that undaunted by any danger they run after it, eagerly exposing their life to all sorts of perils. They squander their bodily health and lose their peace of mind and spend a significant part of their lives in toil and drudgery in order to become rich. Alas! For heaps of gold are not worth a minute of human life.
People imagine that wealth can bring them happiness and with it they can restore the lost paradise forever to their lives. They do not know that money can not buy happiness. Poor folk! The more they advance in its search the farther they recede from themselves and ultimately get lost in its labyrinths. They betray their own souls, their feelings and merits. Neither money is necessary for happiness nor wealth. That which is essential consists of things which are neglected by most people, and one does not see a single one amongst the seekers of happiness who should be in their quest. 1
When Alexander, the famous Macedonian conqueror was appointed the army's chief commander at the time of the Persian campaign, people from all the various classes came to congratulate him. Diogenes, the well-known Greek sage, who lived in Cornith at the time, did not pay him any attention. Alexander wanted to meet him personally and so he went to see him. Diogenes, who was a self-respecting man, a free soul indifferent to worldly glamour and riches-and these were his prominent qualities-was lying in a tub enjoying the warmth of the sun. When he sensed that a crowd of people was approaching him, he rose his head a little and his eyes fell on Alexander who was coming towards him amidst pomp and glory. As he reposed with indifferent equanimity, he did not see any difference between Alexander and others who were coming with him. Alexander greeted him reverently and said to him, "If you have any wish, I assure you that will not be disappointed." Diogenes said to him, "I have only one request. Until a moment ago I was enjoying the sun and you came and stood in the way of sunlight. Please move a little aside."
Alexander's companions considered these words as foolish. They said to themselves, "Truly, this man is a fool who misses such a golden opportunity." However, Alexander, who felt small in front of what he had observed of Diogenes' dignity and resignation, was deeply shaken. As he returned with his companions, who ridiculed the philosopher's conduct, he said to them, "If I weren't Alexander, I would have liked to be Diogenes." 2
At all times there are some people who, ruled as their emotions and acts are by an unhealthy spirit, cannot tolerate the noble station of others. Accordingly, in their encounter with great men they try to project themselves as at least their equals if not their superiors. And since they are devoid of the. characteristics of greatness, they try with different means to belittle great men and to block the light of their radiance. However, they never succeed in detracting from the worth of outstanding personalities by their subversive efforts. That is because men of honour and dignity belong to all humanity. The distances of space and time disappear in front of them and their memory leaves an indelible impression in human souls and the star of their greatness and honour acquires even greater brilliance with the passage of time.
The sense of person honour can be helpful in moderating and controlling undesirable infatuations and desires. There may be some who might not have sufficient moral competence and may even exhibit deviant tendencies, yet their sense of self-respect and personal honour prevents them perpetrating from immoral and undesirable actions. This innate asset results in saving them from dishonourable actions.
1. John Lubbock Baron Aveberry, On Peace and Happiness, Persian trans. by Mehrdad Mehrin, "Dar justotu-e khushbakhti" p. 146.
2. George Sarton, A History of Science, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,1952), Persian trans. "Ta'rikh-e 'ilm" p. 525.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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