In a world governed by men who are naked and ashamed, success is measured by material prosperity, physical prowess, and the size of one’s tribe. Rather than valuing that which distinguishes him in the natural world – his ability to perfect reason and embody virtue – his highest aim is to accumulate the trappings of riches and the admiration of others. Such is the world we have created for ourselves, but it needn’t be that way.
Fulfillment is scarce in such a state. Happiness is fleeting and the target is ever in motion when success is measured from the outside, rather than within. The finest clothing in Roman times differs wildly from the most desired today, but the lustful pursuit is fundamentally the same. The feminine ideal during the Renaissance was softer and rounder than the perfect ten of our day, but the obsession with the surface appearance is no different. Virtue, on the other hand is fixed, eternal.
Virtue is the evidence of the presence of perfected reason; it is the natural result of a heart and mind yoked to love and truth. A virtuous person is unmoved by the vicissitudes of life or the crises at hand. More importantly, the desire for righteousness invariably trumps the desire to be seen as being right according to the standards of the day.
Seneca made a piercing observation on this matter two millennia ago:
This is the error under which we labour; this is the reason why we are imposed upon: we value no man at what he is, but add to the man himself the trappings in which he is clothed. But when you wish to inquire into a man’s true worth, and to know what manner of man he is, look at him when he is naked; make him lay aside his inherited estate, his titles, and the other deceptions of fortune; let him even strip off his body. Consider his soul, its quality and its stature, and thus learn whether its greatness is borrowed, or its own.
I don’t pretend to have perfected this in my own living, in fact, I continue to learn from my mistakes to this day. I have learned, however, that we needn’t spend our days toiling to clothe our souls with greatness. Greatness is born from within outward.
Value, meaning, purpose, and fulfillment are conceived in the invisible heaven of our inner lives and our minds and hearts are the womb in which they gestate. It is safe to let go of the concern for the applause of men and to let go to the reasonable, virtuous voice of the wonderful one within you.
There, and only there, is where your true worth is established. When you begin to live in this way – as above, so below, as inside, so without – you cease being tempted by baseness and begin living righteously. Whether this is met with derision or delight is of no consequence, for you shall enjoy a level of freedom and fulfillment that no amount of success in a disconnected state could ever provide.