The Lowest Bar

A “low bar” is an expectation that is easy to meet. For instance: “If he doesn’t insult me the next time we meet, I’ll consider it a step in the right direction!” That’s a low bar.

There’s one particularly low bar that can be life-changing. It’s the easiest of conditions to fulfill, and it is sufficient to set ourselves beyond a great many people around us who could easily choose the same thing but have not yet.

It is this: Can we want to be virtuous?

I’m not asking if we can achieve virtue. That’s a much bigger project, without any guarantee of success at the outset.

All I’m asking is whether we can truly choose to desire virtue, to make the desire of virtue our goal. Are we able to say, “I will be happy, I will be proud of myself, so long as I can recognize in myself a sincere longing to be virtuous”?

Sure we can! What does it cost us to want something? It’s the easiest thing in the world. Maybe we won’t desire something if it seems bad, but if someone has the slightest understanding of virtue it will be clear that this is something eminently good and easy to wish for.

If a desire for virtue is our big goal, then we can achieve it and maintain it almost effortlessly.

And to meet this one small condition is sufficient to bring about the greatest goods.

When we have a moral failing, we will pick ourselves up and resolve to do better next time to the best of our abilities, not growing discouraged by the failure.

When we fail in other ways, through lack of knowledge or skill, we can comfort ourselves with the assurance that what we care most about is virtue.

In whatever situations life throws at us, we can cling to our desire to become better in ourselves, no matter what is happening around us.

To desire virtue will not immediately make us entirely virtuous. But it will set us inexorably on the path to that destination, so long as we can remember to hold onto this desire through the various circumstances of our life. It may take a long time, but with every passing interval of time we will grow closer to the virtue we desire.

Resolving to be virtuous is a good thing, but in the short term it is almost sure to fail. Resolving to desire virtue, on the other hand, is easily achieved in the short term, and it brings great benefits in the long run.

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