Vices and Virtues: The Fine Line Between


Every voluntary act of a man’s life is either virtuous or vicious. Lysander Spooner 1875

There are virtues (the good guys) and then there are vices (the bad guys).

But who’s to say which is which? Do we rely on circumstance to distinguish between the two? Are the lines separating right and wrong so elastic that they change given a person’s unique situation, mood, or current disposition?

According to nineteenth century writer Lysander Spooner, “Vices are simply the errors that a man makes in his search after his own happiness.”

On a practical level, we can work this statement out easily. Individuals often do make choices that agree with Spooner’s observation that hour-by-hour people decide to go to work, feed their pets, parent their children, shop for clothing, and watch the evening news. In other words, they act in accordance with creating a life that they deem is a “happy” or purposeful one.

What individuals often miss is that they “err” by placing too much investment in terms of time, energy (emotional, physical, and mental), and material resources on specific single goals, objects, or people, so much so, that it throws the rest of their lives out of whack.

Certainly, none of the above responsible actions can be measured as vices? Well, said another way, sure they can.

Anything, even any “good” endeavor, in its extreme, can become something of a personal “idol” which controls and masters us. Does this include the time-worthy stuff like working, cleaning, mowing the lawn, or running errands for a neighbor? Yes. Unless we live out our days with a deliberate mindset of balance (in all things) our lives can quickly spin out of control.

Too much of something is simply too much. Whether we find satisfaction in lending a hand or offering our services unreservedly; we sometimes need to ask the difficult question. Is what I’m doing benefiting or handicapping another (or myself) in the long run? Am I shortchanging another (or myself) by putting this much emphasis on a particular activity, person, or vocational goal?

Says Spooner, a good gauge for determining whether a specific act falls into the vice or virtue column is one of degree. “It is not often possible to say of those acts that are called vices, that they really are vices, except in degree. That is…if they had stopped short of a certain point.”

How does this play out in daily life? By continually reassessing our lives (within reason, of course). We need to mentally plot our hours and days and be willing to pull back in those areas where we are choking the life out of others. Give and take…balance, balance, balance. In all things, strive for balance.


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