In Albert Camus’s final novel, The Fall, his narrator, Clamence, is walking alone on a street in Amsterdam when he hears what sounds like a woman falling into the water. He knows what is happening, but not wanting to be bothered, he feigns ignorance and moves on.
A respected man in his community and known as a man of virtue, Clamence returns the following day to work and attempts to forget what he heard. But he cannot. Over time the incident begins to change his self-perception as a selfless man. That night, on the street along the canal, he made a conscious decision to walk away from helping someone who was committing suicide.
Clamence is forced to see the hollowness of his pretensions and the scheme of failings. He had thought of himself as a virtuous man only to be exposed as a fraud by his own inaction when given an opportunity to help someone.
As Aristotle said we are what we think. And what we think is what we do. To act contrary to your values and beliefs is inconsistent – it is an integrity issue.
Living a good life means having clarity on your values and beliefs and then striving to act consistently with those beliefs. It also means living for something bigger than self. It is a life lived seeking to help others along life’s rocky road. Clamence did not, and he suffered the consequences.
A person who lives exclusively for self will never be at peace. The coward who turns his back on others rather than risk something personal will never be fulfilled.
We are all like Clamence in the sense that we have a choice. The selfish pursuits offer the promise of joy, but they are an illusion. The inconsistency in our character gnaws at the conscience so that there is no joy to be had. A life lived for others, on the other hand, has the appearance of offering nothing, but in fact leads to great personal fulfillment and an abundance of joy.
It’s the old Boy Scout motto: “Do a good turn daily.” Some good turns are big and come with significant personal sacrifice, but many are small and cost us little. Words of encouragement. Sharing from our wealth. Picking up trash. None of us are lacking opportunity. It is a question of adjusting our vision and seeing the opportunities, and then acting on them.
Of course, none of us is perfect, nor will we be. The point is what are you living for? And are you continually striving to make your actions match your values and beliefs? It is the striving, the relentless forward progress marked by action, that reveals what we believe and defines who we really are. Real heroes do.
If we want to be good, we must also strive to do good. There is no escaping this.
Team Trek is a world-class provider of leadership training, team building, coaching and culture programs. Go to www.teamtrek.com/subscribe to receive the next Journal in your inbox.