Philosophy Friday: Character Is Fate
Jose Mujica lives a run-down, dilapidated farm owned by his wife and counts his 1987 VW Beetle as his largest financial asset. Mujica seems to be just another poor farmer in Uruguay. Yet, Mujica chose to live in this way while he was the president of the country. He donated 90% of his presidential salary to charities. Mujica could have accepted the perks of office and lived in luxury. Instead, he made a deliberate choice to help others in need and put his country first.
Contrast Jose Mujica with the typical image of recent world leader politicians: Ill-behaved, selfish, meant to be working for the common good yet so often appearing to be interested only in self-promotion and maximising what’s in it for them.
But shameless and ineffective politicians do get their comeuppance—they get removed after the next election.
It can seem that selfishness in politics is a modern problem—but that’s wrong. Self-centred people were running for office in ancient Greece during the lifetime of Heraclitus of Ephesos. Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic philosopher, is reported to have coined the phrase ‘Character is fate‘.
What does this expression mean?
It means that we go through life making decisions in line with our character, reaping what we have sowed. For example, if we have a character streak of unreliability, we may be sloppy in our dealings with others. If we believe that there is only a fixed amount of wealth to share among people, we may exploit others and do almost anything to get our ‘fair share’. Or, if we have worked towards a virtuous character, we will be trying to help others and make the world a better place. Our character determines our outcomes.
Our character, made up of our values and beliefs, guides us in our decisions. Are we happy to throw someone else under the bus to advance? Do we think that such an action will not affect us? At least we will know what we have done.
Or are we content to play fair even if it means that others will take advantage from time to time? Yes, life will be harder, but we can also sleep at night.
Character is fate. What do you want your future to be? Have you got the character for it? If not, could you change it?