Don’t try to be too good for your own good

We may sometimes become impractically idealistic, “I will never do anything wrong in my life.” Such an aspiration is good, but it needs to be tempered with awareness of the complexity of reality. One aspect of this complexity is the pragmatic acknowledgement that too much of something good may not be all that good.

Such pragmatism is demonstrated in the Bhagavad-gita. At its start, Arjuna desires to act nonviolently. The desire to avoid unnecessary violence is undoubtedly laudable – and the Pandavas themselves had strived tirelessly for peace, offering the atrocious Kauravas a settlement on the most accommodating terms.

But the martial guardians of society have a responsibility higher than sticking to nonviolence; they have to maintain law and order in society. For that purpose, they need to discipline miscreants – and discipline by violence when all else fails. When assertive action is called for, placing nonviolence on the highest pedestal can be dangerously counterproductive. Such pusillanimity among law-enforcers will embolden law-breakers who will wreck havoc in society. That’s why at such times, violence, which is normally undesirable, may well become essential.

The Bhagavad-gita cautions us against falling into the trap of impractical idealism. It (18.48) declares that all endeavors are covered by faults just as fire is covered by smoke. Those irrationally averse to smoke can’t tap the potential of fire. Similarly, those irrationally averse to the inevitable faults associated with certain vocations can’t tap the potential of that vocation or even execute the responsibilities associated with that vocation.

By acknowledging with hard-eyed realism that this imperfect world we inhabit is no place for utopian idealism, we can avoid becoming too good for our own good. That is, we can avoid disproportionate devotion to any one virtue obstruct us in fulfilling the purpose of virtue: our and others’ overall growth.

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