“There is a world of difference between, on the one hand, choosing not to do what is wrong and, on the other, not knowing how to do it in the first place.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic
As we grow older, we become more cynical. We sometimes find people’s stated goals suspect. We don’t trust their motives and discover passive-aggression.
As our life experiences add up, we get better at detecting bad intentions, lies and misdeeds, and the choice of not doing what’s right comes to mind more often. In other words, we learn temptation.
We call adults not prone to mistrust and temptation “naive,” and, to some extent, the word is not necessarily a compliment.
In the case of children, however, the word “naive” is always positive, an inherent attribute of this stage of life. When it comes to doing certain kinds of wrong, we expect young children to not know “how to do it in the first place.”
Wouldn’t it be so easy to do good if we didn’t know how to do wrong? That’s the position Adam and Eve were in in the Garden of Good and Evil — until, that is, they disobeyed God’s command:
“Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Book of Genesis)
When it comes to doing right or wrong, having a choice changes everything. In Adam and Eve’s case, the choice sprang from learning about the very existence of right and wrong.
That’s what happens to every human. As we get older, two things happen: we have increased freedom to make choices, and we discover how to do wrong. Blend both together and we have temptation.
We all face the beguiling power of temptation. Sometimes we don’t resist it. On occasion, the consequences are regrettable.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that resisting temptation is part of the price we must pay for our freedom.
Day 19 of 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.
Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.