The little known Stoic philosopher Agrippinus was apparently the king of one-liners. There was the time he was informed he’d been exiled and responded, “Very well, we shall take our lunch in Aricia.” There was another time, we are told by Epictetus, that Agrippinus was asked by a fellow philosopher whether or not he should attend some banquet put on by the abominable Nero.
Agrippinus told the man he should go. But why, the man asked? That’s when Agrippinus got him with another one of his brilliant barbs: Because you were even thinking about it. For me, Agrippinus said, it’s not even a question.
In a way, this is a pretty good—albeit cavalier—test of the progress we are making with our character. Hemming and hawing about the right thing and then doing the right thing—now obviously that’s better than doing the wrong thing. But what we should be shooting for is developing the kind of moral compass that’s so clear and strong that we don’t even have to do that. Where doing wrong isn’t even a question. Where the right thing is just obvious.