Through Great Effort
"What is better - to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?” -Paarthurnax, Skyrim
This quote is from the epic role-playing game Skyrim. When you are at the peak of the world, questioning Paarthurnax about why he is the only dragon that isn’t setting fire to the humanoid civilizations, he responds with that quote. It’s an interesting philosophical question that he poses to you. In the lens of the game, Paarthurnax is making a case for his way of life, that by overcoming his evil nature through meditation and self-isolation he has become good and that his path is inherently more noble than that of a person who does good with little effort.
I think this quote transcends the medium that it’s used in, a video game, and is applicable to much of our lives in the modern era. We are all born under different circumstances in this world, but what is most important is how you overcome your individual trials and obstacles to “overcome your evil nature through great effort.” Conquering these challenges is how we become the ideal versions of ourselves.
I was born into an upper middle class household. I wouldn’t say my family never struggled, but the struggles were rarely due to finances. My father worked a high-paying job when I was a kid, but I rarely got to see him. Between his long hours and my parents’ eventual divorce, I was closer to my mother until my teenage years. My other struggles came from a different place - finding meaning and generosity in a world that seemed so cruel. That initially emerged for me through the lens of psychology, which morphed into financial life planning when I discovered it.
“Why are you telling us your life story, Ian?” Put simply, it’s to outline something that I think gets lost in the modern debates about privilege. When someone says you are privileged, they don’t mean you haven’t had a hard life. I am privileged, yet divorce and the modern quest for meaning in an unforgiving world were deep emotional struggles I had to deal with my whole life. But my privilege insulated me from other difficulties that my peers have had to deal with.
I didn’t deal with poverty, I received an inheritance. I didn’t deal with violence, I was from a peaceful suburban home. I didn’t deal with malnutrition, I was fed well and often. I didn’t struggle to get my education, I was enrolled in a special “Magnet School” program through middle and high school and then my college was paid for.
I know people who have had to deal with all the things I just noted I didn’t, and much more. So when someone says I’m speaking from a place of white privilege, my comment back is “Yeah, I probably am. Tell me how you see things, please.” Because frankly, I am fortunate beyond all belief, so my perspective and experiences are different.
So how does this relate back to the sagely words of Paarthurnax? I view it as my responsibility to be a force for good. I was given a lot in life, some would say more than my fair share. I’m in no business to decide who gets what, but I am in a place where I can take some action to insure that others are given financial skills, financial assistance, and a place to open up about their difficulties. I take that responsibility seriously. It’s my life’s work.
Money is not good or evil, but being given fortune and not using it for the betterment of society, that is evil. It takes great effort to give up some of your fortune, but it is ultimately what we must do to be a force for good.
On that note, reader, if you are someone who is struggling financially and can’t see a way out...please reach out to me. Whether it’s an hour of time you need, or just someone to listen, I am happy to donate my time, skills, and effort to equipping you to tackle your financial life. Everyone needs help sometimes.
If you fall into another camp as a reader, someone who has much and needs less, then I would encourage you to donate to the people who are struggling right now. Black lives are currently highly at risk, and the protesters are on the front lines. Here is a link to my local bail fund, but find your state’s if you’re most interested in helping elsewhere. Otherwise, I encourage you to donate to Give Directly, a charity that provides financial resources to disenfranchised communities, your local homeless shelter, or any other charity that suits your fancy. As a bonus, I can tell you that some of the highest moments of self-actualization come when you are giving to others. You’ll enjoy it.
And thanks, Paarthurnax (and Bethesda’s design team) for giving me a life-defining quote in a place few look for them. Through great effort, we can all be better.