Credit for Character

Time recently spent with a relative of naturally happy disposition makes Dalrymple wonder about the origins of goodness:

[P]eople vary naturally in their powers of self-control. Does this mean that there is more virtue in people who are naturally impulsive but do manage to control themselves than in those who are more phlegmatic and behave similarly? The most tempted are the most virtuous, if and when they actually do overcome the temptation. I know an eminent man, by nature of bad character, arrogant, intolerant, and full of hatred, who nevertheless makes intermittent efforts to be good, and sometimes even succeeds for a few moments in being affable and kindly. One knows that it won’t last, that he’ll soon turn nasty again; but his struggle against his own God-given temperament has something of the heroic about it.

By comparison with him, I have it easy; by no means saintly, I have much less of a struggle than he to be amiable. Is my general amiability (which, I confess, sometimes partakes of a good dose of pusillanimity) less meritorious than his occasional flashes of the same quality?

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