Tag Archives: Motivation

Jesus compared with other moral authorities, Part 3 of 4

[This post is the third of four drawn from this one letter.]

… their philosophy [all ancient moral authorities except Jesus] went chiefly to the government of our passions, so far as respected ourselves, & the procuring our own tranquility. on our duties to others they were short & deficient. they extended their cares scarcely beyond our kindred & friends individually, & our country in the abstract. Jesus embraced, with charity & philanthropy, our neighbors, our countrymen, & the whole family of mankind. they confined themselves to actions: he pressed his scrutinies into the region of our thoughts, & called for purity at the fountain
To Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
How broad is a leader’s compassion? What is its source?
In the preceding post, Jefferson took issue with another who established Jesus’ superior moral standing by criticizing all other philosophers. Here, Jefferson compared and contrasted what each contributed to the moral canon.

All other ancient philosophers:
1. Taught self-control as a means to personal happiness and contentment
2. Were concerned only for family and friends and abstractly for the government
3. Rarely showed concern for those beyond their immediate circle
4. Confined themselves to actions only, not the motivation for those actions

Jesus:
1. Founded his philosophy on love and generosity
2. Embraced all people, near and far, on that basis
3. Was concerned not with action alone but the internal motivation for that action
4. Good behavior was not enough. Purity of motive was essential, too.

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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 11 G (OR Does the mind tend toward evil?)

 [This is the 17th post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is part of Heart’s final reply.]

Heart: In short, my friend [my Head, my intellect], as far as my recollection serves me, I do not know that I ever did a good thing on your suggestion, or a dirty one without it … I shall never envy nor controul your sublime delights. But leave me to decide when & where friendships are to be contracted. You say I contract them at random … Wealth, title, office, are no recommendations to my friendship. On the contrary great good qualities are requisite to make amends for their having wealth, title, & office.
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Calculating leaders calculate their friendships, too.
As Jefferson neared the end of this internal dialogue between his Head & Heart, he made a stark assessment about relying on his strictly rational mind: I never “did a good thing at your suggestion, or a dirty one without it.”
Head might choose friendships based on “wealth, title, office.” Heart would not. In fact, those characteristics alone were repulsive to Heart. It required “great good qualities” in those who possessed worldly status, just to compensate (“make amends”) for that status.

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