Righteousness. Wow, that’s a loaded word these days. So many people confuse this term with its larger, uglier, and much more pervasive step brother, self-righteousness. But there is a big difference between the two.
When we live in a way that aligns our existence with Divine Law, or Universal Law, we elevate ourselves, our spiritual beings – souls, if you will – to a higher consciousness and flow of spirit.
When we act in accordance with our morals and ethics, we may be able to call ourselves “Righteous.” Of course, that depends on your morals and ethics. The Way of The Paladin mandates that we identify our Values and not to compromise them. We grant ourselves a lot of power, and permission to wield it appropriately when we know what it is, exactly, that we stand for.
It’s hard to define righteousness outside of an organized religious context. Simply look up “Righteousness” on your search bar, and I can guarantee that most of the hits will be religious and biblical in nature. Without getting caught up in those connotations, the definition narrows down quite a bit, and could be summed up in just a few words. While it may not be a definition, I can offer synonyms: Rectitude (which means moral virtue in relation to character), and Responsibility. When one is Righteous, that one must have high moral virtues, and so therefore, must also be Responsible.
Think of someone in your life that displayed this character of Rectitude and Responsibility. Did you admire them? Was it someone you knew personally, or a celebrity? Maybe even an historical figure?
The Peter Parker Principle
One of my favorite comic books growing up was The Amazing Spiderman. I loved that he wasn’t some super rich dude in a cape (ahem, Batman), or from outer space (I’m looking at you, Silver Surfer), but just a regular kid who got sudden superpowers. The point I want to make here is what has become known as “The Peter Parker Principle,” which states, and I give you permission to read this out loud: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Yes, you’ve heard that line before, and the sentiment actually predates Spiderman by a couple of centuries. There is a reason that it has staying power – because it’s TRUE.
You, as a regular person, may not have much power. You, as a Paladin, can have great power. Power that can only be wielded with – yes, you guessed it – great responsibility. That kind of power is recognizable to others around you. When you are powerful and confident, it radiates from you energetically, and others around you pick up on that energy, and are drawn to you. Powerful people tend to be placed in authoritative roles, even if subconsciously by others.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology reported that power is really a magnifier of the pre-existing moral compass – or lack of one. Power won’t necessarily corrupt anyone who has a strong moral identity, but instead, would enable those with a strong moral identity. In this study, the authors concluded that the psychology of power, those with a strong moral identity were less likely to act in self-interest, while those with a weak moral identity were more likely to act in self-interest. In summary: Power, on its own, in the hands of the weak, can easily corrupt. Power, guided by a strong hand, has the ability to create and build beautiful things.
Okay, so what about Righteousness’ evil twin, Self-righteousness? First, let us discover what it means to be self-righteous. Earlier, I used words to summarize righteousness, so it’s only fair I identify synonyms with self-righteousness: “smug,” “hypocritical,” “holier-than-thou,” are just a few that came up on a cursory Google search. In this day and age, it’s very easy to find someone who you can identify with those words. This person feels morally superior to others, and in a very smug way.
I caution all of us that it is easier to fall into that trap than you think. It’s easy to become self-righteous if you believe that you have the one-and-only answer to [insert ideal here]. The self-righteous individual looks down on other perspectives simply because they are not the source – It’s easy to become self-righteous if you lack empathy or refuse to lead with love. According to my fellow NLP coach and founder of the iNLP Center Mike Bundrant, The self-righteous individual will only accept others to the point they support their “image of rightness.”
Imagine the power that the self-righteous individual has given up, in order to be right. Conversely, imagine the same individual’s surrendered power in order to not be wrong. This is the person who, in order to appear more powerful, has given up their power, and in so doing, given up their influence.
Where is that you want to be on the power spectrum? I urge you to identify your values – all of the things that are important to you, that you feel you cannot compromise, no-matter-what. It doesn’t matter how many, or how few items you have on that list, as long as you feel strongly about them. Write them down by hand, and put it away. Give it a few days and pull it out again. Does that list still feel true? Is there anything you’d like to add?
This is the first step to becoming a Paladin. Identify who you are and what you believe in.