We shouldn’t take sides based on who is able to play the underdog best. Instinctually, we want to choose the side of the “weak”, but often, strength is a sign of virtue and weakness is a sign of intemperance.
The world expects us to take sides. Every news story seems to be framed that way. Someone is the victim and someone is the transgressor. I wonder if it’s a kind of distortion of the democratic spirit where we are expected to pass judgement and choose the right candidate and through that conditioning we’ve started to act as though everything can be thought of in those terms.
I remember seeing something that a few people in my social media network had shared a while back that caught my attention. It had some inspiration picture to go with it, but it was the tagline that I noticed. It said something like, “In a conflict between the strong and the weak, you should always take the side of the weak.”
And there’s something in that that appeals to our innate sense of justice, isn’t there? It’s such a simple qualifier and we love easy answers to complicated questions. How could the weaker party be the bad guy?
And if we look for it, this principle can be reinforced by a lot of our fiction and movies. The original Star Wars trilogy starts this way. The Empire rules the galaxy and try as they might the little rebels are trying to push back against that tyranny but they can’t seem to rival the power of the empire. And with those lines drawn, we immediately know whose side we’re supposed to take. We’re conditioned to know it.
The Middle Earth legendarium is another great example of this power struggle where the hobbits are often facing larger and more powerful opponents.
But this is an incomplete picture at best. The problem with this principle, is that it never accounts for how some became weak and how some became strong in the first place. Because if this is really a question about who’s right and who’s wrong, or who’s evil and who’s good, then we should be accounting for the effects of good and evil and what they produce.
Someone who is truly good, who makes the right decisions and follows through with them consistently; someone who exercises virtues like prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, and love, on a daily basis, is someone who, without any interference, is going to grow in strength and prosperity.
Someone who neglects those things and routinely makes immoral decisions that adversely affect their ability to be productive and maintain intimate relationships, is going to find themselves diminished as a result of it.
And this is the principle: evil corrodes and corrupts. Goodness, by contrast, is life-giving.
If we go back to our fiction we can find this principle portrayed there too. One of my favorite examples is in the Harry Potter stories in the depiction of Voldemort. His natural abilities and ambition serve him well for a time, but eventually, his arrogance, his malice, and paranoia cause him to overlook the strength of love and it leads to his downfall.
Or how about the Axis powers in WWII? How about that pathetic humiliation of the former Nazi officials in the Nuremberg trials? In the end, they were weak, they were defeated, and they were disgraced. The Allies, by contrast were strong, victorious, and in control.
The Nazis lost because they were wrong. Their evil clouded their judgement and allowed them to believe that a person like Hitler could save the world and usher in an age of peace and prosperity. They were blinded by visions of utopia.
There’s this curious saying of Jesus’ in the Bible where he says that some people will choose to live as Eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven. Eunuchs, typically, were men that were castrated at a young age for many of the same reasons you might do it to a domestic animal because it produced slaves that were more docile and cooperative.
It’s a condition that didn’t reap a lot of respect or admiration. But in one of the most unlikely outcomes imaginable, it was this class of people, who chose to live as eunuchs that would carve a new European civilization out of the ruins of the Roman Empire. It was the Catholic monks that created monasteries that became centers for culture, community, agriculture, and learning.
These same voluntary eunuchs became some of the most powerful landowners in Europe because of their commitments to a rule of life that was virtuous, peaceful, and enlightened.
So, strength and wealth can often be a sign of virtue and goodness and smallness can just as likely be a symptom of immorality. Whatever we do, we shouldn’t choose our allegiance and affiliation with someone just because they play the underdog role well. We should choose our sides based on who is right and who is wrong.