A short, beautiful book reminding us what is truly important
Owen and Rose spoke for no more than a few minutes, but a lot can happen in a few minutes. Life is funny that way.
The Danes have two words for play: spille for structured play, like soccer or board games, and lege for open-ended, imaginative play with no specific goal. Rose saw learning to play as a prerequisite for any balanced life. As an only child she appreciated how much joy she got from playing with the other children on her road
Life is paradox and contrast. More constructively, Owen also recalled his dad advising that if you wanted to get the best from people you should build on their strengths, rather than try to correct weakness. Weakness can be coached to average, but strength can be leveraged to the moon. People are highly motivated by achievement and recognition. Give them a reputation to live up to. When staff presented their work to Owen, he always had one question for them: Is this your best work? He asked nicely, and invariably they would come back with something far better. This created a virtuous cycle, and the partners at NT soon saw that practically everything that came out of Owen’s team was first-class. Everyone in his team was now working to protect and promote the reputation of the team.
The first default setting relates to conversation. Are you a listener or a talker? In our conversations,w e can default to a lecturing lens or a listening lens. The rooster can crow at 142 decibels, which is like being within 100 meters of a roaring jet engine. That’s almost deafening. So why doesn’t the rooster deafen itself? Because when it opens its beak, it shuts off its ear canals. Sound familiar? Too many of us are roosters. Or crocodiles – all mouth, no ears.
Stress is wrestling with reality
Tiny improvements forever
Rose had read numerous psychology books. She had studied the Stoics. But there is a deep chasm between understanding something intellectually and knowing it viscerally. That’s the gap between the label and experience. She wasn’t going to magically forge advantage from adversity simply by reading about how others had done it. No amount of reading, philosophizing, or indeed writing could have protected her from such an unexpected loss. Loss of friendship. Loss of love. Loss of even caring about loss.
What I got out of it
A beautiful story to remind us all to be here now and focus on the things that truly matter
“I hope you find these ideas useful in your own life or business. I also hope you disagree with some of them. Then I hope you email me to tell me about your different point of view, because that’s my favorite part of all. (I’m a student, not a guru.)”
What’s Your Compass?
Business is not about money. It’s about making dreams come true for others and for yourself
Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself
When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world
Never do anything just for the money
Don’t pursue business just for your own gain. Only answer the calls for help
Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently promoting what’s not working
Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.
Starting with no money is an advantage. You don’t need money to start helping people
You can’t please everyone, so proudly exclude people
Make yourself unnecessary to the running of your busienss
The real point of doing anything is to be happy, so do only what makes you happy
If it’s not a hit, switch
We’ve all heard about the importance of persistence. But I think had misunderstood. Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working. When you present one to the world and it’s not a hit, don’t keep pushing it as is. Instead, get back to improving and inventing
No “yes.” Either “Hell yeah!” or “no.”
The advantage of no funding
Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision – even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone – according to what’s best for your customers. If you’re ever unsure what to prioritize, just ask your customers the open-ended question, “How can I best help you now?” Then focus on satisfying those requests. None of your customers will ask you to turn your attention to expanding. They want you to keep your attention focused on them. It’s counter-intuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.
Proudly exclude people
This is just one of many options
You can’t pretend there’s only one way to do it. Your first idea is just one of many options. No business goes as planned, so make ten radically different plans. Same thing with your current path in life
How do you grade yourself?
Knowing what you’re keeping track of determines how you play the game
Care more about your customers than you do yourself.
That’s the Tao of Business: care about customers more than about yourself, and you’ll do well
Act like you don’t need the money
It’s another Tao of business: set up your business like you don’t need the money, and it’ll likely come your way
The most successful email I ever wrote
Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow. A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing. Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy. We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Friday, June 6th. I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as “Customer of the Year.” We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!
When you’re thinking of how to make your business bigger, it’s tempting to try to think all the big thoughts and come up with world-changing massive-action plans. But please know that it’s often the tiny details that really thrill people enough to make them tell all their friends about you
Delegate or Die: The self-employment trap
Always do whatever would make the customer happiest, as long as it’s not outrageous. Little gestures like these go a long way toward him telling his friends we’re a great company
Make it anything you want
Never forget that you can make your role anything you want it to be. Anything you hate to do, someone else loves. So find that person and let her do it.
Delegate, but don’t abidcate
What I got out of it
A great, quick book which is fun and has a lot of worthwhile lessons. While all 40 lessons are key, I’ve only included the ones that seem most relevant/differentiated. Make yourself unnecessary, build a business for the love of it
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.
It does seem fitting to construe carelessly made, shoddy goods as in some way analogues of bullshit. But in what way? Is the resemblance that bullshit itself is invariably produced in a careless or self-indulgent manner, that it is never finely crafted, that in the making of it there is never the meticulously attentive concern with detail to which Longfellow alludes? Is the bullshitter by his very nature a mindless slob? Is his product necessarily messy or unrefined? The word shit does, to be sure, suggest this.
However studiously and conscientiously the bullshitter proceeds, it remains true that he is also trying to get away with something. There is surely in his work, as in the work of the slovenly craftsman, some kind of laxity that resists or eludes the demands of a disinterested and austere discipline. The pertinent mode of laxity cannot be equated, evidently, with simple carelessness or inattention to detail.
Wittgenstein devoted his philosophical energies largely to identifying and combating what he regarded as insidiously disruptive forms of “nonsense.” He was apparently like that in his personal life as well.
Now assuming that Wittgenstein does indeed regard Pascal’s characterization of how she feels as an instance of bullshit, why does it strike him that way? It does so, I believe, because he perceives what Pascal says as being—roughly speaking, for now—unconnected to a concern with the truth. Her statement is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality.
Her fault is not that she fails to get things right, but that she is not even trying.
It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.
It does seem that bullshitting involves a kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely, than to telling a lie. But what is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former than it is like the latter? Just what is the relevant difference here between a bluff and a lie? Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing, too, is typically devoted to conveying something false. Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony.
This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong.
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.
For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.
What I got out of it
Really relevant book given today’s context. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as of the essence of bullshit. The essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. It is produced without the concern for truth, but need not be false
Latticework: success in investing based on a working knowledge of a variety of disciplines
Latticework is itself a metaphor. And on the surface, quite a simple one at that. Everyone knows what latticework is, and most people have some degree of firsthand experience with it. There is probably not a do-it-yourselfer in America who hasn’t made good use of a four-by-eight sheet of latticework at some point. We use it to decorate fences, to create shade over patios, and to support climbing plants. It is but a very small stretch to envision a metaphorical lattice as the support structure for organizing a set of mental concepts
Physics – Equilibrium
Physics is the science that investigates matter, energy, and the interaction between them – the study, in other words, of how our universe works. It encompasses all the forces that control motion, sound, light, heat, electricity, and magnetism, and their occurrence in all forms, from the smallest subatomic particles to entire solar systems. It is the intellectual foundation of many well-recognized principles such as gravitation and such mind-boggling concepts as quantum mechanics and relativity.
Equilibrium is defined as a state of balance between opposing forces, powers, or influences. An equilibrium model typically identifies a system that is at rest; this is called “static equilibrium.”
The concept of equilibrium is so deeply embedded in our theory of economics and the stock market, it is difficult to imagine any other idea of how these systems could possible work…One place where the question is being raised is the Santa Fe Institute, where scientists from several disciplines are studying complex adaptive systems – those systems with many interacting parts that are continually changing their behavior in response to changes in the environment…If a CAS is, by definition, continuously adapting, it is impossible for any such system, including the stock market, ever to reach a state of perfect equilibrium. What does that mean for the stock market? It throws the classic theories of economic equilibrium into serious question. The standard equilibrium theory is rational, mechanistic, and efficient. It assumes that identical individual investors share rational expectations about stock prices and then efficiently discount that information into the market. It further assumes there are no profitable strategies available that are not already priced into the market. The counterview from SFI suggests the opposite: a market that is not rational, is organic rather than mechanistic, and is imperfectly efficient.
The SFI pointed out 4 distinct features they observed about the economy: dispersed interaction, no global controller, continual adaptation, out of equilibrium dynamics.
Biology – Evolution
What we are learning is that studying economic and financial systems is very similar to studying biological systems. The central concept for both is the notion of change, what biologists call evolution. The models we use to explain the evolution of financial strategies are mathematically similar to the equations biologists use to study populations of predator-prey systems, competing systems, or symbiotic systems.
Complex systems must be studied as a whole, not in individual parts, because the behavior of the system is greater than the sum of the parts. The old science was concerned with understanding the laws of being. The new science is concerned with the laws of becoming
Social Sciences – Complexity, Complex Adaptive Systems, Self-Organized Criticality
Although Johnson’s maze is a simple problem-solving computer simulation, it does demonstrate emergent behavior. It also leads us to better understand the essential characteristic a self-organizing system must contain in order to produce emergent behavior. That characteristic is diversity. The collective solution, Johnson explains, is robust if the individual contributions to the solution represent a broad diversity of experience in the problem at hand. Interestingly, Johnson discovered that the collective solution is actually degraded if the system is limited to only high-performing people. It appears that the diverse collective is better at adapting to unexpected changes in structure.
Folly to think you can eliminate every waste, every performer who doesn’t meet the highest bar, and excel and survive. Can shift the entire bell curve to the right, but you still need the full spectrum
Notes: We have observed anecdotal evidence of emergent behavior, perhaps without realizing what we were seeing. The recent bestseller,Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of american Submarine Espionage, presents a very compelling example of emergence. Early in the book, the authors relate the story of the 1966 crash of a B-52 bomber carrying four atomic bombs. Three of the four bombs were soon recovered, but a fourth remained missing, with the Soviets quickly closing in. A naval engineer named John Craven was given the task of locating the missing bomb. He constructed several different scenarios of what possibly could have happened to the fourth bomb and asked the members of the salvage team to wager a bet on where they thought the bomb could be. He then ran each possible location through a computer formula and – without ever going to sea! – was able to pinpoint the exact location of the bomb based on a collective solution
It is when the agents in the system do not have similar concepts about the possible choices that the system is in danger of becoming unstable. And that is clearly the case in the stock market…The value of this way of looking at complex systems is that if we know why they become unstable, then we have a clear path to a solution, to finding ways to reduce overall instability. One implication, Richards says, is that we should be considering the belief structures underlying the various mental concepts, and not the specifics of the choices. Another is to acknowledge that if mutual knowledge fails, the problem may center on how knowledge is transferred in the system.
Psychology – Mr. Market, Complexity, Information
Another aspect of behavioral finance is what some psychologists refer to as mental accounting – our tendency to think of money in different categories, putting our funds into separate “mental accounts,” depending on circumstances. Mental accounting is the reason we are far more willing to gamble with our year-end bonus than our monthly salary, especially if it is higher than anticipated. It is also one further reason why we stubbornly hold onto stocks that are doing badly; the loss doesn’t feel like a loss until we sell
Philosophy – Pragmatism
Strictly for organizational simplicity, we can separate the study of philosophy into 3 broad categories. First, critical thinking as it applies to the general nature of the world is called “metaphysics”…Metaphysics means “beyond physics.” When philosophers discuss metaphysical questions, they are describing ideas that exist independently from our own space and time. Examples include the concepts of God and the afterlife. These are not tangible events like tables and chairs but rather abstract ideas that metaphysical questions readily concede the existence of the world that surrounds us but disagree about the essential nature and meaning of the world. The second body of philosophical inquiry is the investigation of 3 related areas: aesthetics, ethics, and politics. Aesthetics is the theory of beauty. Philosophers who engage in aesthetic discussions are trying to ascertain what it is that people find beautiful, whether it be in the objects they observe or in the state of mind they achieve. This study of the beautiful should not be thought of as a superficial inquiry, because how we conceive beauty can affect our judgments of what is right and wrong, what is the correct political order, and how people should live. Ethics is the philosophical branch that studies the issues of right and wrong. It asks what is moral and what is immoral, what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate. Ethics makes inquiries into the activities people undertake, the judgments they make, the values they hold, and the character they aspire to achieve. Closely connected to the idea of ethics is the philosophy of politics. Whereas ethics investigates what is good or right at the individual level, politics investigates what is good or right at the societal level. Political philosophy is a debate over how societies should be organized, what laws should be passed, and what connections people should have to these societal organizations. Epistemology, the third body of inquiry, is the branch of philosophy that seeks to understand the limits and nature of knowledge. The term itself comes from two Greek words: episteme, meaning “knowledge,” and logos, which literally means “discourse” and more broadly refers to any kind of study or intellectual investigation. Epistemology, then, is the study of the theory of knowledge. To put it simply, when we make an epistemological inquiry, we are thinking about thinking. When philosophers think about knowledge, they are trying to discover what kinds of things are knowable, what constitutes knowledge (as opposed to beliefs), how it is acquired (innately or empirically, through experience), and how we can say that we know a thing.
For pragmatism, anyone who seeks to determine the true definition of a belief should look not at the belief itself but at the actions that result from it. He called the proposition “pragmatism,” a term, he pointed out, with the same root as practice or practical, thus cementing his view that the meaning of an idea is the same as its practical results. “Our idea of anything, Peirce explained, “is our idea of its sensible effects.” In his classic 1878 paper, “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” Peirce continued: “The whole function of thought is to produce habits of action. To develop its meaning, we have, therefore, simply to determine what habits it produces, for what a thing means is simply what habits it involves.”
A belief is true, James said, because holding it puts a person into more useful relations with the world…People should ask what practical effects come from holding one philosophical view over another
If truth ad value are determined by their practical applications in the world, then it follows that truth will change as circumstances change and as new discoveries about the world are made. Our understanding of truth evolves. Darwin smiles.
So we can say that pragmatism is a process that allows people to navigate an uncertain world without becoming stranded on the desert island of absolutes. Pragmatism has no prejudices, dogmas, or rigid canons. It will entertain any hypothesis and consider any evidence. If you need facts, take the facts. If you need religion, take religion. If you need to experiment, go experiment. “In short, pragmatism widens the field of search for God,” says James. “Her only test of probable truth is what works best in the way of leading us.”
Pragmatism, in summary, is not a philosophy as much as it is a way of doing philosophy. It thrives on open minds, and gleefully invites experimentation. It rejects rigidity and dogma; it welcomes new ideas. It insists that all possibilities should be considered, without prejudice, for important new insights often come disguised as frivolous, even silly notions. it seeks new understanding by redefining old problems.
One of the secret to Bill Miller’s success is his desire to take a Rubik’s Cube approach to investing. He enthusiastically examines every issue from every possible angle, from every possible discipline, to get the best possible description – or redescription – of what is going on. Only then does he feel in a position to explain. To his investigation he brings insights from many fields…He continually studies physics, biology, and social science research, searching for ideas that will help him become a better investor…In an environment of rapid change, the flexible mind will always prevail over the rigid and absolute…Because you recognize patterns, you are less afraid of sudden changes. With a perpetually open mind that relishes new ideas and knows what to do with them, you are set firmly on the right path.
Literature – self-education of a Latticework through books, Adler’s Active Reading
We must educate ourselves and the vehicle for doing so is a book supplemented with all other media both traditional and modern…So we are talking about learning to become discriminating readers: to analyze what you read, to evaluate its worth in the larger picture, and to either reject it or incorporate it into your own latticework of mental models…We can all acquire new insights through reading if we perfect the skill of reading thoughtfully. The benefits are profound: not only will you substantially add to your working knowledge of various fields, you will at the same time sharpen your skill at critical thinking.
The central purpose of reading a book, Adler believes, is to gain understanding…This is not the same as reading for information.
Reading that makes you stop and think is the path to greater understanding – not solely because of what you are reading but also because of the process of reflection in which you are engaged. You are learning from your own thinking as well as from the author’s ideas. You are making new connections. Adler describes as the difference between learning by instruction and learning by discovery. It’s evident of in the satisfaction we feel when we figure out something on our own, instead of being told the answer. Receiving the answer might solve the immediate problem, but discovering the answer by your own investigation has a much more powerful effect on your overall understanding.
Adler proposes that all active readers need to keep 4 fundamental questions in mind: what is the book about as a whole, what is being said in detail, is the book true, in whole or in part, what of it? The heart of Adler’s process involves 4 levels of reading: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and syntopical. Each level is a necessary foundation for the next, and the entire process is cumulative.
Elementary reading is the most basic level, the one we achieve in elementary education
In inspectional reading, the second level, the emphasis is on time and the goal is to determine, as quickly as possible, what the book is about. It has two levels: prereading and superficial reading. Prereading is a fast review to determine whether a book deserves a more careful reading. Look at the table of contents, index, how much can you learn about the main themes through this overview. Next, Adler recommends systematic skimming. Read a few paragraphs here and there, read the author’s conclusion. These two activities should take between 30-60 minutes and help you determine if it is worth your time to read the book
Analytical reading is the most thorough and complete way to absorb a book. Through analytical reading you will answer what is the book about as a whole and in detail and provide you the most complete answer to if the book is true. It has goals: develop a detailed sense of what the book contains, interpret the contents by examining the author’s own particular point of view on the subject; and to analyze the author’s success in presenting that point of view convincingly. Take notes, make an outline, write in your own words what you think the book is about, write the author’s main arguments
The fourth and highest level is what Adler calls syntopical reading, or comparative reading. In this level of reading, we are interested in learning about a certain subject, and to do so we compare and contrast the works of several authors rather than focusing on just one work by one another. Adler considers this the most demanding and most complex level of reading. It involves two challenges: first, searching for possible books on the subject; and then deciding, after finding them, which books should be read
The challenge for us as readers is to receive that knowledge and integrate it into our latticework of mental models. How well we are able to do so is a function of two very separate considerations: the author’s ability to explain, and our skills as careful, thoughtful readers. We have little control over the first, other than to discard one particular book in favor of another, but the second is completely within our control
I believe in…mastering the best that other people have figured out, [rather than] sitting down and trying to dream it up yourself…You won’t find it that hard if you go at it Darwinlike, step by step with curious persistence. You’ll be amazed at how good you can get…It’s a huge mistake not to absorb elementary worldly wisdom…Your life will be enriched – not only financially but in a host of other ways – if you do. – Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack
Decision Making – Continuously add more building blocks to your knowledge base in order to build more robust mental models
Failures to explain are caused by our failures to describe
Our institutions of higher learning may separate knowledge into categories, but wisdom is what unites them.
What I got out of it
A beautiful book on how to approach being a multidisciplinary thinker as it applies to investing.
Schopenhauer’s essays have stood the test of time, as relevant today as they were when he wrote them.
He did not ask to be listened to as a matter of courtesy but as a right–a right for which he would struggle, for which he fought, and which has in the course of time, it may be admitted, been conceded to him.
These essays are a valuable criticism of life by a man who had a wide experience of life, a man of the world, who possessed an almost inspired faculty of observation. Schopenhauer, of all men, unmistakably observed life at first hand.
he was a deliberate and diligent searcher after truth, always striving to attain the heart of things, to arrive at a knowledge of first principles.
Too much importance cannot be attached to this quality of seeing things for oneself; it is the stamp of a great and original mind; it is the principal quality of what one calls genius.
In possessing Schopenhauer the world possesses a personality the richer; a somewhat garrulous personality it may be; a curiously whimsical and sensitive personality, full of quite ordinary superstitions, of extravagant vanities, selfish, at times violent, rarely generous; a man whom during his lifetime nobody quite knew, an isolated creature, self-absorbed, solely concerned in his elaboration of the explanation of the world, and possessing subtleties which for the most part escaped the perception of his fellows; at once a hermit and a boulevardier. His was essentially a great temperament; his whole life was a life of ideas, an intellectual life. And his work, the fruit of his life, would seem to be standing the test of all great work–the test of time.
he was as little inclined as ever to follow a commercial career, and secretly shirked his work so that he might pursue his studies.
At any rate, one day in April 1805 it was found that he had either fallen or thrown himself into the canal from an upper storey of a granary; it was generally concluded that it was a case of suicide. Schopenhauer was seventeen at the time of this catastrophe, by which he was naturally greatly affected.
“Life is a difficult question; I have decided to spend my life in thinking about it.”
“Under my hands,” he wrote in 1813, “and still more in my mind grows a work, a philosophy which will be an ethics and a metaphysics in one:–two branches which hitherto have been separated as falsely as man has been divided into soul and body. The work grows, slowly and gradually aggregating its parts like the child in the womb. I became aware of one member, one vessel, one part after another. In other words, I set each sentence down without anxiety as to how it will fit into the whole; for I know it has all sprung from a single foundation. It is thus that an organic whole originates, and that alone will live….
Marriage was a debt, he said, contracted in youth and paid off in old age.
These symptoms developed during the next few months, and Dr. Gwinner advised him to discontinue his cold baths and to breakfast in bed; but Schopenhauer, notwithstanding his early medical training, was little inclined to follow medical advice.
There are, first of all, two kinds of authors: those who write for the subject’s sake, and those who write for writing’s sake. The first kind have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, while the second kind need money and consequently write for money.
It is only the man who writes absolutely for the sake of the subject that writes anything worth writing. What an inestimable advantage it would be, if, in every branch of literature, there existed only a few but excellent books!
A great number of bad authors eke out their existence entirely by the foolishness of the public, which only will read what has just been printed. I refer to journalists, who have been appropriately so-called. In other words, it would be “day labourer.”
In the third place, there are those who have thought before they begin to write. They write solely because they have thought; and they are rare.
But although the number of those authors who really and seriously think before they write is small, only extremely few of them think about the subject itself; the rest think only about the books written on this subject, and what has been said by others upon it, I mean. In order to think, they must have the more direct and powerful incentive of other people’s thoughts. These become their next theme, and therefore they always remain under their influence and are never, strictly speaking, original.
It is only the writer who takes the material on which he writes direct out of his own head that is worth reading. Book manufacturers, compilers, and the ordinary history writers, and others like them, take their material straight out of books; it passes into their fingers without its having paid transit duty or undergone inspection when it was in their heads, to say nothing of elaboration. (How learned many a man would be if he knew everything that was in his own books!) Hence their talk is often of such a vague nature that one racks one’s brains in vain to understand of what they are really thinking. They are not thinking at all.
No greater mistake can be made than to imagine that what has been written latest is always the more correct; that what is written later on is an improvement on what was written previously; and that every change means progress. Men who think and have correct judgment, and people who treat their subject earnestly, are all exceptions only. Vermin is the rule everywhere in the world: it is always at hand and busily engaged in trying to improve in its own way upon the mature deliberations of the thinkers. So that if a man wishes to improve himself in any subject he must guard against immediately seizing the newest books written upon it, in the assumption that science is always advancing and that the older books have been made use of in the compiling of the new. They have, it is true, been used; but how? The writer often does not thoroughly understand the old books; he will, at the same time, not use their exact words, so that the result is he spoils and bungles what has been said in a much better and clearer way by the old writers; since they wrote from their own lively knowledge of the subject. He often leaves out the best things they have written, their most striking elucidations of the matter, their happiest remarks, because he does not recognise their value or feel how pregnant they are.
Write books yourself which are worth translating and leave the books of other people as they are. One should read, if it is possible, the real authors, the founders and discoverers of things, or at any rate the recognised great masters in every branch of learning, and buy second-hand books rather than read their contents in new ones.
what is new is seldom good; because a good thing is only new for a short time.
A thought only really lives until it has reached the boundary line of words; it then becomes petrified and dies immediately; yet it is as everlasting as the fossilised animals and plants of former ages. Its existence, which is really momentary, may be compared to a crystal the instant it becomes crystallised.
other men. In almost every age, whether it be in literature or art, we find that if a thoroughly wrong idea, or a fashion, or a manner is in vogue, it is admired. Those of ordinary intelligence trouble themselves inordinately to acquire it and put it in practice. An intelligent man sees through it and despises it, consequently he remains out of the fashion.
nothing is easier than to write so that no one can understand; on the other hand, nothing is more difficult than to express learned ideas so that every one must understand them.
We also find that every true thinker endeavours to express his thoughts as purely, clearly, definitely, and concisely as ever possible. This is why simplicity has always been looked upon as a token, not only of truth, but also of genius.
Hence, the first rule–nay, this in itself is almost sufficient for a good style–is this, that the author should have something to say. Ah! this implies a great deal.
Men should use common words to say uncommon things, but they do the reverse.
If a man has something to say that is worth saying, he need not envelop it in affected expressions, involved phrases, and enigmatical innuendoes; but he may rest assured that by expressing himself in a simple, clear, and naïve manner he will not fail to produce the right effect.
True brevity of expression consists in a man only saying what is worth saying, while avoiding all diffuse explanations of things which every one can think out for himself; that is, it consists in his correctly distinguishing between what is necessary and what is superfluous.
a big diamond is cut up into pieces, it immediately loses its value as a whole; or if an army is scattered or divided into small bodies, it loses all its power; and in the same way a great intellect has no more power than an ordinary one as soon as it is interrupted, disturbed, distracted, or diverted; for its superiority entails that it concentrates all its strength on one point and object, just as a concave mirror concentrates all the rays of light thrown upon it. Noisy interruption prevents this concentration.
This is the result of [Greek: hysteron proteron] (putting the cart before the horse), since we are directly opposing the natural development of our mind by obtaining ideas first and observations last; for teachers, instead of developing in a boy his faculties of discernment and judgment, and of thinking for himself, merely strive to stuff his head full of other people’s thoughts. Subsequently, all the opinions that have sprung from misapplied ideas have to be rectified by a lengthy experience; and it is seldom that they are completely rectified. This is why so few men of learning have such sound common sense as is quite common among the illiterate.
And, in general, children should not get to know life, in any aspect whatever, from the copy before they have learnt it from the original. Instead, therefore, of hastening to place mere books in their hands, one should make them gradually acquainted with things and the circumstances of human life, and above everything one should take care to guide them to a clear grasp of reality, and to teach them to obtain their ideas directly from the real world, and to form them in keeping with it–but not to get them from elsewhere, as from books, fables, or what others have said–and then later to make use of such ready-made ideas in real life.
ON READING AND BOOKS.
When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. It is the same as the pupil, in learning to write, following with his pen the lines that have been pencilled by the teacher. Accordingly, in reading, the work of thinking is, for the greater part, done for us. This is why we are consciously relieved when we turn to reading after being occupied with our own thoughts. But, in reading, our head is, however, really only the arena of some one else’s thoughts. And so it happens that the person who reads a great deal–that is to say, almost the whole day, and recreates himself by spending the intervals in thoughtless diversion, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who is always riding at last forgets how to walk.
For the more one reads the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a tablet that has been written over and over. Hence it is impossible to reflect; and it is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one has read if one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.
One can never read too little of bad, or too much of good books: bad books are intellectual poison; they destroy the mind. In order to read what is good one must make it a condition never to read what is bad; for life is short, and both time and strength limited.
Every one has aims, but very few have anything approaching a system of thought. This is why such people do not take an objective interest in anything, and why they learn nothing from what they read: they remember nothing about it.
Any kind of important book should immediately be read twice, partly because one grasps the matter in its entirety the second time, and only really understands the beginning when the end is known; and partly because in reading it the second time one’s temper and mood are different, so that one gets another impression; it may be that one sees the matter in another light.
THE EMPTINESS OF EXISTENCE.
The scenes of our life are like pictures in rough mosaic, which have no effect at close quarters, but must be looked at from a distance in order to discern their beauty. So that to obtain something we have desired is to find out that it is worthless; we are always living in expectation of better things, while, at the same time, we often repent and long for things that belong to the past. We accept the present as something that is only temporary, and regard it only as a means to accomplish our aim. So that most people will find if they look back when their life is at an end, that they have lived their lifelong ad interim, and they will be surprised to find that something they allowed to pass by unnoticed and unenjoyed was just their life–that is to say, it was the very thing in the expectation of which they lived. And so it may be said of man in general that, befooled by hope, he dances into the arms of death.
That boredom is immediately followed by fresh needs is a fact which is also true of the cleverer order of animals, because life has no true and genuine value in itself, but is kept in motion merely through the medium of needs and illusion. As soon as there are no needs and illusion we become conscious of the absolute barrenness and emptiness of existence.
She pays the debt of life not by what she does but by what she suffers–by the pains of child-bearing, care for the child, and by subjection to man, to whom she should be a patient and cheerful companion.
The nobler and more perfect a thing is, the later and slower is it in reaching maturity.
It is by virtue of man’s reasoning powers that he does not live in the present only, like the brute, but observes and ponders over the past and future; and from this spring discretion, care, and that anxiety which we so frequently notice in people.
THINKING FOR ONESELF.
The largest library in disorder is not so useful as a smaller but orderly one; in the same way the greatest amount of knowledge, if it has not been worked out in one’s own mind, is of less value than a much smaller amount that has been fully considered. For it is only when a man combines what he knows from all sides, and compares one truth with another, that he completely realises his own knowledge and gets it into his power. A man can only think over what he knows, therefore he should learn something; but a man only knows what he has pondered.
This is why much reading robs the mind of all elasticity; it is like keeping a spring under a continuous, heavy weight. If a man does not want to think, the safest plan is to take up a book directly he has a spare moment.
Men of learning are those who have read the contents of books. Thinkers, geniuses, and those who have enlightened the world and furthered the race of men, are those who have made direct use of the book of the world.
it is a hundred times more valuable if he has acquired it by thinking it out for himself. For it is only by his thinking it out for himself that it enters as an integral part, as a living member into the whole system of his thought, and stands in complete and firm relation with it; that it is fundamentally understood with all its consequences, and carries the colour, the shade, the impress of his own way of thinking; and comes at the very moment, just as the necessity for it is felt, and stands fast and cannot be forgotten.
Reading is thinking with some one else’s head instead of one’s own. But to think for oneself is to endeavour to develop a coherent whole, a system, even if it is not a strictly complete one.
RELIGION. A DIALOGUE.
Religion is the metaphysics of the people, which by all means they must keep; and hence it must be eternally respected, for to discredit it means taking it away. Just as there is popular poetry, popular wisdom in proverbs, so too there must be popular metaphysics; for mankind requires most certainly an interpretation of life, and it must be in keeping with its power of comprehension.
Or, to take a simpler simile, truth, which cannot be expressed in any other way than by myth and allegory, is like water that cannot be transported without a vessel; but philosophers, who insist upon possessing it pure, are like a person who breaks the vessel in order to get the water by itself. This is perhaps a true analogy. At any rate, religion is truth allegorically and mythically expressed, and thereby made possible and digestible to mankind at large. For mankind could by no means digest it pure and unadulterated, just as we cannot live in pure oxygen but require an addition of four-fifths of nitrogen.
Simplex sigillum veri: the naked truth must be so simple and comprehensible that one can impart it to all in its true form without any admixture of myth and fable (a pack of lies)–in other words, without masking it as religion.
Hence religion must be regarded as a necessary evil, its necessity resting on the pitiful weak-mindedness of the great majority of mankind, incapable of grasping the truth, and consequently when in extremity requires a substitute for truth.
They require also a popular system of metaphysics, which, in order for it to be this, must combine many rare qualities; for instance, it must be exceedingly lucid, and yet in the right places be obscure, nay, to a certain extent, impenetrable; then a correct and satisfying moral system must be combined with its dogmas; above everything, it must bring inexhaustible consolation in suffering and death.
Perhaps the metaphysics in all religions is false; but the morality in all is true. This is to be surmised from the fact that in their metaphysics they contradict each other, while in their morality they agree.
Even Plato, without comparison the most transcendental philosopher of pre-Christian antiquity, knows no higher virtue than Justice; he alone recommends it unconditionally and for its own sake, while all the other philosophers make a happy life–vita beata–the aim of all virtue; and it is acquired through the medium of moral behaviour. Christianity released European humanity from its superficial and crude absorption in an ephemeral, uncertain, and hollow existence.
Accordingly, Christianity does not only preach Justice, but the Love of Mankind, Compassion, Charity, Reconciliation, Love of one’s Enemies, Patience, Humility, Renunciation, Faith, and Hope.
It is precisely what is most elevated that is the most open to abuse and deception–abusus optimi pessimus; and therefore those lofty doctrines have sometimes served as a pretext for the most disgraceful transactions and veritable crimes.
In general, any disproportion between the will and intellect–that is to say, any deviation from the normal proportion referred to–tends to make a man unhappy; and the same thing happens when the disproportion is reversed. The development of the intellect to an abnormal degree of strength and superiority, thereby making it out of all proportion to the will, a condition which constitutes the essence of true genius, is not only superfluous but actually an impediment to the needs and purposes of life.
What makes a man hard-hearted is this, that each man has, or fancies he has, sufficient in his own troubles to bear. This is why people placed in happier circumstances than they have been used to are sympathetic and charitable. But people who have always been placed in happy circumstances are often the reverse; they have become so estranged to suffering that they have no longer any sympathy with it; and hence it happens that the poor sometimes show themselves more benevolent than the rich.
People who do not go to the theatre are like those who make their toilet without a looking-glass;–but it is still worse to come to a decision without seeking the advice of a friend. For a man may have the most correct and excellent judgment in everything else but in his own affairs; because here the will at once deranges the intellect. Therefore a man should seek counsel. A doctor can cure every one but himself; this is why he calls in a colleague when he is ill.
METAPHYSICS OF LOVE.
anything artistically beautiful cannot exist without truth.
“Rien n’est beau que le vrai; le vrai seul est aimable.”–BOIL.
Every one will desire in the other individual those perfections which he himself lacks, and he will consider imperfections, which are the reverse of his own, beautiful.
Instinct everywhere works as with the conception of an end, and yet it is entirely without one. Nature implants instinct where the acting individual is not capable of understanding the end, or would be unwilling to pursue it. Consequently, as a rule, it is only given prominently to animals, and in particular to those of the lowest order, which have the least intelligence. But it is only in such a case as the one we are at present considering that it is also given to man, who naturally is capable of understanding the end, but would not pursue it with the necessary zeal–that is to say, he would not pursue it at the cost of his individual welfare. So that here, as in all cases of instinct, truth takes the form of illusion in order to influence the will….
The third consideration is the skeleton, since it is the foundation of the type of the species. Next to old age and disease, nothing disgusts us so much as a deformed shape; even the most beautiful face cannot make amends for it–in fact, the ugliest face combined with a well-grown shape is infinitely preferable.
Before a truly passionate feeling can exist, something is necessary that is perhaps best expressed by a metaphor in chemistry–namely, the two persons must neutralise each other, like acid and alkali to a neutral salt.
Indeed, the face of a man, as a rule, bespeaks more interesting matter than his tongue, for it is the compendium of all which he will ever say, as it is the register of all his thoughts and aspirations. Moreover, the tongue only speaks the thoughts of one man, while the face expresses a thought of nature. Therefore it is worth while to observe everybody attentively; even if they are not worth talking to. Every individual is worthy of observation as a single thought of nature; so is beauty in the highest degree, for it is a higher and more general conception of nature: it is her thought of a species. This is why we are so captivated by beauty.
The only valid moral reason against suicide has been explained in my chief work. It is this: that suicide prevents the attainment of the highest moral aim, since it substitutes a real release from this world of misery for one that is merely apparent.
COUNSELS AND MAXIMS. INTRODUCTION.
not pleasure, but freedom from pain, is what the wise man will aim at.
The happiest lot is not to have experienced the keenest delights or the greatest pleasures, but to have brought life to a close without any very great pain, bodily or mental. To measure the happiness of a life by its delights or pleasures, is to apply a false standard. For pleasures are and remain something negative; that they produce happiness is a delusion, cherished by envy to its own punishment. Pain is felt to be something positive, and hence its absence is the true standard of happiness. And if, over and above freedom from pain, there is also an absence of boredom, the essential conditions of earthly happiness are attained; for all else is chimerical.
We see that the best the world has to offer is an existence free from pain–a quiet, tolerable life; and we confine our claims to this, as to something we can more surely hope to achieve. For the safest way of not being very miserable is not to expect to be very happy.
Accordingly it is advisable to put very moderate limits upon our expectations of pleasure, possessions, rank, honor and so on; because it is just this striving and struggling to be happy, to dazzle the world, to lead a life full of pleasure, which entail great misfortune. It is prudent and wise, I say, to reduce one’s claims, if only for the reason that it is extremely easy to be very unhappy; while to be very happy is not indeed difficult, but quite impossible.
the golden mean is best–to live free from the squalor of a mean abode, and yet not be a mark for envy. It is the tall pine which is cruelly shaken by the wind, the highest summits that are struck in the storm, and the lofty towers that fall so heavily.
To estimate a man’s condition in regard to happiness, it is necessary to ask, not what things please him, but what things trouble him; and the more trivial these things are in themselves, the happier the man will be. To be irritated by trifles, a man must be well off; for in misfortunes trifles are unfelt.
Care should be taken not to build the happiness of life upon a broad foundation–not to require a great many things in order to be happy. For happiness on such a foundation is the most easily undermined; it offers many more opportunities for accidents; and accidents are always happening. The architecture of happiness follows a plan in this respect just the opposite of that adopted in every other case, where the broadest foundation offers the greatest security. Accordingly, to reduce your claims to the lowest possible degree, in comparison with your means,–of whatever kind these may be–is the surest way of avoiding extreme misfortune.
To make extensive preparations for life–no matter what form they may take–is one of the greatest and commonest of follies. Such preparations presuppose, in the first place, a long life, the full and complete term of years appointed to man–and how few reach it! and even if it be reached, it is still too short for all the plans that have been made; for to carry them out requites more time than was thought necessary at the beginning. And then how many mischances and obstacles stand in the way! how seldom the goal is ever reached in human affairs! And lastly, even though the goal should be reached, the changes which Time works in us have been left out of the reckoning: we forget that the capacity whether for achievement or for enjoyment does not last a whole lifetime. So we often toil for things which are no longer suited to us when we attain them; and again, the years we spend in preparing for some work, unconsciously rob us of the power for carrying it out.
The cause of this commonest of all follies is that optical illusion of the mind from which everyone suffers, making life, at its beginning, seem of long duration; and at its end, when one looks back over the course of it, how short a time it seems! There is some advantage in the illusion; but for it, no great work would ever be done.
Men of any worth or value soon come to see that they are in the hands of Fate, and gratefully submit to be moulded by its teachings. They recognize that the fruit of life is experience, and not happiness; they become accustomed and content to exchange hope for insight;
In their search for gold, the alchemists discovered other things–gunpowder, china, medicines, the laws of nature. There is a sense in which we are all alchemists.
If there is any merit or importance attaching to a man’s career, if he lays himself out carefully for some special work, it is all the more necessary and advisable for him to turn his attention now and then to its plan, that is to say, the miniature sketch of its general outlines. Of course, to do that, he must have applied the maxim [Greek: Gnothi seauton]; he must have made some little progress in the art of understanding himself. He must know what is his real, chief, and foremost object in life,–what it is that he most wants in order to be happy; and then, after that, what occupies the second and third place in his thoughts; he must find out what, on the whole, his vocation really is–the part he has to play, his general relation to the world. If he maps out… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Again, just as the traveler, on reaching a height, gets a connected view over the road he has taken, with its many turns and windings; so it is only when we have completed a period in our life, or approach the end of it altogether, that we recognize the true connection between all our actions,–what it is we have achieved, what work we have done. It is only then that we see the precise chain of cause and effect, and the exact value of all our efforts. For as long as we are actually engaged in the work of life, we always act in accordance with the nature of our character, under the influence of motive, and within the limits of our capacity,–in a word, from beginning to end, under a law of necessity; at every moment we do just what appears to us right and proper. It is only afterwards, when we come to look back at the whole course of our life and its general result, that we see the why and wherefore of it all. When we are actually doing some great deed, or creating some immortal work, we are not conscious of it as such; we think only of satisfying present aims, of fulfilling the intentions we happen to have at the time, of doing the right thing at the moment. It is only when we come to view our life as a connected whole that our character and capacities show themselves in their true light; that we see how, in… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
But the past and the future are, on the whole, of less consequence than we think. Distance, which makes objects look small to the outward eye, makes them look big to the eye of thought. The present alone is true and actual; it is the only time which possesses full reality, and our existence lies in it exclusively.
But in regard to the present let us remember Seneca’s advice, and live each day as if it were our whole life,–singulas dies singulas vitas puta: let us make it as agreeable as possible, it is the only real time we have.
Limitations always make for happiness. We are happy in proportion as our range of vision, our sphere of work, our points of contact with the world, are restricted and circumscribed. We are more likely to feel worried and anxious if these limits are wide; for it means that our cares, desires and terrors are increased and intensified.
is difficult to keep quiet if you have nothing to do.
The advice here given is on a par with a rule recommended by Pythagoras,–to review, every night before going to sleep, what we have done during the day. To live at random, in the hurly-burly of business or pleasure, without ever reflecting upon the past,–to go on, as it were, pulling cotton off the reel of life,–is to have no clear idea of what we are about; and a man who lives in this state will have chaos in his emotions and certain confusion in his thoughts; as is soon manifest by the abrupt and fragmentary character of his conversation, which becomes a kind of mincemeat.
To be self-sufficient, to be all in all to oneself, to want for nothing, to be able to say omnia mea mecum porto–that is assuredly the chief qualification for happiness.
There is no more mistaken path to happiness than worldliness, revelry, high life: for the whole object of it is to transform our miserable existence into a succession of joys, delights and pleasures,–a process which cannot fail to result in disappointment and delusion; on a par, in this respect, with its obligato accompaniment, the interchange of lies.
man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.
This demands an act of severe self-denial; we have to forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to become like other people. No doubt their company may be set down against our loss in this respect; but the more a man is worth, the more he will find that what he gains does not cover what he loses, and that the balance is on the debit side of the account; for the people with whom he deals are generally bankrupt,–that is to say, there is nothing to be got from their society which can compensate either for its boredom, annoyance and disagreeableness, or for the self-denial which it renders necessary. Accordingly, most society is so constituted as to offer a good profit to anyone who will exchange it for solitude.
It is really a very risky, nay, a fatal thing, to be sociable; because it means contact with natures, the great majority of which are bad morally, and dull or perverse, intellectually. To be unsociable is not to care about such people; and to have enough in oneself to dispense with the necessity of their company is a great piece of good fortune; because almost all our sufferings spring from having to do with other people; and that destroys the peace of mind, which, as I have said, comes next after health in the elements of happiness. Peace of mind is impossible without a considerable amount of solitude. The Cynics renounced all private property in order to attain the bliss of having nothing to trouble them; and to renounce society with the same object is the wisest thing a man can do.
Envy is natural to man; and still, it is at once a vice and a source of misery. We should treat it as the enemy of our happiness, and stifle it like an evil thought. This is the advice given by Seneca; as he well puts it, we shall be pleased with what we have, if we avoid the self-torture of comparing our own lot with some other and happier one–nostra
We often try to banish the gloom and despondency of the present by speculating upon our chances of success in the future; a process which leads us to invent a great many chimerical hopes.
as Seneca says, to submit yourself to reason is the way to make everything else submit to you–si tibi vis omnia subjicere, te subjice rationi.
It is most important to allow the brain the full measure of sleep which is required to restore it; for sleep is to a man’s whole nature what winding up is to a clock. This measure will vary directly with the development and activity of the brain; to overstep the measure is mere waste of time, because if that is done, sleep gains only so much in length as it loses in depth.
Sleep is a morsel of death borrowed to keep up and renew the part of life which is exhausted by the day–le sommeil est un emprunt fait à la mort. Or it might be said that sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death; and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.]
No man can see over his own height. Let me explain what I mean. You cannot see in another man any more than you have in yourself; and your own intelligence strictly determines the extent to which he comes within its grasp. If your intelligence is of a very low order, mental qualities in another, even though they be of the highest kind, will have no effect at all upon you; you will see nothing in their possessor except the meanest side of his individuality–in other words, just those parts of his character and disposition which are weak and defective. Your whole estimate of the man will be confined to his defects, and his higher mental qualities will no more exist for you than colors exist for those who cannot see. Intellect is invisible to the man who has none. In any attempt to criticise another’s work, the range of knowledge possessed by the critic is as essential a part of his verdict as the claims of the work itself.
To forgive and forget means to throw away dearly bought experience.]
Accordingly, suppose you want to know how a man will behave in an office into which you think of putting him; you should not build upon expectations, on his promises or assurances. For, even allowing that he is quite sincere, he is speaking about a matter of which he has no knowledge. The only way to calculate how he will behave, is to consider the circumstances in which he will be placed, and the extent to which they will conflict with his character.
But if you come across any special trait of meanness or stupidity–in life or in literature,–you must be careful not to let it annoy or distress you, but to look upon it merely as an addition to your knowledge–a new fact to be considered in studying the character of humanity. Your attitude towards it will be that of the mineralogist who stumbles upon a very characteristic specimen of a mineral.
No man is so formed that he can be left entirely to himself, to go his own ways; everyone needs to be guided by a preconceived plan, and to follow certain general rules. But if this is carried too far, and a man tries to take on a character which is not natural or innate in him, but it artificially acquired and evolved merely by a process of reasoning, he will very soon discover that Nature cannot be forced, and that if you drive it out, it will return despite your efforts:–
Here, as in all theoretical instruction that aims at a practical result, the first thing to do is to understand the rule; the second thing is to learn the practice of it. The theory may be understand at once by an effort of reason, and yet the practice of it acquired only in course of time.
The difference between action in accordance with abstract principles, and action as the result of original, innate tendency, is the same as that between a work of art, say a watch–where form and movement are impressed upon shapeless and inert matter–and a living organism, where form and matter are one, and each is inseparable from the other.
There is a maxim attributed to the Emperor Napoleon, which expresses this relation between acquired and innate character, and confirms what I have said: everything that is unnatural is imperfect;–a rule of universal application, whether in the physical or in the moral sphere.
And in this connection let me utter a word of protest against any and every form of affectation. It always arouses contempt; in the first place, because it argues deception, and the deception is cowardly, for it is based on fear; and, secondly, it argues self-condemnation, because it means that a man is trying to appear what he is not, and therefore something which he things better than he actually is. To affect a quality, and to plume yourself upon it, is just to confess that you have not got it. Whether it is courage, or learning, or intellect, or wit, or success with women, or riches, or social position, or whatever else it may be that a man boasts of, you may conclude by his boasting about it that that is precisely the direction in which he is rather weak; for if a man really possesses any faculty to the full, it will not occur to him to make a great show of affecting it; he is quite content to know that he has it. That is the application of the Spanish proverb: herradura que chacolotea clavo le falta–a clattering hoof means a nail gone.
no one can persevere long in a fictitious character; for nature will soon reassert itself.
A man bears the weight of his own body without knowing it, but he soon feels the weight of any other, if he tries to move it; in the same way, a man can see other people’s shortcoming’s and vices, but he is blind to his own. This arrangement has one advantage: it turns other people into a kind of mirror, in which a man can see clearly everything that is vicious, faulty, ill-bred and loathsome in his own nature; only, it is generally the old story of the dog barking at is own image; it is himself that he sees and not another dog, as he fancies. He
But the more of personal worth a man has, the less pleasure he will take in these conventional arrangements; and he will try to withdraw from the sphere in which they apply. The reason why these arrangements exist at all, is simply that in this world of ours misery and need are the chief features: therefore it is everywhere the essential and paramount business of life to devise the means of alleviating them.
Apart from the case where it would be a real help to you if your friend were to make some great sacrifice to serve you, there is no better means of testing the genuineness of his feelings than the way in which he receives the news of a misfortune that has just happened to you.
If you desire to get on in the world, friends and acquaintances are by far the best passport to fortune. The possession of a great deal of ability makes a man proud, and therefore not apt to flatter those who have very little, and from whom, on that account, the possession of great ability should be carefully concealed.
It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility, is just as insane a proceeding as to set your house on fire. For politeness is like a counter–an avowedly false coin, with which it is foolish to be stingy. A sensible man will be generous in the use of it.
Wax, a substance naturally hard and brittle, can be made soft by the application of a little warmth, so that it will take any shape you please. In the same way, by being polite and friendly, you can make people pliable and obliging, even though they are apt to be crabbed and malevolent. Hence politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.
A man should act in accordance with his own character, as soon as he has carefully deliberated on what he is about to do. The outcome of this is that originality cannot be dispensed with in practical matters: otherwise, what a man does will not accord with what he is.
If you want your judgment to be accepted, express it coolly and without passion.
Even when you are fully justified in praising yourself, you should never be seduced into doing so. For vanity is so very common, and merit so very uncommon,
And, as a general rule, it is more advisable to show your intelligence by saying nothing than by speaking out; for silence is a matter of prudence, whilst speech has something in it of vanity.
But it should not be forgotten how clever people are in regard to affairs which do not concern them, even though they show no particularly sign of acuteness in other matters.
This is a kind of algebra in which people are very proficient: give them a single fact to go upon, and they will solve the most complicated problems.
It is only when a man has reached the happy age of wisdom that he is capable of just judgment in regard either to his own actions or to those of others.
change alone endures.
people generally think that present circumstances will last, and that matters will go on in the future as they have clone in the past. Their mistakes arises from the fact that they do not understand the cause of the things they see–causes which, unlike the effects they produce, contain in themselves the germ of future change. The effects are all that people know, and they hold fast to them on the supposition that those unknown causes, which were sufficient to bring them about, will also be able to maintain them as they are. This is a very common error; and the fact that it is common is not without its advantage, for it means that people always err in unison; and hence the calamity which results from the error affects all alike, and is therefore easy to bear; whereas, if a philosopher makes a mistake, he is alone in his error, and so at a double disadvantage.
Such is Time’s usury; and all who cannot wait are its victims. There is no more thriftless proceeding than to try and mend the measured pace of Time. Be careful, then, not to become its debtor.
Whatever fate befalls you, do not give way to great rejoicings or great lamentations; partly because all things are full of change, and your fortune may turn at any moment; partly because men are so apt to be deceived in their judgment as to what is good or bad for them. Almost every one in his turn has lamented over something which afterwards turned out to be the very best thing for him that could have happened–or rejoiced at an event which became the source of his greatest sufferings. The right state of mind has been finely portrayed by Shakespeare: I have felt so many quirks of joy and grief That the first face of neither, on the start, Can woman me unto’t.
The most finished man of the world would be one who was never irresolute and never in a hurry.
Courage comes next to prudence as a quality of mind very essential to happiness.
THE AGES OF LIFE.
Our whole life long it is the present, and the present alone, that we actually possess: the only difference is that at the beginning of life we look forward to a long future, and that towards the end we look back upon a long past; also that our temperament, but not our character, undergoes certain well-known changes, which make the present wear a different color at each period of life.
to use Spinoza’s phraseology, the child is learning to see the things and persons about it sub specie aeternitatis,–as particular manifestations of universal law.
So it may be said that in childhood, life looks like the scenery in a theatre, as you view it from a distance; and that in old age it is like the same scenery when you come up quite close to it.
The chief result gained by experience of life is clearness of view. This is what distinguishes the man of mature age, and makes the world wear such a different aspect from that which it presented in his youth or boyhood. It is only then that he sees things quite plain, and takes them for that which they really are: while in earlier years he saw a phantom-world, put together out of the whims and crotchets of his own mind, inherited prejudice and strange delusion: the real world was hidden from him, or the vision of it distorted. The first thing that experience finds to do is to free us from the phantoms of the brain–those false notions that have been put into us in youth.
From the point of view we have been taking up until now, life may be compared to a piece of embroidery, of which, during the first half of his time, a man gets a sight of the right side, and during the second half, of the wrong. The wrong side is not so pretty as the right, but it is more instructive; it shows the way in which the threads have been worked together.
But why is it that to an old man his past life appears so short? For this reason: his memory is short; and so he fancies that his life has been short too. He no longer remembers the insignificant parts of it, and much that was unpleasant is now forgotten; how little, then, there is left! For, in general, a man’s memory is as imperfect as his intellect; and he must make a practice of reflecting upon the lessons he has learned and the events he has experienced, if he does not want them both to sink gradually into the gulf of oblivion.
Deep truths may be perceived, but can never be excogitated–that is to say, the first knowledge of them is immediate, called forth by some momentary impression. This knowledge is of such a kind as to be attainable only when the impressions are strong, lively and deep; and if we are to be acquainted with deep truths, everything depends upon a proper use of our early years. In later life, we may be better able to work upon other people,–upon the world, because our natures are then finished and rounded off, and no more a prey to fresh views; but then the world is less able to work upon us. These are the years of action and achievement; while youth is the time for forming fundamental conceptions, and laying down the ground-work of thought. In youth it is the outward aspect of things that most engages us; while in age, thought or reflection is the predominating quality of the mind. Hence, youth is the time for poetry, and age is more inclined to philosophy. In practical affairs it is the same: a man shapes his resolutions in youth more by the impression that the outward world makes upon him; whereas, when he is old, it is thought that determines his actions.
It is only then that a man can be said to be really rich in experience or in learning; he has then had time and opportunity enough to enable him to see and think over life from all its sides; he has been able to compare one thing with another, and to discover points of contact and connecting links, so that only then are the true relations of things rightly understood. Further, in old age there comes an increased depth in the knowledge that was acquired in youth; a man has now many more illustrations of any ideas he may have attained; things which he thought he knew when he was young, he now knows in reality. And besides, his range of knowledge is wider; and in whatever direction it extends, it is thorough, and therefore formed into a consistent and connected whole; whereas in youth knowledge is always defective and fragmentary.
But though the tree of knowledge must reach its full height before it can bear fruit, the roots of it lie in youth.
Every generation, no matter how paltry its character, thinks itself much wiser than the one immediately preceding it, let alone those that are more remote. It is just the same with the different periods in a man’s life; and yet often, in the one case no less than in the other, it is a mistaken opinion.
experience, knowledge, reflection, and skill in dealing with men, combine to give an old man an increasingly accurate insight into the ways of the world; his judgment becomes keen and he attains a coherent view of life: his mental vision embraces a wider range. Constantly finding new uses for his stores of knowledge and adding to them at every opportunity, he maintains uninterrupted that inward process of self-education, which gives employment and satisfaction to the mind, and thus forms the due reward of all its efforts.
To talk to old people of this kind is like writing on the sand; if you produce any impression at all, it is gone almost immediately; old age is here nothing but the caput mortuum of life–all that is essential to manhood is gone.
The main difference between youth and age will always be that youth looks forward to life, and old age to death; and that while the one has a short past and a long future before it, the case is just the opposite with the other.
Platonic virtues and put the following in their place: Diligence, Obedience, Justice and Humility; which are obviously bad. The Chinese distinguish five cardinal virtues: Sympathy, Justice, Propriety, Wisdom, and Sincerity. The virtues of Christianity are theological, not cardinal: Faith, Love, and Hope.
Envy builds the wall between Thee and Me thicker and stronger; Sympathy makes it slight and transparent; nay, sometimes it pulls down the wall altogether; and then the distinction between self and not-self vanishes.
Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure, Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure
A nation of nothing but peasants would do little in the way of discovery and invention; but idle hands make active heads. Science and the Arts are themselves the children of luxury, and they discharge their debt to it. The work which they do is to perfect technology in all its branches, mechanical, chemical and physical; an art which in our days has brought machinery to a pitch never dreamt of before, and in particular has, by steam and electricity, accomplished things the like of which would, in earlier ages, have been ascribed to the agency of the devil.
There is no idea so foolish but that it cannot be put into the heads of the ignorant and incapable multitude, especially if the idea holds out some prospect of any gain or advantage.
The English show their great intelligence, amongst other ways, by clinging to their ancient institutions, customs and usages, and by holding them sacred, even at the risk of carrying this tenacity too far, and making it ridiculous. They hold them sacred for the simple reason that those institutions and customs are not the invention of an idle head, but have grown up gradually by the force of circumstance and the wisdom of life itself, and are therefore suited to them as a nation.
FREE-WILL AND FATALISM.
The only freedom that exists is of a metaphysical character. In the physical world freedom is an impossibility. Accordingly, while our several actions are in no wise free, every man’s individual character is to be regarded as a free act. He is such and such a man, because once for all it is his will to be that man. For the will itself, and in itself, and also in so far as it is manifest in an individual, and accordingly constitutes the original and fundamental desires of that individual, is independent of all knowledge, because it is antecedent to such knowledge.
All genuine merit, moral as well as intellectual, is not merely physical or empirical in its origin, but metaphysical; that is to say, it is given a priori and not a posteriori; in other words, it lies innate and is not acquired, and therefore its source is not a mere phenomenon, but the thing-in-itself. Hence it is that every man achieves only that which is irrevocably established in his nature, or is born with him. Intellectual capacity needs, it is true, to be developed just as many natural products need to be cultivated in order that we may enjoy or use them; but just as in the case of a natural product no cultivation can take the place of original material, neither can it do so in the case of intellect. That is the reason why qualities which are merely acquired, or learned, or enforced–that is, qualities a posteriori, whether moral or intellectual–are not real or genuine, but superficial only, and possessed of no value. This is a conclusion of true metaphysics, and experience teaches the same lesson to all who can look below the surface. Nay, it is proved by the great importance which we all attach to such innate characteristics as physiognomy and external appearance, in the case of a man who is at all distinguished; and that is why we are so curious to see him. Superficial people, to be sure,–and, for very good reasons, commonplace people too,–will be of the opposite opinion; for if anything fails them they will thus be enabled to console themselves by thinking that it is still to come.
That is why Seneca’s remark, that even the smallest things may be taken as evidence of character, is so true: argumenta morum ex minimis quoque licet capere. If a man shows by his absolutely unscrupulous and selfish behaviour in small things that a sentiment of justice is foreign to his disposition, he should not be trusted with a penny unless on due security.
The man who has no conscience in small things will be a scoundrel in big things. If we neglect small traits of character, we have only ourselves to blame if we afterwards learn to our disadvantage what this character is in the great affairs of life.
The whole influence of example–and it is very strong–rests on the fact that a man has, as a rule, too little judgment of his own, and often too little knowledge, o explore his own way for himself, and that he is glad, therefore, to tread in the footsteps of some one else. Accordingly, the more deficient he is in either of these qualities, the more is he open to the influence of example; and we find, in fact, that most men’s guiding star is the example of others; that their whole course of life, in great things and in small, comes in the end to be mere imitation; and that not even in the pettiest matters do they act according to their own judgment. Imitation and custom are the spring of almost all human action. The cause of it is that men fight shy of all and any sort of reflection, and very properly mistrust their own discernment. At the same time this remarkably strong imitative instinct in man is a proof of his kinship with apes.
Men who aspire to a happy, a brilliant and a long life, instead of to a virtuous one, are like foolish actors who want to be always having the great parts,–the parts that are marked by splendour and triumph. They fail to see that the important thing is not what or how much, but how they act.
What is the meaning of life at all? To what purpose is it played, this farce in which everything that is essential is irrevocably fixed and determined? It is played that a man may come to understand himself, that he may see what it is that he seeks and has sought to be; what he wants, and what, therefore, he is. This is a knowledge which must be imparted to him from without. Life is to man, in other words, to will, what chemical re-agents are to the body: it is only by life that a man reveals what he is, and it is only in so far as he reveals himself that he exists at all. Life is the manifestation of character, of the something that we understand by that word; and it is not in life, but outside of it, and outside time, that character undergoes alteration, as a result of the self-knowledge which life gives. Life is only the mirror into which a man gazes not in order that he may get a reflection of himself, but that he may come to understand himself by that reflection; that he may see what it is that the mirror shows.
Since character, so far as we understand its nature, is above and beyond time, it cannot undergo any change under the influence of life. But although it must necessarily remain the same always, it requires time to unfold itself and show the very diverse aspects which it may possess. For character consists of two factors: one, the will-to-live itself, blind impulse, so-called impetuosity; the other, the restraint which the will acquires when it comes to understand the world; and the world, again, is itself will.
An act done by instinct differs from every other kind of act in that an understanding of its object does not precede it but follows upon it. Instinct is therefore a rule of action given à priori.
Instinct is the aggregate of rules in accordance with which all my action necessarily proceeds if it meets with no obstruction. Hence it seems to me that Instinct may most appropriately be called practical reason, for like theoretical reason it determines the must of all experience.
The theoretical philosopher enriches the domain of reason by adding to it; the practical philosopher draws upon it, and makes it serve him.
Innocence is in its very nature stupid. It is stupid because the aim of life (I use the expression only figuratively, and I could just as well speak of the essence of life, or of the world) is to gain a knowledge of our own bad will, so that our will may become an object for us, and that we may undergo an inward conversion.
A man should exercise an almost boundless toleration and placability, because if he is capricious enough to refuse to forgive a single individual for the meanness or evil that lies at his door, it is doing the rest of the world a quite unmerited honour.
There is a certain kind of courage which springs from the same source as good-nature. What I mean is that the good-natured man is almost as clearly conscious that he exists in other individuals as in himself. I have often shown how this feeling gives rise to good-nature. It also gives rise to courage, for the simple reason that the man who possesses this feeling cares less for his own individual existence, as he lives almost as much in the general existence of all creatures. Accordingly he is little concerned for his own life and its belongings. This is by no means the sole source of courage for it is a phenomenon due to various causes. But it is the noblest kind of courage, as is shown by the fact that in its origin it is associated with great gentleness and patience.
Men of this kind are usually irresistible to women.
Stupid people are generally malicious, for the very same reason as the ugly and the deformed. Similarly, genius and sanctity are akin. However simple-minded a saint may be, he will nevertheless have a dash of genius in him; and however many errors of temperament, or of actual character, a genius may possess, he will still exhibit a certain nobility of disposition by which he shows his kinship with the saint.
It has been said that the historian is an inverted prophet. In the same way it may be said that a teacher of law is an inverted moralist (viz., a teacher of the duties of justice), or that politics are inverted ethics, if we exclude the thought that ethics also teaches the duty of benevolence, magnanimity, love, and so on.
The structure of human society is like a pendulum swinging between two impulses, two evils in polar opposition, despotism and anarchy. The further it gets from the one, the nearer it approaches the other. From this the reader might hit on the thought that if it were exactly midway between the two, it would be right. Far from it. For these two evils are by no means equally bad and dangerous. The former is incomparably less to be feared; its ills exist in the main only as possibilities, and if they come at all it is only one among millions that they touch. But, with anarchy, possibility and actuality are inseparable; its blows fall on every man every day. Therefore every constitution should be a nearer approach to a despotism than to anarchy; nay, it must contain a small possibility of despotism.
THE ART OF CONTROVERSY. PRELIMINARY: LOGIC AND DIALECTIC.
Logic, therefore, as the science of thought, or the science of the process of pure reason, should be capable of being constructed à priori. Dialectic, for the most part, can be constructed only à posteriori; that is to say, we may learn its rules by an experiential knowledge of the disturbance which pure thought suffers through the difference of individuality manifested in the intercourse between two rational beings, and also by acquaintance with the means which disputants adopt in order to make good against one another their own individual thought, and to show that it is pure and objective.
If you want to draw a conclusion, you must not let it be foreseen, but you must get the premisses admitted one by one, unobserved, mingling them here and there in your talk; otherwise, your opponent will attempt all sorts of chicanery.
There is another trick which, as soon as it is practicable, makes all others unnecessary. Instead of working on your opponent’s intellect by argument, work on his will by motive; and he, and also the audience if they have similar interests, will at once be won over to your opinion, even though you got it out of a lunatic asylum; for, as a general rule, half an ounce of will is more effective than a hundredweight of insight and intelligence. This, it is true, can be done only under peculiar circumstances. If you succeed in making your opponent feel that his opinion, should it prove true, will be distinctly prejudicial to his interest, he will let it drop like a hot potato, and feel that it was very imprudent to take it up.
Hobbes observes, all mental pleasure consists in being able to compare oneself with others to one’s own advantage.
ON THE WISDOM OF LIFE: APHORISMS.
What makes us almost inevitably ridiculous is our serious way of treating the passing moment, as though it necessarily had all the importance which it seems to have. It is only a few great minds that are above this weakness, and, instead of being laughed at, have come to laugh themselves. *
As you are all so self-centred, recognise your own weakness. You know that you cannot like a man who does not show himself friendly to you; you know that he cannot do so for any length of time unless he likes you, and that he cannot like you unless you show that you are friendly to him; then do it: your false friendliness will gradually become a true one. Your own weakness and subjectivity must have some illusion.
It is the converse that is true. Men of great intellectual worth, or, still more, men of genius, can have only very few friends; for their clear eye soon discovers all defects, and their sense of rectitude is always being outraged afresh by the extent and the horror of them. It is only extreme necessity that can compel such men not to betray their feelings, or even to stroke the defects as if they were beautiful additions.
We must always try to preserve large views. If we are arrested by details we shall get confused, and see things awry. The success or the failure of the moment, and the impression that they make, should count for nothing.
How difficult it is to learn to understand oneself, and clearly to recognise what it is that one wants before anything else; what it is, therefore, that is most immediately necessary to our happiness; then what comes next; and what takes the third and the fourth place, and so on. Yet, without this knowledge, our life is planless, like a captain without a compass.
Therefore, as regards our own welfare, there are only two ways in which we can use wealth. We can either spend it in ostentatious pomp, and feed on the cheap respect which our imaginary glory will bring us from the infatuated crowd; or, by avoiding all expenditure that will do us no good, we can let our wealth grow, so that we may have a bulwark against misfortune and want that shall be stronger and better every day; in view of the fact that life, though it has few delights, is rich in evils.
GENIUS AND VIRTUE.
Men of no genius whatever cannot bear solitude: they take no pleasure in the contemplation of nature and the world. This arises from the fact that they never lose sight of their own will, and therefore they see nothing of the objects of the world but the bearing of such objects upon their will and person. With objects which have no such bearing there sounds within them a constant note: It is nothing to me, which is the fundamental base in all their music.
ON THE STUDY OF LATIN.
There is no better recreation for the mind than the study of the ancient classics. Take any one of them into your hand, be it only for half an hour, and you will feel yourself refreshed, relieved, purified, ennobled, strengthened; just as though you had quenched your thirst at some pure spring.
ON MEN OF LEARNING.
They pique themselves upon knowing about everything–stones, plants, battles, experiments, and all the books in existence. It never occurs to them that information is only a means of insight, and in itself of little or no value; that it is his way of thinking that makes a man a philosopher.
When I hear of these portents of learning and their imposing erudition, I sometimes say to myself: Ah, how little they must have had to think about, to have been able to read so much!
With by far the largest number of learned men, knowledge is a means, not an end. That is why they will never achieve any great work; because, to do that, he who pursues knowledge must pursue it as an end, and treat everything else, even existence itself, as only a means. For everything which a man fails to pursue for its own sake is but half-pursued; and true excellence, no matter in what sphere, can be attained only where the work has been produced for its own sake alone, and not as a means to further ends. And so, too, no one will ever succeed in doing anything really great and original in the way of thought, who does not seek to acquire knowledge for himself, and, making this the immediate object of his studies, decline to trouble himself about the knowledge of others.
In appreciating a genius, criticism should not deal with the errors in his productions or with the poorer of his works, and then proceed to rate him low; it should attend only to the qualities in which he most excels.
The spirit of discernment! the critical faculty! it is these that are lacking. Men do not know how to distinguish the genuine from the false, the corn from the chaff, gold from copper; or to perceive the wide gulf that separates a genius from an ordinary man. Thus we have that bad state of things described in an old-fashioned verse, which gives it as the lot of the great ones here on earth to be recognized only when they are gone:
Judge none blessed before his death.
The source of all pleasure and delight is the feeling of kinship.
There are two ways of behaving in regard to merit: either to have some of one’s own, or to refuse any to others. The latter method is more convenient, and so it is generally adopted. As envy is a mere sign of deficiency, so to envy merit argues the lack of it.
Modesty should be the virtue of those who possess no other.
Xenophon’s remark: he must be a wise man who knows what is wise.
it is a suspicious sign if a reputation comes quickly; for an application of the laws of homogeneity will show that such a reputation is nothing but the direct applause of the multitude.
What this means may be seen by a remark once made by Phocion, when he was interrupted in a speech by the loud cheers of the mob. Turning to his friends who were standing close by, he asked: Have I made a mistake and said something stupid?
For when any new and wide-reaching truth comes into the world–and if it is new, it must be paradoxical–an obstinate stand will be made against it as long as possible; nay, people will continue to deny it even after they slacken their opposition and are almost convinced of its truth. Meanwhile it goes on quietly working its way, and, like an acid, undermining everything around it. From time to time a crash is heard; the old error comes tottering to the ground, and suddenly the new fabric of thought stands revealed, as though it were a monument just uncovered. Everyone recognizes and admires it.
Let him never forget the words of Balthazar Gracian: lo bueno si breve, dos vezes bueno–good work is doubly good if it is short.
A genius has a double intellect, one for himself and the service of his will; the other for the world, of which he becomes the mirror, in virtue of his purely objective attitude towards it.
A man of learning is a man who has learned a great deal; a man of genius, one from whom we learn something which the genius has learned from nobody.
THE WISDOM OF LIFE
And it is an obvious fact, which cannot be called in question, that the principal element in a man’s well-being,–indeed, in the whole tenor of his existence,–is what he is made of, his inner constitution.
What I got out of it
Some beautiful passages that are worth reflecting on and re-reading. On Reading and Books, Counsels and Maxims, Free Will and Fatalism, and The Wisdom of Life really stood out to me
Herbert Hoover gives some compelling reasons why we should all spend some more time fishing.
Fishing is a chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of the sun on the blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the scenery of nature, charity toward tackle makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week
Contemplation of the eternal flow of the stream, the stretch of forest and mountain, all reduce our egotism, soothe our troubles, and shame our wickedness. And in it we make a physical effort that no sitting on cushions, benches, or side lines provides. To induce people to take this joy they need some stimulant from the hunt, the fish or the climb. I am for fish
Fishing is not so much getting fish as it is a state of mind and an allure for the human soul into refreshment. A fisherman must be of contemplative mind, for it is often a long time between bites. Those interregnums emanate patience, reserve, and calm reflection – for no one can catch fish in anger or malice. He is by nature an optimist or he would not go fishing; for we are always going to have better luck in a few minutes or tomorrow, all of which creates a spirit of affection for fellow fishermen and high esteem for fishing.
Where the following story came from I do not know. It may be apocryphal, but it contains a point of interest to all fishermen. I was supposed to be returning after a day’s fishing without a single fish when I met a boy who was toting home a beautiful catch. I asked, “Where did you get them?” He said, “You just walk down that lane marked ‘Private’ till you come to a sign saying ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.’ Just beyond that is a stream marked ‘No Fishing allowed,’ and there you are.”
What I got out of it
Some beautiful, stoic-like insights on the benefits of nature, fishing, solitude, quiet
The Courage to Be Disliked follows a conversation between a young man and a philosopher as they discuss the tenets of Alfred Adler’s theories. This book presents simple and straightforward answers to the philsophical question: how can one be happy?
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Past doesn’t matter
None of us live in an objective world, but instead in a subjective world that we ourselves have given meaning to. The world you see is different from the one I see, and it’s impossible to share your world with anyone else.
PHILOSOPHER: If we focus only on past causes and try to explain things solely through cause and effect, we end up with “determinism.” Because what this says is that our present and our future have already been decided by past occurrences, and are unalterable. Am I wrong? YOUTH: So you’re saying that the past doesn’t matter? PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that is the standpoint of Adlerian psychology.
Trauma doesn’t exist
YOUTH: Wait a minute! Are you denying the existence of trauma altogether? PHILOSOPHER: Yes, I am. Adamantly. YOUTH: What! Aren’t you, or I guess I should say Adler, an authority on psychology? PHILOSOPHER: In Adlerian psychology, trauma is definitively denied. This was a very new and revolutionary point. Certainly, the Freudian view of trauma is fascinating. Freud’s idea is that a person’s psychic wounds (traumas) cause his or her present unhappiness. When you treat a person’s life as a vast narrative, there is an easily understandable causality and sense of dramatic development that creates strong impressions and is extremely attractive. But Adler, in denial of the trauma argument, states the following: “No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the so-called trauma—but instead we make out of them whatever suits our purposes. We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining.” We determine our own lives according to the meaning we give to those past experiences. Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.
“People are not driven by past causes but move toward goals that they themselves set”
The first step to change is knowing.
The important thing is not what one is born with but what use one makes of that equipment.
Unhappiness Is Something You Choose for Yourself
Yes, you can. People can change at any time, regardless of the environments they are in. You are unable to change only because you are making the decision not
Adlerian psychology is a psychology of courage. Your unhappiness cannot be blamed on your past or your environment. And it isn’t that you lack competence. You just lack courage. One might say you are lacking in the courage to be happy.
Adler’s teleology tells us, “No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.” That you, living in the here and now, are the one who determines your own life.
All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems
The feeling of inferiority is a kind of launch pad? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. One tries to get rid of one’s feeling of inferiority and keep moving forward. One’s never satisfied with one’s present situation—even if it’s just a single step, one wants to make progress. One wants to be happier. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the state of this kind of feeling of inferiority. There are, however, people who lose the courage to take a single step forward, who cannot accept the fact that the situation can be changed by making realistic efforts.
The condition of having a feeling of inferiority is a condition of feeling some sort of lack in oneself in the present situation. So then, the question is— YOUTH: How do you fill in the part that’s missing, right? PHILOSOPHER: Exactly. How to compensate for the part that is lacking. The healthiest way is to try to compensate through striving and growth.
You’re saying that boasting is an inverted feeling of inferiority? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. If one really has confidence in oneself, one doesn’t feel the need to boast. It’s because one’s feeling of inferiority is strong that one boasts. One feels the need to flaunt one’s superiority all the more. There’s the fear that if one doesn’t do that, not a single person will accept one “the way I am.” This is a full-blown superiority complex.
Adler himself pointed out, “In our culture weakness can be quite strong and powerful.” YOUTH: So weakness is powerful? PHILOSOPHER: Adler says, “In fact, if we were to ask ourselves who is the strongest person in our culture, the logical answer would be, the baby. The baby rules and cannot be dominated.” The baby rules over the adults with his weakness. And it is because of this weakness that no one can control him.
20. YOUTH: So life is not a competition? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. It’s enough to just keep moving in a forward direction, without competing with anyone. And, of course, there is no need to compare oneself with others.
A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others; it comes from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self.
Human beings are all equal, but not the same.
Does that mean you dropped out of competition? That you somehow accepted defeat? PHILOSOPHER: No. I withdrew from places that are preoccupied with winning and losing. When one is trying to be oneself, competition will inevitably get in the way.
There are probably a lot of people who feel mystified by seeing a child who cuts his wrists, and they think, Why would he do such a thing? But try to think how the people around the child—the parents, for instance—will feel as a result of the behavior of wrist cutting. If you do, the goal behind the behavior should come into view of its own accord.
Once the interpersonal relationship reaches the revenge stage, it is almost impossible for either party to find a solution. To prevent this from happening, when one is challenged to a power struggle, one must never allow oneself to be taken in.
So when you’re hung up on winning and losing, you lose the ability to make the right choices? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. It clouds your judgment, and all you can see is imminent victory or defeat. Then you turn down the wrong path. It’s only when we take away the lenses of competition and winning and losing that we can begin to correct and change ourselves.
In Adlerian psychology, clear objectives are laid out for human behavior and psychology. YOUTH: What sort of objectives? PHILOSOPHER: First, there are two objectives for behavior: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. Then, the two objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviors are the consciousness that I have the ability and the consciousness that people are my comrades.
Work that can be completed without the cooperation of other people is in principle unfeasible.
There’s no value at all in the number of friends or acquaintances you have. And this is a subject that connects with the task of love, but what we should be thinking about is the distance and depth of the relationship.
If you change, those around you will change too. They will have no choice but to change.
You are not living to satisfy other people’s expectations, and neither am I. It is not necessary to satisfy other people’s expectations. When one seeks recognition from others, and concerns oneself only with how one is judged by others, in the end, one is living other people’s lives.
One does not intrude on other people’s tasks. That’s all. In general, all interpersonal relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other people’s tasks, or having one’s own tasks intruded on. Carrying out the separation of tasks is enough to change one’s interpersonal relationships dramatically. There is a simple way to tell whose task it is. Think, Who ultimately is going to receive the result brought about by the choice that is made?
You are the only one who can change yourself.
One can build them. The separation of tasks is not the objective for interpersonal relationships. Rather, it is the gateway. YOUTH: The gateway? PHILOSOPHER: For instance, when reading a book, if one brings one’s face too close to it, one cannot see anything. In the same way, forming good interpersonal relationships requires a certain degree of distance. When the distance gets too small and people become stuck together, it becomes impossible to even speak to each other. But the distance must not be too great, either. Parents who scold their children too much become mentally very distant.
As I have stated repeatedly, in Adlerian psychology, we think that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. In other words, we seek release from interpersonal relationships. We seek to be free from interpersonal relationships. However, it is absolutely impossible to live all alone in the universe. In light of what we have discussed until now, the conclusion we reach regarding “What is freedom?” should be clear. YOUTH: What is it? PHILOSOPHER: In short, that “freedom is being disliked by other people.” It’s that you are disliked by someone. It is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom, and a sign that you are living in accordance with your own principles. YOUTH: But, but . . . PHILOSOPHER: It is certainly distressful to be disliked. If possible, one would like to live without being disliked by anyone. One wants to satisfy one’s desire for recognition. But conducting oneself in such a way as to not be disliked by anyone is an extremely unfree way of living, and is also impossible. There is a cost incurred when one wants to exercise one’s freedom. And the cost of freedom in interpersonal relationships is that one is disliked by other people. The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness.
If other people are our comrades, and we live surrounded by them, we should be able to find in that life our own place of “refuge.” Moreover, in doing so, we should begin to have the desire to share with our comrades, to contribute to the community. This sense of others as comrades, this awareness of “having one’s own refuge,” is called “community feeling.” When Adler refers to community, he goes beyond the household, school, workplace, and local society, and treats it as all-inclusive, covering not only nations and all of humanity but also the entire axis of time from the past to the future—and he includes plants and animals and even inanimate objects.
It is necessary to make the switch from “attachment to self” to “concern for others.”
People who hold the belief that they are the center of the world always end up losing their comrades before long.
Physical punishment is out of the question, of course, and rebuking is not accepted, either. One must not praise, and one must not rebuke. That is the standpoint of Adlerian psychology. In other words, the mother who praises the child by saying things like “You’re such a good helper!” or “Good job!” or “Well, aren’t you something!” is unconsciously creating a hierarchical relationship and seeing the child as beneath her. You must simply encourage
As you may recall from our discussion on the separation of tasks, I brought up the subject of intervention. This is the act of intruding on other people’s tasks. So why does a person intervene? Here, too, in the background, vertical relationships are at play. It is precisely because one perceives interpersonal relations as vertical, and sees the other party as beneath one, that one intervenes. Through intervention, one tries to lead the other party in the desired direction. One has convinced oneself that one is right and that the other party is wrong. Of course, the intervention here is manipulation, pure and simple. Parents commanding a child to study is a typical example of this. They might be acting out of the best of intentions from their points of view, but when it comes down to it, the parents are intruding and attempting to manipulate the child to go in their desired direction. YOUTH: If one can build horizontal relationships, will that intervention disappear? PHILOSOPHER: Yes, it will. Concretely speaking, instead of commanding from above that the child must study, one acts on him in such a way that he can gain the confidence to take care of his own studies and face his tasks on his own.
Being praised is what leads people to form the belief that they have no ability. YOUTH: What did you say? PHILOSOPHER: Shall I repeat myself? The more one is praised by another person, the more one forms the belief that one has no ability. Please do your best to remember this. You convey words of gratitude, saying thank you to this partner who has helped you with your work. You might express straightforward delight: “I’m glad.” Or you could convey your thanks by saying, “That was a big help.” This is an approach to encouragement that is based on horizontal relationships. YOUTH: That’s all? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. The most important thing is to not judge other people. “Judgment” is a word that comes out of vertical relationships. If one is building horizontal relationships, there will be words of more straightforward gratitude and respect and joy. YOUTH:
This is a point that will connect to our subsequent discussion as well—in Adlerian psychology, a great deal of emphasis is given to “contribution.” YOUTH: Why is that? PHILOSOPHER: Well, what does a person have to do to get courage? In Adler’s view, “It is only when a person is able to feel that he has worth that he can possess courage.”
So the issue that arises at this point is how on earth can one become able to feel one has worth? YOUTH: Yes, that’s it exactly! I need you to explain that very clearly, please. PHILOSOPHER: It’s quite simple. It is when one is able to feel “I am beneficial to the community” that one can have a true sense of one’s worth. This is the answer that would be offered in Adlerian psychology.
I should start? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. Without regard to whether other people are cooperative or not.
This is a very important point. Does one build vertical relationships, or does one build horizontal relationships? This is an issue of lifestyle, and human beings are not so clever as to be able to have different lifestyles available whenever the need arises. In other words, deciding that one is “equal to this person” or “in a hierarchical relationship with that person” does not work. YOUTH: Do you mean that one has to choose one or the other—vertical relationships or horizontal relationships? PHILOSOPHER: Absolutely, yes.
Excessive Self-Consciousness Stifles the Self
There is no need to go out of one’s way to be positive and affirm oneself. It’s not self-affirmation that we are concerned with, but self-acceptance. YOUTH: Not self-affirmation, but self-acceptance? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. There is a clear difference. Self-affirmation is making suggestions to oneself, such as “I can do it” or “I am strong,” even when something is simply beyond one’s ability. It is a notion that can bring about a superiority complex, and may even be termed a way of living in which one lies to oneself. With self-acceptance, on the other hand, if one cannot do something, one is simply accepting “one’s incapable self” as is and moving forward so that one can do whatever one can. It is not a way of lying to oneself.
This is also the case with the separation of tasks—one ascertains the things one can change and the things one cannot change. One cannot change what one is born with. But one can, under one’s own power, go about changing what use one makes of that equipment. So in that case, one simply has to focus on what one can change, rather than on what one cannot. This is what I call self-acceptance.
The basis of interpersonal relations is founded not on trust but on confidence. YOUTH: And “confidence” in this case is . . . ? PHILOSOPHER: It is doing without any set conditions whatsoever when believing in others. Even if one does not have sufficient objective grounds for trusting someone, one believes. One believes unconditionally without concerning oneself with such things as security. That is confidence.
Well, I see what you’re getting at—the main objective, which is to build deep relationships. But still, being taken advantage of is scary, and that’s the reality, isn’t it? PHILOSOPHER: If it is a shallow relationship, when it falls apart the pain will be slight. And the joy that relationship brings each day will also be slight. It is precisely because one can gain the courage to enter into deeper relationships by having confidence in others that the joy of one’s interpersonal relations can grow, and one’s joy in life can grow, too.
To take it a step farther, one may say that people who think of others as enemies have not attained self-acceptance and do not have enough confidence in others.
Contribution to others does not connote self-sacrifice. Adler goes so far as to warn that those who sacrifice their own lives for others are people who have conformed to society too much. And please do not forget: We are truly aware of our own worth only when we feel that our existence and behavior are beneficial to the community, that is to say, when one feels “I am of use to someone.” Do you remember this? In other words, contribution to others, rather than being about getting rid of the “I” and being of service to someone, is actually something one does in order to be truly aware of the worth of the “I.” YOUTH: Contributing to others is for oneself? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. There is no need to sacrifice the self.
Acceptance: accepting one’s irreplaceable “this me” just as it is. Confidence in others: to place unconditional confidence at the base of one’s interpersonal relations rather than seeding doubt.
For the sake of convenience, up to this point I have discussed self-acceptance, confidence in others, and contribution to others, in that order. However, these three are linked as an indispensable whole, in a sort of circular structure. It is because one accepts oneself just as one is—one self-accepts—that one can have “confidence in others” without the fear of being taken advantage of. And it is because one can place unconditional confidence in others, and feel that people are one’s comrades, that one can engage in “contribution to others.” Further, it is because one contributes to others that one can have the deep awareness that “I am of use to someone” and accept oneself just as one is. One can self-accept.
They probably try to justify that by saying, “It’s busy at work, so I don’t have enough time to think about my family.” But this is a life-lie. They are simply trying to avoid their other responsibilities by using work as an excuse. One ought to concern oneself with everything, from household chores and child-rearing to one’s friendships and hobbies and so on. Adler does not recognize ways of living in which certain aspects are unusually dominant.
On such occasions, those who can accept themselves only on the level of acts are severely damaged. YOUTH: You mean those people whose lifestyle is all about work? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. People whose lives lack harmony.
Does one accept oneself on the level of acts, or on the level of being? This is truly a question that relates to the courage to be happy.
For a human being, the greatest unhappiness is not being able to like oneself. Adler came up with an extremely simple answer to address this reality. Namely, that the feeling of “I am beneficial to the community” or “I am of use to someone” is the only thing that can give one a true awareness that one has worth.
Happiness is the feeling of contribution.
If one really has a feeling of contribution, one will no longer have any need for recognition from others. Because one will already have the real awareness that “I am of use to someone,” without needing to go out of one’s way to be acknowledged by others. In other words, a person who is obsessed with the desire for recognition does not have any community feeling yet, and has not managed to engage in self-acceptance, confidence in others, or contribution to others.
What Adlerian psychology emphasizes at this juncture are the words “the courage to be normal.” YOUTH: The courage to be normal? PHILOSOPHER: Why is it necessary to be special? Probably because one cannot accept one’s normal self. And it is precisely for this reason that when being especially good becomes a lost cause, one makes the huge leap to being especially bad—the opposite extreme. But is being normal, being ordinary, really such a bad thing? Is it something inferior? Or, in truth, isn’t everybody normal? It is necessary to think this through to its logical conclusion.
This conception, which treats life as a kind of story, is an idea that links with Freudian etiology (the attributing of causes), and is a way of thinking that makes the greater part of life into something that is “en route.” YOUTH: Well, what is your image of life? PHILOSOPHER: Do not treat it as a line. Think of life as a series of dots. If you look through a magnifying glass at a solid line drawn with chalk, you will discover that what you thought was a line is actually a series of small dots. Seemingly linear existence is actually a series of dots; in other words, life is a series of moments.
If life were a line, then life planning would be possible. But our lives are only a series of dots. A well-planned life is not something to be treated as necessary or unnecessary, as it is impossible.
You should be on a journey the moment you step outside your home, and all the moments on the way to your destination should be a journey. Of course, there might be circumstances that prevent you from making it to the pyramid, but that does not mean you didn’t go on a journey. This is “energeial life.”
The greatest life-lie of all is to not live here and now. It is to look at the past and the future, cast a dim light on one’s entire life, and believe that one has been able to see something.
And Adler, having stated that “life in general has no meaning,” then continues, “Whatever meaning life has must be assigned to it by the individual.”
No matter what moments you are living, or if there are people who dislike you, as long as you do not lose sight of the guiding star of “I contribute to others,” you will not lose your way, and you can do whatever you like. Whether you’re disliked or not, you pay it no mind and live free.
Philosophy refers not to “wisdom” itself but to “love of wisdom,” and it is the very process of learning what one does not know and arriving at wisdom that is important. Whether or not one attains wisdom in the end is not an issue.
What I got out of it
I think the narrative format is really helpful to make some concepts very concrete and memorable – all problems are interpersonal problems; you can be happy today; you are the only one who can change you; happiness is contribution; past doesn’t matter; trauma isn’t real – we are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give to them; separation of tasks; courage comes from the confidence that you can contribute, that you are worthy; only encouragement and not praise
Cicero gives us some wisdom about how to age gracefully and live a life worth living so that when we’re older, we can look back and take joy in what we’ve done
The best armor of old age is a well spent life preceding it; a life employed in the pursuit of useful knowledge, in honorable actions and the practice of virtue; in which he who labors to improve himself from his youth, will in age reap the happiest fruits of them; not only because these never leave a man, not even in the extremest of old age, but because a conscience bearing witness that our life was well spent, together with the remembrance of past good actions, yields an unspeakable comfort to the soul
I have known several who have lived to be very old, without complaining at all; for they appeared not only easy, but pleased at their being delivered from the tyranny of their former youthful passions
A calm contemplative life, or a life well and virtuously spent in the just discharge of one’s immediate duty in any station, will ever be attended with a serenity of mind
How do the lawyers, the pontiffs, the augurs, and the philosophers, who live to a great age? Men will retain their understanding and abilities, while they continue their application and diligence
And I must ever think, that all those who spend their time in improving others in knowledge, and teaching the nobler arts, when their natural strength of body fails them, are entitled to our highest regard and esteem
We must prepare ourselves, my friends, against old age; and as it is advancing, endeavor by our diligence to mitigate and correct the natural infirmities that attend it: we must use proper preservatives, as we do against diseases; great care must, in the first place, be taken of our health; all bodily exercise must be moderate, and especially our diet; which out to be of such a kind, and in such proportion, as may refresh and strengthen nature, without oppressing it. Nor must our care be confined to our bodies only; for the mind requires much more, which without it will not only decay, but our understanding will as certainly die away in old age, as a lamp not duly supplied with oil. The body, we know, when overlabored, becomes heavy, and, as it were, jaded; but ’tis exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor
I read much Greek and, agreeable to the Pythagorean Precept, the better to exercise my memory, I recollect at night what I have heard, said, or done in the day
‘Tis owned, that the most noble and excellent gift of heaven to man, is his reason: and ’tis as sure, that of all the enemies of reason has to engage with, pleasure is the most capital, and the most pernicious
But I am now come to speak of the pleasure of a country life, with which I am infinitely delighted. To these, old age is never an obstruction. It is the life of nature, and appears to me the exactest plan of that which a wise man ought to lead. Here our whole business is with the earth, the common parent of us all, which is never found refractory, never denies what is required of it, nor fails to return back what is committed to it with advantage, sometimes indeed with less, but generally with a very large interest
Yet in all I have said, I desired to be understood to mean the old age of such persons only, as have in their youth laid solid foundations for esteem in advancing years; for on no other terms ought we to expect it. And hence it was, that what I once said in a public speech, met with so general an applause, when I observed, that miserable was that man’s old age who needed the help of oratory to defend him. Grey hairs and wrinkles avail nothing to confer the authority I am here speaking of: it must be the result of a series of good actions, and nothing but a life honorably and virtuously led, thro’ all the advancing steps of it, can crown old age with this blessed harvest of its past labors
We ought all to be content with the time and portion assigned to us. No man expects of any one actor on the theater that he should perform all the parts of the piece himself: one role only is committed to him, and whatever that be, if he acts it well, he is applauded. In the same manner, it is not the part of a wise man, to desire to be busy in these scenes to the last plaudit. A short term may be long enough to live it well and honorably; and if you hold it longer, when past the first stages, you ought no more to grieve that they are over, than the husbandman repines that the spring is past, and the summer heats come on; or after these, the more sickly autumn
The best fruits of old age are the recollecting and feeding of the remembrance of that train and store of good and virtuous deeds, of which, in the course of life, we laid in a kind of provision
Thus old people, for the little remainder of life that is left them, should stand loose and indifferent, neither anxious to have it prolonged, nor precipitantly or without just cause to shorten it; remembering the precept of Pythagoras, that no man should quit his post, but at the command of his general, that is, God himself. And in regard to those we are to leave behind us, tho’ some have commended Solon for saying – he wish’d not to die unadorned and unlamented by his friends; in which his sense doubtless was, that he desired while he lived to be loved and valued by them; yet I know not but that of Ennius is altogether as just, let none with tears or sighs my funeral grace: For his meaning was, that death crown’d with immortality, ought by no means to be lamented
While we are closed in these mortal frames, our bodies, we are bound down to a law of necessity. But our minds are of a heavenly original, descended from the blissful seats above.
When the mind is wholly freed from all corporeal mixture, and begins to be purified, and recover itself again; then, and then only, it becomes truly knowing and wise
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others
What I got out of it
Live a life that when you’re on your deathbed looking back, you’re proud of. You have to do this proactively or else it’ll be too late. Be interested rather than interesting (as John Gardner would say), learn, meet new people, do things which excite you and add meaning to the world
“At each stage in our lives, we must ask these simple yet deeply profound questions. Finding the answers will open the door to the next stage in our development, and eventually lead us to our complete, truest selves”
Who am I? You will know who you are by what you are not
What is real? You will know what is real by what is not real
What is love? You will know love when you know what love is not
Everyone feels good around someone who has genuine love for themselves. We can never give what we do not have so it makes sense that it would be hard to truly love others if we don’t move ourselves. Be aware of your self talk and be affectionate and compassionate to yourself. Unconditional love of yourself is paradise.
You can love without worrying about getting anything in return. You’ll find that you come to love naturally. When you don’t have to defend your opinions, you’re free to be authentic and open, surrendering to life
Love has no conditions
When there is nothing left to defend, truth is all that’s left
The solution to all conflict is respect
One of the biggest barriers to love is fear. We must be extremely aware of irrational fears, things which aren’t real, things which we’ve made up. We must face the fear and increase clarity, bringing calm and self awareness.
Fear, left unchallenged, controls our actions. We are often most afraid of our reactions and enjoy being the victim. Awareness is our gift and salvation
Searching for answers brings unexpected revelations. Curiosity opens unseen doors. We allow ourselves to receive the information of life. When we can’t master our own attention, we miss a lot. Too much focus on one thing means we miss so much around us
Humanity’s greatest art is to dream consciously
When you give up having to know or be right, you become so much lighter
People trust authenticity more than almost anything
What I got out of it
Be authentic, self-aware, and give as much of yourself to others as you can