Can You Handle This Tough Love Advice from a 17th Century Philosopher?

What is the metric you use to measure the success of your life? We all have an internal compass that subconsciously guides us towards what we think is most important, and there may be no right answer. Different cultures, generations, and personalities all have clashing value systems.

Those who are out to seek their fortune usually turn to books. Listening to the wisdom of those long gone is always a smart choice, but you still have to filter that information. These authors have stood the test of time, but that doesn’t mean their thoughts are universally applicable.

 

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

One such controversial book is a collection of 300 hard-hitting and short segments called “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” by Baltasar Gracian. This summary of his writing has been around since the beginning of the 17th century.

Balthasar was born and raised in Calatayud, Spain. As a young adult he became a part of a Jesuit College, and spent the majority of his life as a “university man”, studying theology and philosophy.

Current day Calatayud, Spain.

It’s important to learn a bit about the author of whatever you might be reading. Everyone has a lens through which they see the world based on their life experience, and that means we are all biased.

 

Maturity or Ruthlessness?

Gracian’s work has been both highly praised and highly criticized, much like The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It can make you uncomfortable, and poke deeply at the insecurities of even the most confident. He even seems to get more insulting as the book goes on! But at the end of the day, you have a sinking feeling that he could be right.

The 48 Laws of Power used ancient court and royalty to justify it’s controversial behavior.

It all comes down to your internal compass, doesn’t it? As you read these selected 15 passages from The Art of World Wisdom, be aware of both your morals and your own biases.

If anything, we think these segments come down to a loud call for maturity. To be mature means taking charge of your own actions, and occasionally the actions of others when your leadership is required. It means discipline, interdependence, and strategic thinking. Everyone will find a place in this book where they fall short; and the mature thing to do is stand up tall and take it. Then, get back to work, as you can always sleep well knowing you did your best.

 

10 Passages of Tough-Love

On becoming your best:

“A man at his best. You are not so born: strive daily to develop yourself. In your person, in your calling, until perfection is attained: the fullness of your every gift, of your every faculty. You will know it in the improvement of your taste, in the clarification of your thinking, in the maturity of your judgement, in the control of your will. Some never attain the perfect, something always being lacking, and others are late to coming to themselves. The man complete, wise in speech, wise in action, is admitted — yea, he is welcome into that rare fellowship of those who understand.”

 

On justice:

“A just man. He stands on the side of the right with such conviction, that neither the passion of a mob, nor the violence of a despot can make him overstep the boundary of reason. But who will be this phoenix of impartiality? For justice knows few so completely dedicated to her. Many praise her, but not for themselves: others follow her until danger threatens: and the false deny her, and the political betray her, for she pays no heed in her dealings to friendship, to power, or even to personal profit.”

A girl scout stands up to a far-right protester in the Czech Republic.

On fitting in:

“Think as the few, and speak as the many. To swim against the current is just as useless for setting a matter right, as it is dangerous for the swimmer. Only socrates may try it: to disagree with another is deemed an insult, for it is a condemnation of his judgement: the offended soon multiply, at times because their cause, at times because their champion has been hurt. Let the wise man take refuge in his silence, and when at times he permits himself to speak, let it be in the shelter of the few, and the understanding.”

 

On tough skin:

“Not too fragile in bumping up against the world and least so with your friends. Some crack with the greatest ease, showing they are made of poor stuff; they fill themselves with vexation; they show their natures to be more soft, than the eyes themselves, so none may touch them, either in fun, or in earnest, such trifles bruise that real hurt is not necessary. Since the slightest disturbance upsets them, these people are commonly selfish, the slaves of their whims, for which they would sacrifice everything, worshippers of their imagined honor, but the heart of friendship is like the heart of a diamond in its enduringness, and in his firmness.”

 

On reputation:

“Never risk your reputation on a single shot for if you miss, the loss is irreparable. It is very easy to go wrong once, and especially the first time: not always is this the right moment, wherefore it is said: wait for your day. Assure yourself therefore of a second chance through the first, if it went wrong, or if it went it right, let the first have been a pawn for the second: always hold in reserve recourse to something better, and the reputation of having something more: everything depends upon circumstance, and very much so, whence it comes that the happiness is so rare of the happy ending.”

 

On tempering expectations:

“A proper conceit of yourself, and of your aims, especially of yourself. All have a high opinion of themselves, particularly those with least reason, each dreams himself a fortune, and imagines himself a prodigy: hope wildly promises everything, and time then fulfills nothing: these things torment the spirit, as the imagined gives way before the truth, wherefore let the man of judgement correct his blunders, and even though hoping for the best, always expect the worst, in order to be able to accept with equanimity whatever comes. It is well, of course, to aim somewhat high, in order to near the mark, but not so high that you miss altogether starting your life’s job; to make this proper estimate of yourself is altogether necessary.”

 

On pessimism:

“Do not be a source of embarrassment either to yourself, or to others. There be men who offend the decencies, as much their own, as those of others, and always foolishly: they are met with easily, and parted from with difficulty: no day complete for them without its hundred annoyances; they have a humor for nothing, and so they gainsay everybody, and find fault with everything. But the greatest transducers of the mind are those, who unable to do anything right themselves, call the efforts of all others wrong. Which explains why so many beasts roam the broad fields of the wild.”

“An Offended Boy” by Ivan Kamskoi, 1874

On bragging:

“Not a blower, but a doer. They make the greatest show of what they have done, who have done least. Everything is made to appear marvelous and in the silliest fashion. Veritable chameleons for applause, they give everyone his fill of laughter. Conceit is always frowned upon, but here it is ridiculed. These ants of honor go collecting like beggars. But real achievement needs no such affectation. Rest in accomplishment, and leave talk to others. Do, and do not brag: nor with gold rent yourself a pen, for such writes dirt, that sickens the knowing. Aspire to be heroic, not only to seem it.”

 

On finding your most-powerful quality:

“On your pre-eminent gift; cultivate that and you will assist the rest. Every one would have excelled in something if he had known his strong point. Notice in what quality you surpass, and take charge of that. In some judgment excels, in others valor. Most do violence to their natural aptitude, and thus attain superiority in nothing. Time disillusions us too late of what first flattered the passions.”

 

On courage:

“Even hares can pull the mane of a dead lion. There is no joke about courage. Give way to the first thing, and you must yield to the second, and so on till the last, and to gain your point at last costs as much trouble as would have gained much more at first. Moral courage exceeds physical; it should be like a sword kept ready for use in the scabbard of caution. It Is the shield of great place; moral cowardice lowers one more than physical. Many have had eminent qualities, yet, for want of a stout heart, they passed inanimate lives and found a tomb in their own sloth. Wise Nature has thoughtfully combined in the bee the sweetness of its honey with the sharpness of its sting.”

 

Moving Forward

We strongly suggest picking up a copy of this book. It’s short, but make sure to spread out the time it takes for you to read it. Just a few passages a day will make you stare off into the distance, doing that whole contemplating life thing.

We are rarely truly in charge of our path or future: all we can choose is the actions we take and the way we react. This article will pair well with our Four Agreements piece, a few wonderful statements you can follow and repeat every day for inner peace and joy.

Leave a comment: Which one of these passages struck you? What can you change in your daily actions that will help you better live up to your own standards? Remember to share this article if it was helpful.

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1 Comment

  1. James Keogh

    Justice struck me. I am working towards becoming the phoenix of impartiality.

    Reply

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