Cunning as a Serpent, Innocent as a Dove: The Art of Worldly Wisdom

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 8, 2012 · 66 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

Back when I was in high school, a mentor of mine gave me a copy of a small book that I’ve read and re-read several times over the years. The Art of Worldly Wisdom or The Pocket Oracle and the Art of Prudence, is a book of 300 maxims and commentary written by a 17th century Jesuit priest named Baltasar Gracián. Considered by many to be Machiavelli’s better in strategy and insight, Gracian’s maxims give advice on how to flourish and thrive in a cutthroat world filled with cunning, duplicity, and power struggles, all while still maintaining your dignity, honor, and self-respect. In many ways, The Art of Worldly Wisdom is a how-to book on fulfilling Christ’s admonition to his apostles to be “cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.”  Philosophers Schopenhauer and Nietzsche both admired Gracian for his insight, subtlety, and the depth with which he understood the human condition.

While Gracian’s maxims were directed to men trying to gain favor in the dog-eat-dog world of 17th century Spanish court life, they’re just as applicable to a 21st century man trying to both succeed in a hyper-competitive globalized economy and develop an upright, heroic character. Taken together, Gracian’s frank, incisive maxims are reminders of the power of living with sprezzatura and that practical wisdom–the ability to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason—is essential to success in life. Below I highlight a few of my favorite Gracian maxims. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of his book with all 300 nuggets of wisdom and keep it on your nightstand. It’s a great little book to flip through and read in spare moments. You’ll be a better man for it.

Maxims of Baltasar Gracián

In your affairs, create suspense. Admiration at their novelty means respect for your success. It’s neither useful nor pleasurable to show all your cards. Not immediately revealing everything fuels anticipation, especially when a person’s elevated position means expectations are greater. It bespeaks mystery in everything and, with this very secrecy, arouses awe. Even when explaining yourself, you should avoid complete frankness, just as you shouldn’t open yourself up to everyone in all your dealings. Cautious silence is the refuge of good sense. A decision openly declared is never respected; instead, it opens the way to criticism, and if things turn out badly, you’ll be unhappy twice over. Imitate divinity’s way of doing things to keep people attentive and alert.

The height of perfection. No one is born complete; perfect yourself and your activities day by day until you become a truly consummate being, your talents and your qualities all perfected. This will be evident in the excellence of your taste, the refinement of your intellect, the maturity of your judgement, the purity of your will. Some never manage to be complete; something is always missing. Others take a long time. The consummate man, wise in word and sensible in deed, is admitted into, and even sought out for, the singular company of the discreet.

Don’t arouse excessive expectations from the start. Everything initially highly praised is commonly discredited when it subsequently fails to live up to expectation. Reality can never match our expectations, because it’s easy to imagine perfection, and very difficult to achieve it. Imagination weds desire and then conceives things far greater than they actually are. However great anything excellent is, it’s never enough to satisfy our idea of it and, misled by excessive expectation, we’re more likely to feel disillusionment than admiration. Hope is a great falsifier of truth. Good should rectify this, making sure enjoyment surpasses desire. Good beginnings serve to arouse curiosity, not to guarantee the outcome. Things turn out better when the reality exceeds our initial idea and is greater than we anticipated. This rule doesn’t apply where bad things are concerned. Here exaggerated expectation is helpful, for reality thankfully contradicts it, and what was greatly feared can in fact even seem tolerable.

Never exaggerate. Take great care not to speak in superlatives, whether to avoid offending truth or tarnishing your good sense. Exaggeration is an excess of esteem and indicates a lack of knowledge and taste. Praise arouses curiosity, goads desire, and if, as normally happens, true worth falls short of the initial evaluation, our expectation turns against the deception and gets even by scorning both the praiser and the praised. The wise take their time, then, and would rather understate than overstate. True greatness in things is rare; temper your esteem. Exaggeration is a form of lying; using it, you lose your reputation for having good taste, which is bad, and for being knowledgeable, which is worse.

Never lose your self-respect. Even when alone, don’t be too lax with yourself. Let your own integrity be the measure of your rectitude; owe more to the severity of your own opinion than to external rules. Stop yourself doing something improper more through fear of your own good sense than of some stern external authority. Stand in fear of yourself and you will have no need of Seneca’s imaginary tutor.

Never lose your composure. A prime aim of good sense: never lose your cool. This is proof of true character, of a perfect heart, because magnanimity is difficult to perturb. Passions are the humours of the mind and any imbalance in them unsettles good sense, and if this illness leads us to open our mouths, it will endanger our reputation. Be so in control of yourself that, whether things are going well or badly, nobody can accuse you of being perturbed and all can admire your superiority.

Don’t be uneven, or inconsistent in your actions: either through inclination or choice. The sensible man is always the same in all areas of perfection, this being a mark of intelligence. He should change only because the causes and merits of the situation do. Where good sense is concerned, variety is ugly. There are some who are different every day; uneven in their understanding, more so in their will, and even in their luck. What they approved of yesterday, they disapprove of today, forever negating their own reputation and confounding others’ opinion of them.

Choose a heroic model, more to emulate than to imitate. There are examples of greatness, living texts of renown. Select the best in your own area, not so much to follow as to surpass. Alexander wept, not for Achilles in his tomb, but for himself, not yet risen to universal fame. Nothing so incites ambition within the spirit as the trumpeting of another’s fame: it demolishes envy and inspires noble actions.

Understand yourself: your temperament, intellect, opinions, emotions. You can’t be master of yourself if you don’t first understand yourself. There are mirrors for the face, but none for the spirit: let discreet self-reflection be yours. And when you cease to care about your external image, focus on the inner one to correct and improve it. Know how strong your good sense and perspicacity are for any undertaking and evaluate your capacity for overcoming obstacles. Fathom your depths and weigh up your capacity for all things.

Don’t hang around to be a setting sun. The sensible person’s maxim: abandon things before they abandon you. Know how to turn an ending into a triumph. Sometimes the sun itself, whilst still shining brilliantly, goes behind a cloud so nobody can see it setting, leaving people in suspense over whether it has or not. To avoid being slighted, avoid being seen to decline. Don’t wait until everyone turns their back on you, burying you alive to regret but dead to esteem. Someone sharp retires a racehorse at the right time, not waiting until everyone laughs when it falls in mid-race. Let beauty astutely shatter her mirror when the time is right, not impatiently and too late when she sees her own illusions shattered in it.

Get used to the bad temperaments of those you deal with, like getting used to ugly faces. This is advisable in situations of dependency. There are horrible people you can neither live with nor live without. It’s a necessary skill, therefore, to get used to them, as to ugliness, so you’re not surprised each time their harshness manifests itself. At first they’ll frighten you, but gradually your initial horror will disappear and caution will anticipate or tolerate the unpleasantness.

Never complain. Complaining always brings discredit. It incites the passionate to disrespect you more than the compassionate to console you. It paves the way for anyone who hears it to follow suit and, learning of the first person’s insult, makes the second feel theirs is excusable. By complaining of past offences, some people create the basis for future ones, and seeking help or comfort, they encounter only satisfaction and even disdain. A better policy is to celebrate the benefits received from some so others will imitate them. To enumerate favours received from those who are absent is to solicit them from those present; it’s to sell the credit due to the former to the latter. A circumspect man never makes public either slights or flaws, only the marks of esteem received, for these serve to maintain friends and restrain enemies.

Avoid familiarity when dealing with people. It should be neither used nor permitted. Anyone who does will lose the superiority which stems from dignity, and so lose esteem. The stars, precisely because they remain so distant, maintain their splendour. Divinity demands respect; familiarity breeds contempt. With human affairs, the greater the familiarity, the lower the esteem, because communication reveals the imperfections which reserve concealed. Familiarity is not advisable with anyone: with your superiors, because it’s dangerous; with your inferiors, because unseemly; and especially not with the rabble who, being stupid and so insolent, will not recognize the favour shown them and will take it as their due. Familiarity is a form of vulgarity.

Know how to appreciate. There’s no one who can’t be better than someone at something, and none who excel who can’t be excelled. Knowing how to enjoy the best in everyone is a useful form of knowledge. The wise appreciate everyone, recognizing the good in all and knowing how much it costs to do things well. Fools despise everyone because they are ignorant of the good and choose the worst.

Undertake what’s easy as if it were hard, and what’s hard as if it were easy. In the first case, so that confidence doesn’t make you careless; in the second, so that lack of confidence doesn’t make you discouraged. It takes nothing more for something not to be done than thinking that it is. Conversely, diligence removes impossibilities. Don’t think over great undertakings, just seize them when they arise, so that consideration of their difficulty doesn’t hold you back.

Take a joke, but don’t make someone the butt of one. The first is a form of politeness; the second, of audacity. Whoever gets annoyed at some fun appears even more like a beast than they actually are. An excellent joke is enjoyable; to know how to take one is a mark of real character. Getting annoyed simply prompts others to poke fun again and again. Know how far to take a joke, and the safest thing is not to start one. The greatest truths have always arisen from jokes. Nothing demands greater care and skill: before making a joke, know just how far someone can take one.

Carry things through. Some people put everything into the beginning, and finish nothing. They come up with something, but never press on with it, revealing their fickle character. They never receive any praise because they don’t press on with anything; everything ends with nothing being ended. In others, this arises out of impatience, a characteristic vice of the Spanish, just as patience is a virtue of the Belgians. The latter finish things, the former finish with them. They sweat until a difficulty is overcome, and are happy simply to conquer it, but they don’t know how to carry their victory through; they show they have the ability, but not the desire. This is always a defect, arising from taking on the impossible or from fickleness. If an undertaking is good, why not finish it? And if it’s bad, why was it started? The shrewd should kill their prey, not give up after flushing it out.

Don’t be carried away by the last person you meet. There are people who believe the last thing they hear, stupidity always going to one extreme or the other. Their feelings and desires are wax: the most recent thing stamps itself upon them and effaces everything else. They are never fully won over because they are just as easily lost: anyone can dye them to match their own colour. They make bad confidants and remain forever like children: with their opinions and emotions ever changing, and their will and judgement crippled, they veer along, tilting this way and that.

Go with the flow, but not beyond decency. Don’t always be affectedly solemn and annoyed. This is part of good manners. To gain everyone’s affection, you must dispense with a little dignity. You can sometimes follow the crowd, but not into indecency, for whoever is taken for a fool in public will never be thought wise in private. More is lost in one day of relaxation than was ever gained with seriousness. But don’t always stand out from the rest: to be an exception is to condemn everyone else. Far less affect fastidiousness – leave that to women. Even in spiritual matters, this is ridiculous. The best thing about a man is acting like a man. Whilst a woman can gracefully affect a manly air, the reverse is never the case.

Act as though always on view. The insightful man is the one who sees that others see or will see him. He knows that walls have ears, and that what’s badly done is always bursting to come out. Even when alone, he acts as though seen by everyone, knowing that everything will eventually be known. He looks on those who will subsequently hear of his actions as witnesses to them already. The person who wanted everyone to see him wasn’t daunted that others could see into his house from outside.

{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jason July 8, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Great post.

2 Edman68 July 8, 2012 at 7:09 pm

I would also suggest “As A Man Thinketh” by: James Allen.
I’ll definitely be purchasing this book. Thanks for the referral.

3 logan July 8, 2012 at 7:20 pm

i liked it a lot, awesome post

4 Nathan July 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Great article, and just in time! Thank you!

5 Christopher Poole July 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Amazing post. Thank you.

6 John July 8, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I’m tempted to give this book a read, thanks for the insightful post. It does seem like the kind of thing that is best digested in small, measurable doses – reading a few a day and attempting to apply them.

7 Silviu Tulbya July 8, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Very good article. Thank you, Mr. McKay.

8 Cody July 8, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Fantastic! I love little bits of wisdom like this!

9 Adam July 8, 2012 at 10:37 pm

I liked a lot of these, but “Avoid familiarity when dealing with people.” kind of rubbed me wrong. Perhaps I don’t understand what it means by familiarity, but it seems that in today’s culture(well, Western culture), where class and status are a bit less important in dealing with strangers, familiarity can results in mutually positive relationships whether with your boss, or your grocer. Maybe it just depends on priorities.

10 Leif July 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Where you rooting through my boxes? I found this book earlier this week when I was cleaning out some stuff. I had picked up this one up years ago when I worked in a bookstore and loved it. There’s another one by him, I think it’s called A pocket Mirror for Heroes.

11 Calvin July 9, 2012 at 1:30 am

I’d have to agree with Adam. As someone working in ministry (with youth, in particular), I would get nowhere if I followed that maxim. Indeed, the familiarity bred by authentic relationship is key to effective discipleship.

12 Ash July 9, 2012 at 3:13 am

Some of these tips are more appropriate for a businessman or diplomat than a man living his daily life. Avoiding familiarity and bailing out of declining social situations, in particular, would be setting oneself up for failure, rather than trying to make the best of a bad situation.

13 Chris July 9, 2012 at 4:43 am

A great post. Looks like there is a lot of wisdom in these pages.

14 Stephen July 9, 2012 at 4:56 am

Before rushing out to buy this book, it’s available for free as a pdf.
Just google ‘the art of worldly wisdom pdf’.

15 JuanPi July 9, 2012 at 6:26 am

This is good when you leave aside the sexist comments and realize that these maxims can be damaging in certain activities. consider the first one and think about teaching or scinetific research… not so great! not at all.

Thanks for the suggestion. I will get this book (but first I will check if it still has copyright!)

16 MttRobert July 9, 2012 at 6:31 am

I love the title of your post ! “Cunning as a Serpent, Innocent as a Dove” or “Prudentes ut serpentes, simplices ut columbae” in latin is the motto of my town !
It’s come from the Bible (Matthew 10:16).

17 Mr Writing III July 9, 2012 at 7:24 am

Excellent. Thank you!

18 aaron July 9, 2012 at 7:27 am

Well said, Adam.

19 Ryan July 9, 2012 at 7:41 am

I would like to thank you for this. I have been exploring myself these past few weeks, trying to decide who I am now that I am a father and husband. I normally describe myself as husband, father, and biker, but when I try and figure out exactly WHO I am, I come up short. Thank you, maybe this is something I should read.

20 bobster July 9, 2012 at 9:02 am

I believe the writer may mean ‘familiarity’ in the sense of being a glad-hander, one who gushes in a sort of bombastic way, presuming more on a relationship than has actually been established. like character, relationships need to develop over time.

I think that the observation that the writer was aiming more at diplomatic encounters may be correct. If his audience was people in the upper reaches of society, then he was speaking to people who are meeting powerful strangers all the time. This calls for a slightly different social dynamic than most of us are used to.

Am virtually certain that most of his observations can be found in the biblical Book of Proverbs. It’s just that he expands on the aphorisms.

In any case, the work sounds great. am gonna find the .pdf.

21 Chris July 9, 2012 at 9:20 am

Actually, the Bible verse reads ” Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”Matthew 10:16 KJV
The wolves represent the unsaved world we live in. The Christian is supposed to behave cautiously and be harmless. We would do well to read the whole Bible, especially Proverbs, a whole book on “Godly” wisdom.

22 Randall July 9, 2012 at 10:07 am

It’s unsurprising that people no longer understand what it means to avoid familiarity. Men today are plagued by the tendency to “overshare.” There’s no reason to share personal details with your boss or with people you just met or your acquaintances. You only share intimate details with your closest, most trusted friends. A man who blabs about his feelings and posts Facebook updates about the food he eats quickly loses any intrigue and seems like a laughable schmo. And the details he divulges to one and all may come back to bite him. People might think you need to overshare these days to network and be a people person, but human nature doesn’t change. People will be drawn to you more because unlike other men walking around with their hearts on their sleeves, you’ll still be interesting..

23 Dismas July 9, 2012 at 10:12 am

Good Stuff. Although I haven’t read it in many years and my memory of it is weak, this strongly reminds me of Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence.

24 Brad July 9, 2012 at 11:48 am

I bought this book back in the ’80s, as a young paratrooper at Fort Bragg. Having retired from the Army four years ago, I have spent a lot of time poring through it, and can certainly agree it is a valuable resource for all men.

25 Brad July 9, 2012 at 11:58 am

I bought this book back in the ’80s, as a young paratrooper at Fort Bragg. Having retired from the Army four years ago, I have spent a lot of time poring through it in the intermening years, and can certainly agree it is a valuable resource for all men.

26 Valmont July 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I have found that it is better to know of this sort of wisdom, and be able to use it well, than to be ignorant. The most difficult thing is in just, sensible application.

Thank you for the post Brent. I consider this book one of the essential character building readings, and in the same category as the Art of War, the Book of Five Rings, the Letters of Seneca and a few more.

Incidentally, I can find no better writing on human strategy, and a collection of maxims and explanations on maxims, than Robert Greene’s works. The 48 Laws of Power, and the 33 Strategies of War.

27 Richard Williams July 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm

GREAT article, but the admonition was actually:

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” ~ Matthew 10:16

Not to quibble, but I think that’s more appropriate – keep up the great work!

28 Brett McKay July 9, 2012 at 1:11 pm

@Richard-

The International Standard Version says:

“See, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

You might find the translation you gave more appropriate, but I personally prefer the one above.

29 Justin July 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Very enjoyable post. I disagree with JuanPi – in teaching and scientific discoveries both, prudence dictates progressive revelation. A class will pay much closer attention when details are revealed in careful order and timing (math and science included) and it is not necessary to teach calculus with the slope-intercept in Algebra I. For science, speaking too soon and too excitedly has ruined many a career. Take your time and release what you are certain of. There is a reason people wonder about Einstein’s last words – he gave a sense that he knew more than he told.
To the other comments, even in ministry, familiarity can be dangerous. Proverbs 18:24.

30 Jo July 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Love this, a great share and valuable to both sexes. Having integrity, personal boundaries, values and self respect, seem a lost art. It is a balancing act to learn to be open and connected with ones emotions and share appropriately; therefore not be cold & disconnected, but also maintain self identity, resilence and composure: The Yin and Yang. If you like this check out “The Art of War” Sun Tzu: Same concepts different context
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

31 Jake W. July 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm

The wisdom here is refreshingly deep. Every man should read this book or at the least, read this post and soak in each topic. I find it extremely hard to keep the “create suspense” category because of social media and my desire to share my life with the world. However, I’m now rethinking this habit in my life. Thanks for the outstanding post, sharing this wisdom!

32 Ethan July 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I picked up “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” about 4 years ago on a whim and wore it out to the point I had to buy a new copy. An excellent source of timeless wisdom for any man! Glad to see it shared here Mr. Mckay!

33 Vince July 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Very good stuff. While I’m always cautious when it comes to Jesuits, and the verse is, as pointed out by others, quite different from that posted, there is much wisdom to be gained from even the small number of sayings reproduced here.

And having grown up with a father who is the wisest, most spiritual man that I’ve ever met, I can say with certainty that too much familiarity, especially in youth ministry, is very damaging. While I loathe a Nicolaitine “clergy/laity” dichotomy, the elders and pastors are singled out to be sober and to watch carefully. We’re to be leaders, not buddies. We must gain the respect and the honor of those we serve, not necessarily their friendship.

34 Chad July 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Keep it up! Great stuff!

35 Matt July 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Very insightful stuff. Does anyone else get the sense that most of these point towards maintaining one’s reputation? I can’t tell if he treats a good reputation as an end unto itself or if he is hoping to accomplish something with all this respect.

36 Mr. X July 9, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Wow. The consummate article.

37 Gareth July 9, 2012 at 11:53 pm

I had of course heard of Machiavelli but never of Gracian’s maxims. I particularly like the ones regarding the importance of consistency and carrying things through. Thanks for sharing these insights.

38 Zak July 10, 2012 at 5:51 am

Thanks for the post. Which translation is your selection taken from? There are quite a few floating around. Some are quite terrible. Is it the the one you have linked to on Amazon?

39 MattW July 10, 2012 at 7:32 am

Glad to see you follow WDTPRS, too! I read a lot of Gracián in grad school. The man is as current today as he was for the court of Felipe IV.

40 Nick July 10, 2012 at 8:48 am

Very insightful. An excellent balance to Machiavelli.

41 David D. July 10, 2012 at 9:26 am

As in all good things, be careful of excess. The Spanish court eventually followed the reverence of aloofness and dignity to the extremes that helped lead to its downfall from its position as the greatest power in Europe.

42 J. Delancy July 10, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Personally, I think the Western world has become too familiar. All of us pulled down to being spectators of The Kardashians. How and when grace, forbearance, rationality and temperance became unacceptable is a mystery.
I’ll be reading this book and adding some of its maxims to my list:
http://www.writingsofamidlifeman.com/2012/06/24/forty-by-40-the-big-list-of-things-i-learnt-by-the-age-of-forty/

43 Nathan July 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I found electronic versions on an american online library:

http://archive.org/

specifically,

http://archive.org/search.php?query=art%20of%20worldly%20wisdom

Though a paper copy will be much better when I can track it down nearby.

Thanks for the post. Self-help books were so much better 500 years ago…

44 Kenneth Reyes July 11, 2012 at 1:01 am

Thanks for this, I know diligent study and reflection of this post will make me a better man. It’s scary how true these words are, “Never be too lax with yourself” is one I have to work on, at work and school I work hard on my image and character and when I get home I tend to slip. Thank you.

45 P.M.Lawrence July 11, 2012 at 3:06 am

Jake W., we didn’t need to know that you were rethinking that habit.

46 James July 11, 2012 at 3:26 am

You forgot the most important one, the one that sums it all up, is the underlying intention of the whole, and reveals its true and lofty end, namely the last one:
——
In one word, be a Saint. So is all said at once. Virtue is the link of all perfections, the centre of all the felicities. She it is that makes a man prudent, discreet,
sagacious, cautious, wise, courageous, thoughtful,trustworthy, happy, honoured, truthful, and auniversal Hero. Virtue is the sun of the microcosm, and has for
hemisphere a good conscience. She is so beautiful that she finds favour with both God and man. Nothing is lovable but virtue, nothing detestable but vice. Virtue alone is serious, all else is but jest. A man’s capacity and greatness are to be measured by his virtue and not by his fortune. She alone is all-sufficient. She makes men lovable in life, memorable after death.

47 Sasha July 11, 2012 at 10:43 am

Crazy, just bought this book two days ago. Only $2 on Kindle. Looking forward to reading it :)

48 MoT July 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Only Vice is detestable? How absurd when you consider that those who abuse us daily view themselves as “virtuous” for disagreeing or abusing you over what THEY see as a vice. By who’s definition?

49 Bernard Brandt July 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I have long been both a reader and an admirer of Baltasar Gracian y Morales, and applaud the decision of Brett and Kaye McKay to make the former’s works more available.

In the interest of assisting them, may I suggest this wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltasar_Graci%C3%A1n

May I also suggest a source where one can get a free copy in English of Gracian’s Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia (or if you would prefer, The Art of Worldly Wisdom:

http://archive.org/details/artofworldlywisd00gracuoft

And finally, a scholarly website where the author is working on his own translation:

http://des.emory.edu/mfp/Gracian/

Enjoy.

50 Texas Redneck July 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Concerning the objection by ‘Adam’ above to the admonition to ‘Avoid familiarity when dealing with people.’ I think a more apt paraphrase might be to avoid OVER-familiarity. Don’t assume (or presume) priviledge in someone else’s personal affairs unless you genuinely possess it.

51 James July 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Re: Only Vice is detestable? How absurd when you consider that those who abuse us daily view themselves as “virtuous” for disagreeing or abusing you over what THEY see as a vice. By who’s definition?

What is “absurd” is your subjectivism and false reasoning. Considering yourself virtuous is not the same as the reality of being virtuous, just as imagining you are anything whatever proves that you are what you imagine you are.

Next, you are absurd in your relativism: you declare there is no virtue because presumably it is all a subjective evaluation. But your assessment of this situation magically escapes this subjectivism!

52 Troy N> July 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Great post! I saw the mention of James Allen. Here’s a link to the elibrary of Allen’s works. Enjoy.
http://james-allen.in1woord.nl/

53 Andrés July 11, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Buen post…

54 Thomas F July 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm

The book can be viewed for free on google books.

55 Henry Blerka July 11, 2012 at 11:52 pm

It is rare that young people read nowadays. It takes a mind to still learn from books. But it is another thing to know which books to read from. This book is a treasure; thanks for sharing it with us!

56 Sean T. July 14, 2012 at 2:41 am

I really have to say this was amazing. I really looked into myself. Recognized that there are many different changes that need to take place. As a therapist, these changes would be for the best of my clients and myself. I’m still amazed.

57 Sion July 14, 2012 at 6:26 am

Thanks for the tip! I found the complete book also available at Sacred-Texts.com

http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/aww/index.htm

58 Brenton Weyi July 16, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Wonderful and enlightening article. This along with the autonomous man article have inspired to explore similar topics on my writing blog. http://therenaissancemind.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/reviving-happiness/

59 Stewart July 16, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Thanks for the article. As mentioned above, multiple times, these maxims do get a man thinking about some changes in his life. Seems to be a rather complete person who browses this list and says, Yup, that’s me” three hundred times.

60 Cory B in B.A. Ok July 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Thanks for posting this excellent article.

61 Emmerson July 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

Great article very helpful.

62 Drew July 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm

FANTASTIC post!!!

63 Dak January 15, 2013 at 1:03 am

“Take a joke, but don’t make someone the butt of one.” Ahh, reading this paragraph made me think of the time I was in high school. I asked aloud if i could borrow a pan and this girl let me use her own. The pen was a prank one so when I went to click it, the pen electrocuted my hand. I remember being so mad that I handed back the pen and stormed off. I lost my composure, and it cost me. People thought I was mean because I was angry with the girl who did it, but I really just don’t like being electrocuted and laughed at. Shame and Pain is not really a good combination for a prank when it’s for someone whom you hardly know.

64 Night Writer July 8, 2013 at 10:11 am

I found “The Art of Wordly Wisdom” about five years ago at an estate sale. Best $1 I’ve spent. Some of my favorites:

“There is always time to add a word, never to withdraw one.”

“Never open the door to the lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.”

“It is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterwards.”

“Friendship multiplies the good of life and divides the evil.”

65 King Nkan September 27, 2013 at 6:26 am

Thanks for the “As A Man Thinketh” by: James Allen recommendation Edman68

66 Lee October 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I will read the book, since i have it now. But ill readily contest some of these ‘guidelines’ presented. Always apply them to your own life according to your own guidelines, unless you lack these completely but you would not be on this site if that were the case.
-Never complain: just wrong, wont elaborate
- Avoid familiarity: noble but impossible in certain circles, possibly impractical too
-Switching hard for easy ventures and vice versa: impractictal. Never suggest to yourself something is impossible, but recognizing weaknesses is just fine. Talent might be a number, but that ESPECIALLY means we can not become some sort of homo universalis anymore.
-Sometimes for a practical sake, you may have to lose your self-respect. Its ok because most if not all of it is just an ego construct and therefore completely unimportant.

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