Reflections on Aphorisms #12

Going to do a series of shorter reflections on aphorisms for a while so that I can focus on other writing, once I get back into a schedule I’ll be doing more. Until mid-week next week I’m going to be doing just one a day, and then perhaps even a tad longer than that.

Aphorism 19

At any stage, humans can thirst for money, knowledge, or love; sometimes for two, never for three.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

The notion that one has to choose priorities is not new. I believe there’s a saying in the Bible that one cannot love both God and money. At very least, it is attributed to the Bible.

I don’t know if it’s necessarily Fair to make so absolute statements about human motivation. One thing that I is that there tends to be almost archetypal layers of being that drive station. This is to say that people have stages of their life in which the desire certain things, and these are not necessarily easily categorized by simply describing them as, say, wealth or family.

However one thing that I have observed, and which seems brilliantly clear, is that people are poor judges of themselves. Shakespeare’s Brutus, in the play “Julius Caesar”, says about himself that the eye sees not its own reflection. This is a metaphor that Brutus uses to explain that he does not pass judgment on himself, or rather, does not allow himself to make judgments as to his own virtue, because it is not something which is easily knowable. It would seem natural the person that we know best is our self, but in reality we tend only to see the first order effects of our actions. It is those around us see who we truly are because they have to deal with the consequences we create.

To get back to the original point, there’s something to be said for the pursuit of the Balanced Life, but it is also something which is unnatural. It is a common tragic trope that a character cannot deal with all the parts of their life that they need to deal with. Because we go through immense changes over the course of Our Lives, the inability to truly assess our own motives and to accurately prioritize many factors of our being poses a great threat to us. This is one of the reasons why the suffering of a tragic hero is so cathartic.

My Life

I often used Carol Pearson’s psychological archetypes (Amazon affiliate link) to teach the Hero’s Journey to my students. The reason for this is that represents transition through a hierarchy of needs.

In my life right now, I am focusing on pursuing knowledge, figuring out more the truths of reality while also mastering my trade of writing and teaching.

One thing that’s interesting about Pearson’s archetypes is that she presents the notion that a highly successful person achieves balance, but each archetype has a sort of order in which they come.

The ideal is to transcend the limitations that come with uncertainty. In the works of Jung and other analytical psychologists, there’s often this concept of a balance between order and chaos.

In my own life, I seek to find the balance between these things. Having too much order breeds limitation. One never learns how to truly live if one only follows rules. Too much chaos, one and can never really pursue purpose. It is lost inside the void.

Pearson presents the Sage and the Fool as the final archetypes in development. We would associate these with wisdom. The Sage pursues the right order of the universe, and the Fool its potential.

When I was a child I was referred to as old for my age. Some people even called me wise, though I believe this was perhaps more because I parroted what they wanted to hear than because of any particular merit of my own upon later reflection. In any case, I value wisdom highly, something that has been impressed upon me since I was a child reading the Bible story of King Solomon.

To get back to the point, I think that there is a distinction between setting a goal, which can be clearly focused on something like wealth or family, and finding meaning, which is more holistic in nature.

Resolution

Work towards clear goals.

Reorient frequently enough that I do not lose sight of what is important.

Go beyond what is comfortable.

Reflections on Aphorisms #11

Going to do a series of shorter reflections on aphorisms for a while so that I can focus on other writing, once I get back into a schedule I’ll be doing more. Until mid-week next week I’m going to be doing just one a day, and then perhaps even a tad longer than that.

Aphorism 18

You know you have influence when people start noticing your absence more than the presence of others.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

This quote stuck out to me. Part of having influence is not necessarily this Machiavellian notion of control, but rather making yourself useful or interesting. The result of that is that there is an incentive to help others. Influence isn’t necessarily about being on top, but it’s about being part of life.

One of the things that I’ve noticed, when I worked with kids, is that outside of a strict social hierarchy whether or not someone is important tends to come down to whether or not they provide something to other people. As someone who considers himself a fan of capitalism, this is not that different from my approach to business. The act of changing things makes you influential. From there, you can decide whether you want to be positive in your influence or negative, if you are clever enough and wise enough to choose to do so.

It’s worth noting that tell that doesn’t necessarily say whether it is good or bad to be influential. Sometimes you want to be the quiet unnoticed person, though I think this is rarer than some people would suggest.

Part of the challenge that comes with influence is the responsibility it carries. Choosing to be quiet and unnoticed can often be a self-deceptive escape from responsibility. At the very least, he can be a waste of potential.

In this context, it is almost always better to be influential than not.

My life

In my own personal life, I found it beneficial to always be doing small favors for people. This started because I am too polite to say no when met with a reasonable request, but not only do I find it enjoyable, but has the added side effect of making people generally like me or at least pretend to like me so they continue to do favors for them. In any case I do not obsess over the issue because pretending to like someone and liking them have very similar effects.

I have also found that the inverse corollary of this is important. If you don’t have an impact on someone and you are not influential, it creates a situation that most people would prefer not find themselves in. I think this often with students I’ve had. Children are surprisingly honest, though not necessarily by choice. When someone who is not influential is absent, children will mention but they did not even notice the absence.

One of the important psychological needs is the need to feel significant. This is often made too much of, but there is some truth to it. I often wonder if the people who my pupils would not notice missing realize this. Generally they tend not to be the happiest of their group, whether teachers or students themselves.

Resolution

Behave in a way that is meaningful to others.

Identify needs and meet them.

Do today what will be felt tomorrow.

Reflections on Aphorisms #10

Going to do a series of shorter reflections on aphorisms for a while so that I can focus on other writing, once I get back into a schedule I’ll be doing more. Until mid-week next week I’m going to be doing just one a day, and then perhaps even a tad longer than that.

Aphorism 17

Mediocre men tend to be outraged by small insults but passive, subdued, and silent in front of very large ones.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that people who think they have something to prove try very hard to do so.

When I was a teacher (this no longer applies to me as of today, and I hope to be a teacher again once the current arc of my saga draws to a conclusion), I noticed that students who were under-performing would rarely deny their greater problems, but would make up for it with bluster in meaningless things.

I think that some of this comes from the following notion: if one has not done the due diligence to find priorities and work on them, they won’t fix them. However, there is a universal desire to be good, or at least above average. One student (who was actually decent, but created a sort of cult of mediocrity around himself) created a scatological analogy by saying that he was the “turd that floats to the top”, but this isn’t actually how mediocre people tend to react to their own mediocrity.

Instead, status symbols and irrelevant comparisons are the main point, while the things that should take a high priority are left more or less ignored.

My Life

I’m perfect and have nothing to change.

I kid. One of the things that I’ve noticed about myself is that I have a tendency to sweat the small details. I remember when I was in college and working on my PHP-based interactive fiction platform that I was trying to figure out the most optimal way to do things well before I actually had a working prototype.

The kicker here is that the whole system was, to my knowledge, never subject to more than a single user at a time. So, basically, I was going over the small things.

This isn’t quite the same as bearing insults, but I think it follows. Taleb talks about “Mediocristan”–the place in which events have a very predictable range of consequences–and “Extremistan”–the counterpart in which events can have incredibly unpredictable outcomes–frequently in his work.

I spend a lot of time ignoring Extremistan for Mediocristan, and the consequence of this is that I sweat over little things that aren’t going to have a lot of impact (like whether I eat 400 or 415 calories at a meal).

It’s not that I intentionally ignore big-risk things, but I run into human limitations because of my focus on things that bear little risk and little reward.

I do think that in a personal sense, though, I’m good about insults. I’m willing to accept criticism, and I’ll even accept a certain amount of unproductive criticism (working with kids does that to you) without sweating it.

Resolution

Don’t focus on small things for more than they’re worth.

Remember that your first impression is designed to give you a good feel for what things are.

Organize your priorities and cut the wasteful expenditures.

Reflections on Aphorisms #9

Today I’ve just got one aphorism to discuss, and it’s not one that I took from a book of aphorisms.

It’s Virgil’s old time-honored quote “Omnia vincit amor” (Love conquers all) that has been on my mind recently (the sixteenth aphorism, by my count, that I will give my treatment to).

Interpretation

I went back and read the context of this one, in part because it’s important to make sure that you get the feel for the right kind of love that’s being discussed when you’re translating from classical languages.

In this case, Virgil’s talking about love in sort of the common English sense: romantic entanglement, mostly.

Whenever I hear a lot of discussion of love, my thoughts go to Corinthians and its breakdown of love, but Virgil here is talking about something distinct from what the Apostle Paul was talking about.

In this case, it’s talking about romantic love, but also about passion, and making a rather bold statement.

Now, I think there’s two ways to interpret this:

  1. This is bluster of the sort that lovers engage in.
  2. This is a philosophical statement about the world.

From the context, it almost seems like this is more the former than the latter. However, in a sort of Chesterton-choosing-to-enjoy-the-fine-things-of-life manner I think it’s also philosophical.

Omnia vincit amor could be viewed almost in a way as a sort of carpe diem, the notion that passion should be respected and followed rather than just suppressed.

My Life

I’m a life-long bachelor. It’s not that I’ve never contemplated having a romantic relationship, it’s just that I’m not hugely invested in getting into one.

I’m getting older, though, and I’m being forced to realize that I’m not necessarily on the path I want to be on forever. Especially as I look within myself I realize that I’m somewhat of a self-absorbed person, not in the sense that I’m necessarily vain and petty, since I am quite conscientious in most ways, but that I like to sort of plan around me and not necessarily other people.

And I often feel quite bad about that and get self-conscious about it, which is a sort of natural consequence. I’m capable of empathy and whatnot, I’m just very introverted and if I weren’t sort of naturally sensitive I’m sure I’d be a huge pain in the butt to be around (as it stands I’m usually able to avoid harming anyone’s feelings because I’m so soft, unless I get riled up).

All absolutes suck.

It’s a rule.

They’ll never account for everything.

As such, I don’t think I agree with Virgil’s statement. People are powerful, and passion can lead them to great things, but love isn’t some metaphysical guiding force.

However, I long for the state of mind in which I could agree with Virgil.

Resolution

Don’t suppress passion.

Seek meaning outside myself.

Open my shell.

Reflections on Aphorisms #8

Just one today, but it’s one that I can write about a fair deal.

Aphorism 15

To become a philosopher, start by walking very slowly.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed Of Procrustes

Interpretation

I don’t think this is meant to be taken in a strictly literal sense, though it might not be the end of the world to do so.

I think it has to do with understanding value.

If you value things that are related to activity, you will live a life of activity.

This is not bad. Actions prove ideals.

However, ideals cannot flow from actions (or, perhaps it is better to say: ideals that are good do not typically flow from action).

By pursuing action rather than ideal, you put the cart before the horse.

Philosophers devote intentional time and effort to deliberate thought, and they are willing to invest the time to do so. That’s time spent reading and reflecting, time spent ruminating on concepts.

If you want to become a philosopher, taking a more passive approach is good. You don’t observe when you are obsessed with the change you want to bring.

My Life

I was (briefly) nicknamed “The Terminator” in high school because I have a tendency to power-walk, a trait which, when combined with a trench coat, led to the nickname. I also tended to be fairly expressionless because I was lost in thought most of the time, but I don’t think that was the origin.

The fact that I am a mostly harmless nerdy kid probably contributed to the end of the nickname, since the only way that anyone was in danger because of my actions was myself on account of poor diet (I wasn’t fantastically overweight, but the only way my diet could have been considered balanced would have been if I held it funny).

In any case, I hope that this does not disqualify me from being a philosopher. I still have a tendency to be ruthlessly efficient, and I try to avoid navel-gazing over everyday events.

Of course, the reason why I do this is because I know that I have the counter-part to it in me. I have the Millenial fixation with losing sleep over something that happened over a decade ago (like basically anything I did in middle school which I can still remember; embarrassment seems to be a strong driver of memory, which I should know from reading so much psych), and I have to work hard to not spend too much time looking into an infinite void of potential and doubt.

In any case, I think I definitely need to consider slowing down a little, not necessarily in terms of work but in terms of other things. I’ve noticed that I’m afraid of being bored, and I’m not sure that’s a way I want to be.

Resolution

Be willing to commit to quiet.

If my cat were still around, I’d spend time cuddling her. As is, a quiet cup of tea may have to suffice.

Cut out noise, find signal.

Reflections on Aphorisms #7

Another day, another bunch of aphorisms.

I’m moving up to four, because I think that’s a good number for a day. I don’t know if I’ll keep this pace forever, but today’s a day I feel like doing more writing than usual.

Aphorism 11

To understand how something works, figure out how to break it.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

One thing I remember from a book on psychology is that there is a tendency to ignore that which works as expected.

Many of the things which we observe are the product of processes that are opaque to us.

When something breaks, we get to see inside it in a special way. We do not even need to break it entirely, but just contemplate the breaking, anticipating what the consequences of an unusual event would be on something we otherwise take for granted.

My Life

I tend to be prone to anxiety, so I maybe have an alternate side of this equation: I obsess over how things can break, and that means I don’t always even see how they work.

However, I think there’s also something to be said for my life being a product of a comfortable routine. I tend to do the same things day after day.

One of the things that also could be applied to this is that I’m so prone to rigidity that I don’t permit myself a chance to consider what could otherwise be if something were to change.

We often think of people who view the world as opportunities for the strong to triumph over the weak as cynical, but there’s also something to be said for looking for vulnerabilities so that they can be healed: this is the origin of all reform.

Resolution

Don’t fear chaos.

Subvert my expectations.

Search for weakness everywhere.

Aphorism 12

A prophet is not someone with special visions, just someone blind to most of what others see.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

Much of what we regard as innovation comes from trying to do something without following previous paths.

For every person who has managed to invent a new technology by incremental improvement, there is another person who has found the way by going through a paradigm shift from others’ approaches.

For a darker twist, prophets don’t have the good sense to leave good enough alone. The saying that no man is a prophet in his own country is because the prophets get killed in their own countries.

Also, Taleb’s known to be something of a contrarian, and one could probably point out that seeing differently does not necessarily differ from seeing in a special way.

My Life

A friend of mine told me that I was a man of vision the other day.

I’m not entirely sure what that means.

I do, however, identify with the being blind to what others see.

I’ve never felt a need to follow others or conform (aside from the agreeable part of my personality, which is strong; the difference is that I hate confrontation, not that I like conforming), and that may have something to do with it.

I also have a spirit of “I’ll do it myself.”

Like, as a game designer I want to make my own thing. I’ve occasionally built off of something someone else created, but only for smaller projects.

When I take inspiration, it’s often from the most minute of sources. I’ll borrow a dice mechanic, but not a lot of the intervening structure.

That’s not to say I throw everything away and strive to be different, I just have no qualms with ignoring how other people do things. Often I blend a bunch of little pieces together.

Resolution

Go against the flow.

Look beyond conventional wisdom.

Never forget that what you know to be right is not necessarily right.

Aphorism 13

The man who listens to reason is lost: reason enslaves all whose minds are not strong enough to master her.

George Bernard Shaw, quoted in The Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

I think that this ties in to the things that Taleb said about approaching from vulnerabilities in the sense that we tend to look at things from a very fixed perspective.

Shaw is an interesting figure, given that he tended to be a bit of a political loudmouth in his day, and he was perhaps one of the people who we would consider a defender of reason, which makes this quote seem paradoxical.

Chesterton would argue that Shaw just doesn’t have any consistent worldview, and the two were frenemies in that way, but I think there’s maybe something more deep here.

Shaw isn’t saying that logic is bad, but that we have a tendency to rationalize. Our reasoning is easily bent to corrupt purposes, rather than the best path.

My Life

I am someone who tends to be what I would describe as “rational” in focus.

I don’t have the hubris to believe that everything I believe or think is correct. This may not be clear to an outside observer (after all, I write prolifically about my life and what I think), but keep in mind that most of my writing is more of an exercise in holding myself accountable than an exercise in proclaiming mastery in wisdom and knowledge (when I write a book, that’ll be the statement of mastery).

I was thinking about this the other day, because my intuition is really repressed. It’s not that I don’t get feelings about things, it’s that I’ve become so used to just squelching them that I ignore what could be good opportunities to break out of patterns (e.g. not applying for freelancing work for basically forever until it just fell into my lap).

Resolution

Don’t justify things. If they can’t stand on their own, they shouldn’t stand.

Break the mold and throw it away.

Follow passion.

Aphorism 14

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Socrates, quoted in The Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

For most of my life I’ve thought this was sort of self-serving.

However, now I think I interpret it differently.

This is perhaps history’s most profound way of saying “Don’t be an idiot.”

We like to see this saying as a cornerstone of Western philosophy, but I don’t think that the Greeks necessarily thought of their philosophy in the same way that we do.

I think they were going after better ways of life (this is non-controversial), but that there wasn’t really any elevation to it. Being a philosopher was just another way to say that you were prominent in public morality and ethics, not that one was set apart.

My Life

I like to think that my life’s pretty well examined.

Of course, I don’t know how true this is, strictly speaking. I’ve got a lot of things that I have to work through, and I’m pretty self-reliant in my efforts.

I’ve often thought about psychoanalysis. I’ve never been psychoanalyzed, and I don’t (believe myself to) have any symptoms of psychological disruption. That’s not to say that I’m particularly free of vice, but my vice is natural and mainline (e.g. I’m typically pretty lazy and I don’t resist the temptation of sweets well).

I’ve read a lot of Jung (relative to the average person), and also some of his followers’ work, a little Freud, and other modern psychology books, and not just the pop psych stuff. This has just been for casual enjoyment, not as a student or future practitioner, but I find it interesting.

I often find that I’m more interesting than I think I am, and my motives are more complex than I believed them to be. I often have vivid dreams that I’m willing to say are my subconscious, and I’ve often seen recurring symbols and patterns in them. Not just the common “Oh crap, I’m late to class!” anxiety dream, but some really surreal things.

For instance, I’ve noticed animal symbolism; the cat seems to represent some aspect of my subconscious, and mythical and realistic cats feature prominently in my dreams as guides. Birds are another recurring symbol, often of chaos or naive desirous destruction (think of the depiction of Frankenstein’s monster accidentally killing an innocent–something which is a later invention and not in the original story–I often play such a role, often to a hawk or eagle).

There are places that feature prominently in my dreams as well; my childhood home (no surprise there), but also places that I know but have never seen. I was told as a child that nobody could invent something wholly from their own mind and would require a stimulus to invent something. This bothered me quite a bit, because my vivid dreams, which my studies of Jung have convinced me are a function of the subconscious, have been with me most of my life, and have indeed dwindled and fallen off over the years.

When I was a child, I was often convinced that these dreams had a prophetic quality, that there was something about the dream world that could reflect unseen elements of a larger reality. I only raised these beliefs once or twice, and both times the response was such that I never mentioned them again.

The story of Joseph, who interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh, was one that resonated strongly with me for this reason. As a devout Christian, I follow the orthodox position that God sent Joseph the gift of interpreting dreams, but that does not mean that the Jungian method of viewing the dream as a channel to the subconscious is necessarily incorrect, and psychoanalysis may actually have a very similar practical effect.

Of course, fortune tellers can always be right if you wait for the situation to fit the prediction.

Resolution

Don’t do anything I can’t explain (though I don’t have to justify it).

Look deeply at things.

Never run when a walk suffices.

Reflections on Aphorisms #6

Another day, another set of reflections.

Aphorism 9

What I learned on my own I still remember.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

There’s a stark difference between education and learning.

One of the foundations of learning is engagement. If someone doesn’t pay attention, they don’t learn.

A lot of our school system is based on things that aren’t engaging to students, which is why the focus is on rote repetition and memorization (though less so than in the past, and our level of engagement is perhaps no higher).

Another part of this is that there’s an element of activity in doing, rather than just passive reception, which fosters greater memory.

My Life

I read incessantly. More or less incessantly. Okay, I read a lot. Not infinitely, but certainly more than average. I’ve been aiming for a book a week, and I don’t necessarily keep up with that on a micr0-scale but I certainly keep it up on a yearly scale.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that I don’t remember a majority of what I learned in school. I’ve probably forgotten a lot of what I learned on my own as well.

However, it’s certainly a lot less painful to forget something I read than something I paid to learn.

Oh, and of course, the few things I remember from school were the most interesting to me. Anything I was forced to learn I only remembered if it turned out to be surprisingly pleasant.

Montaigne may have been right.

Resolution

Be surprised by some new learning every day.

Strive to learn, and learn outside my bubble.

Do, don’t observe.

Aphorism 10

“For example” is not proof.

Yiddish proverb, from The Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

One of the things that I discussed with an acquaintance today is how modern history curriculum sucks because it tries to be causal.

They try to justify their existence by looking at patterns and then putting together links and a chain of events.

I’ve been reading through Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto, and the current book I’m on, The Black Swan (Amazon affiliate link), covers this as one of the fallacies of reasoning that stem from human limitations.

I think it’s also a tendency to like to justify knowledge beyond just what it is good for. Knowing things is beneficial, but people have this tendency to be restless with information, to stretch and interpret it until they are left not with the original but rather an interpretation of it, having forgotten the objective fact in favor of the worldview’s supporting pillar.

This has self-evident risks, because if the process goes wrong it can go dreadfully wrong.

My Life

I am guilty of having “For example” in my top ten phrases.

Now, to be fair, I tend to use it literally in the sense of providing an example.

I don’t typically care to win arguments.

No, that’s untrue.

I don’t typically care to argue. When I do I like winning.

But I don’t argue, and most of the time I give an example it’s not to prove my point but simply to clarify what I mean.

With that said, I’m not making this an “agree with every aphorism” thing but rather a “reflect on every aphorism” thing, and I think I’ll partially disagree with this.

Evidence is good.

Bad evidence is bad.

Resolution

When I give an example to try to prove something, I will make sure it actually proves my point.

Don’t mistake the tree for the forest.

Trust with hesitation.

Reflections on Aphorisms #5

Another day, another bunch of aphorisms. I’m hoping to get on a schedule of just doing an aphorism or two as a morning routine (namely, reading them in the evening and writing about them in the following morning), but if I’m being honest I can’t get the reflection process down to a consistent amount of time.

That’s probably better than forcing it, though.

Aphorism 7

Writing is the art of repeating oneself without anyone noticing.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

I’m not sure if Taleb is being sardonic here or not, but I’m going to treat this as a sort of double edged statement.

On one hand, we know that the brain is relatively poor at taking in abstract information. It requires repetitive exposure to a complex concept or environment to form what we would call an accurate picture, and even then you need some variance in input data or you can end up with a faulty understanding.

It also helps to have solid arguments based on facts, and rather than just blurt out all the information at once and then try to address all the points at the end. The interspersed presentation means that you do wind up going through a cyclical presentation that leads to some duplication of previous ideas.

The other side of the coin is that writers often blather, especially those of us who are paid by the word or are particularly verbose. However, our brains get bored of hearing the same thing over and over, and to make our work “worth it” we need to keep people from realizing that we generally don’t have that many good ideas.

My Life

This is basically me, though I think it’s a little more complicated. I believe in constant revision and analysis, so I often repeat myself.

There’s also the blog format I’ve used for much of my writing, which requires a certain repetitive element because even entries in a series of posts are not necessarily going to be read together, so important concepts need to be repeated.

There is an upside to this, however, which is that you move toward perfecting your ideas. As a teacher, I often found myself wishing I had taught differently and finding a better method after finishing a lesson.

Writing is like that too. You stay dynamic, but you lean on the same core body of work. If you do too much variety you wind up devaluing your own expertise by stretching it too thin.

Resolution

Make what I have to say be worth reading, perhaps even more than once.

Keep in mind that I have my limits, and balance novelty with depth.

Consider whether what I have been said has already been said better. Learn from exemplars.

Aphorism 8

Late resounds what early sounded.

Goethe, quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

Goethe was one of the earliest members of what in America we just call the Romantic movement (technically he was part of the Sturm und Drang movement in Germany), and while he wasn’t necessarily a true member in the sense that he “grew out of it” as it were, he was nonetheless quite influential in the form of his Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werther, the latter of which I’ve had to read more than twice in my college career.

One of the ideas of the Romantics is that you have an inner guiding star that you should follow, which sort of sounds like me when I’m waxing poetic.

However, it’s worth thinking of them as being somewhat reactionary. They were among the first nationalists (before most of the negative things began to be associated with nationalism), and really believed in finding a cause, even if it meant finding destruction along with them.

Another way of putting it is that they’re very into the “die young, leave a beautiful corpse” way of life. The Sorrows of Young Werther sparked a suicide wave that would make 13 Reasons Why look like a palliative (though that doesn’t make either good for society), though now we can look at it in a little more detached a fashion–Goethe himself was the basis for Werther, and he was attempting to chronicle his mistakes, so the protagonist’s suicide was actually a hypothetical exercise in idiocy in an otherwise autobiographical work, one that Goethe himself tried to make a counter-example rather than a role model.

To get to the aphorism, however, I think that this really does tie in with the Romantic period’s prevailing philosophy in the sense that greatness tends to start early. If it’s something that’s put off, odds are it will stay put off forever.

My Life

I’m not sure I’ve followed this well. I’m still “young”, but I’m probably not young enough to be on the earlier side of this analysis.

However, I think there is something to be said here by translating it away from the language of time and into the language of procedure: “What is begun will likely continue.”

Basically, if one behaves like a child forever, one will be treated like a child forever. If one is wise in youth, they will stay wise.

I don’t know that this is an absolute, but it’s certainly something that’s measurable and observable in life. My friends who were highly disciplined in college about doing what was meaningful for them (even if that meant dropping out of college) remain on a path that brings them meaning, and those that were not find themselves in flux and with less success.

I, as someone who falls in the middle of this equation (I am good at doing what has been suggested for me, but not at finding my own path), find myself in a situation now where I have a chance to really make a name for myself and find opportunity.

Resolution

Seize the day and work toward greatness.

Strive to do today what I want to do tomorrow.

Make plans to build a better future, but don’t worry about what comes next.

Reflections on Aphorisms #4

Figured out yesterday’s aphorism that I couldn’t get a satisfying break-down of, so that’ll be one of the two today (it’s the Taleb one).

Aphorism 5

The most depressing aspect of the lives of the couples you watch surreptitiously arguing in restaurants is that they are almost always unaware of the true subject of argument.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes (Amazon affiliate link)

Interpretation

I’m not really in a significant relationship, so I’m not going to cover the relationship aspect of this so much as a simple truth here:

You don’t necessarily know what you’re looking at until you put it into words, and even then you might have done it wrong.

I think that a lot of arguments arise from what goes unsaid on purpose, and what goes unsaid on accident, and this aphorism deals with the latter.

You need to have a good identification with a life of meaning to really notice when things have gone astray.

My Life

Today was my last regular day as a classroom teacher for the foreseeable future. I’m doing some freelance writing in the immediate future and then I’ll be getting back to school to complete a master’s or maybe a doctorate program.

And, to be honest, it’s painful to say goodbye. It’s been an emotionally draining week for a variety of reasons, and teaching is just emotionally draining in general, but the fact remains that it’s still something that brings a lot of meaning to my life.

I wouldn’t say that I regret leaving; this is the perfect time to make a move for me, since I still retain almost no financial obligations except to myself.

However, it’s certainly not easy. Most of the kids were pretty sad to see me go, even more so than I expected (to be honest, since almost none of them were going to have me next year unless something changed in my position, I didn’t expect quite so much of a response).

I’ve probably had something like two hundred and fifty or three hundred students in the past couple years, and it’s sort of crazy to think about not seeing most of them after next week.

But, of course, such is the nature of things. If there is any lesson I’ve learned at a dear cost this past week, it’s that you can’t always anticipate change, so the best you can do is accept it.

Reflections

Find the hidden and secret things that have a tendency to sneak up on my life.

Never forget how meaningful the teaching experience has been in my life, even if more lucrative opportunities come along later.

Value authenticity, pierce the veil of easy explanations.

Aphorism 6

A book calls for pen, ink, and a writing desk; today the rules is that pen, ink, and a writing desk call for a book.

Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

This is another aphorism that begs context. I think that it’s referring to the way in which we interact with books, namely comparing the act of reading and reflecting on things.

Nietzsche is often very concerned about the advent of modernity, and I think that part of this is the transition from having eyes on the past to focusing on the future.

Part of the old tradition is to go into texts as an end to itself. The contemplation on and analysis of the old masters is got necessarily lower than striving for personal mastery.

This is a lot of what Montaigne does in his essays, but while Montaigne may be “the first modern” in his philosophy and interests, he is also distinctly classical in his methods.

Now the fashion is to create and change, to pursue power before wisdom and influence before virtue.

My Life

I am beginning to write a book. I may not finish it, since I may find it unfit, but I am perhaps falling into what Nietzsche is warning about here.

However, I think that I’m not all bad.

Obvious self service aside, I feel blessed to have an inquisitive mind. I enjoy digging deep into everything, and I am reaching a point soon where I can pursue self perfection as a primary goal.

Resolution

Don’t waste my current shot at self improvement.

Learn from others.

Make sure that nothing I do stems from mere desire to do but rather from purpose.

Reflections on Aphorisms #3

Just one aphorism today, because one of the ones I looked over I couldn’t really come up with a good response to. Feel free to check out yesterday’s reflections.

Aphorism 4

“Self is the Gorgon. Vanity sees it in the mirror of other men and lives. Pride studies it for itself and is turned to stone.”

G.K. Chesterton, from the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

I don’t think it’s really necessary to bring my own thoughts to this matter. I’ve read a couple things by Chesterton; the one that I remember best is Heresy (Amazon affiliate link; free!), which is not actually a matter of Christian theology but rather what one could call reactionary social commentary, although that makes it out to be more negative than it is.

I think there’s actually something to be drawn from the context of Chesterton’s work here: the love of the self is the root of vanity, and if you really love yourself (in an improper fashion) you can wind up forgetting your flaws.

This is why people make poor, over-reaching decisions that wind up becoming regrets for them without considering the fact that their efforts could go to ruin.

My Life

I’m sort of in a fortunate middle ground here. I at least profess some moderate view of myself, and I think that I’m fairly good at seeing myself humbly, but I have also heard others say things to me about myself that seem more positive than might be accurate.

I’ve traded my safe, reliable life for one of risk, but one which also bears more chance for self-advancement and more chances at exceptional success. I believe the current level of risk to be quite low, but it depends on me pushing myself to be something more than average–perhaps even much more than average–so I’d better whip myself into shape and keep going toward that.

I think there’s also a call for humility here. You don’t want to elevate yourself above others. There’s a grounding in humanity that you need to remember. Because I manage to make my dreams come true and someone else lacks the drive, capacity, or fortune to do the same does not make me superior, except in the sense that I may be happier than they. Likewise, I may even be less happy than someone who appears less successful than I, because the way that I measure success is deeply personal.

Resolution

Keep my head out of the clouds (preferably under them, except when contemplating the divine).

Remember that even if I turn myself into someone who is uniquely exceptional, I may not be uniquely superior.

Never lose sight of my own weaknesses. Even as I strive for improvement, I am sure to always find new flaws in myself.