Reflections on Aphorisms #88

Wrote this earlier in the day, so I haven’t had a chance to see how the day went yet. By all indications, though, today will be a good day. I forced myself to just sit on the couch and write for a few hours (a handful of ~5 minute breaks aside), which means that my productivity has hit a level that I am honestly a little surprised by myself.

At the time of writing I’ve written around three-thousand words (perhaps even a good chunk more) and it’s not even noon.

Aphorism 126

The evil that we do does not attract to us so much persecution and hatred as our good qualities. (Maxim 29)

François de La Rochefoucauld


The other day (link to my post), I wrote about Rochefoucauld’s observations on jealousy and envy and I think that there’s some truth to it when you view it by means of this maxim.

I think that it’s particularly true in modern society, and perhaps in Rochefoucauld’s society too, that people have a tendency not to focus on the negatives that people do.

Some of this stems from good, some from evil.

On one hand, we ignore the faults in others because it would be hypocritical of us to condemn them. We still have faults in our own persons, and it is right that we hold off on a certain degree of judgment. We may also be overly optimistic, trusting others and giving them grace when their actions do not line up with their ideals. That we don’t know for sure what their ideals are is a problem that keeps me up at night, but it’s a matter for deeper philosophy than I have a desire to get into before noon.

We may also lack the virtue required to see faults for what they are. If we do something wrong, we justify and rationalize it, or at the very least shamefully hide it. When we see others in the same sin, we defend them as we would defend ourselves. We argue that it isn’t so bad. We come up with a legitimate goal that it furthers. We ignore it so we do not have to confront it.

More dangerously, we may also feel that it is not our place to help our fellow humans. We can look at those adrift and argue that we were never appointed as their moral arbiters. Of course, we should not trample on the freedoms of others.

There’s an idea in certain interpretations of Judaism and Christianity that there’s a provision of free will because God wants humanity to be free to choose or reject the divine will. All the evil and suffering in the world exists because without the ability to suffer we would never be able to reject God. Suffering flows from rejection of God, but a perfect world would be the destroyer of all virtue because nobody would do anything except absolutely surrender to God.

To force others to morality has the same effect as removing their free will. It may be necessary in certain cases (e.g. to prevent the violent from preying on the innocent), but it is not a morally good act of itself outside the context of protecting people.

One of the reasons why we turn criticism of people toward their virtues is that a flawed virtue is obvious but also something which is acceptable to talk about. If you tear into someone for being an alcoholic, you look cruel. If you point out that someone who is generally honest lied about something important, you look like a defender of those poor souls that they might exploit without your warning. You can argue that you are not condemning their character (even though you are) and instead claim that it is all about their actions.

Nobody is perfectly virtuous. My best “virtues” come from a lack of temptation and appeal rather than mastery of the self. I am sure that this is replicated in other people. When I was a youth, people praised me for my pursuit of wisdom, but I was really more afraid of being a fool than I was desirous of wisdom.

In this light, what is the correct course of action?

To recognize virtue in others and praise it.

To recognize vice in the self and in others and seek to eliminate it.

To speak openly without condemnation or flattery.


Seek to pursue virtues where I have vices.

Don’t forget that evil motives can drive seemingly good actions; they corrupt them entirely, but that is not immediately obvious.

Grant some grace. Some. Do not go so far that you permit people to become victims.

Reflections on Aphorisms #86

Today was a productive day.

I’m glad to be able to say that.

I had probably the weirdest dream I’ve had in a long time last night. I’m not sure what the meaning is. Probably “Don’t eat anything spicy right before bed.”

For what it’s worth, I do kind of enjoy dreaming, when it is fantastic. It’s like a front-row seat at a really surreal theater.

Aphorism 124

The hate of favourites is only a love of favour. The envy of NOT possessing it, consoles and softens its regrets by the contempt it evinces for those who possess it, and we refuse them our homage, not being able to detract from them what attracts that of the rest of the world. (Maxim 55)

François de La Rochefoucauld


Envy is one of my least vices, in part because I’ve always been a little frugal in my tastes and in part because I just find myself to be unusually grateful when I force myself to slow down and look at things.

Of course, I’m probably one of Rochefoucauld’s “favorites” in the sense that I’ve been lucky and fortunate, with a certain amount of prudence learned from others’ examples and a dab of talent that I don’t typically put to good use.

It makes sense then that I shouldn’t be too envious: my main goal is to be my best self, and while I’m not terribly good at that it also stands to reason that most other people are not going to be the best possible version of me and I won’t feel jealous of them.

Though, I will say, going to GenCon and seeing a bunch of other professionals in the games industry gave me perhaps the closest thing to envy I’ve ever had, though I was still more grateful to meet people than I was jealous of their success.

Reading Scum and Villainy (affiliate link), a quite excellent game that I picked up at GenCon, made me a little envious. It’s very similar in many ways to my Waystation Deimos (affiliate link) in terms of mechanics (I think they share some DNA, but I’m not really familiar with how Blades in the Dark and the Resistance system are related) but they have a lot of great ideas that I never even thought of, so I’m just a wee bit jealous of them.

Of course, that’s more of a “Oh hey, you had the idea I wanted to have” moment and I think there’s some room for healthy expression there. It’s not necessarily that one is envious, one learns from the masters.

What I think Rochefoucauld is getting at is when people become bitter over the differences between them in a social sense. Certainly I know people who seem to have had more success for their efforts than I have, and I think that this is a pretty common experience in the human condition.

Jordan Peterson once said something about comparing yourself to other people, and he pointed out that in every person’s life by the time they’re thirty you’re going to be able to draw something like a dozen different axes of comparison between you and them.

For every one in which you’re inferior, there’s probably one in which you’re superior.

And that overlooks the fact that any inferiority may be your own fault. Right now I’m not a famous or successful writer or game designer, but that may be as much due to my own skills as to any lack of exposure and networking.

If you seem inferior to someone in every way, perhaps the best response is to admire them instead of envying them. It will give you the clarity to pursue the same path that they walk, and adapt it to your own way intelligently and without deceit. It enables you to have conversations openly and without the desire to score points and inflict wounds, which makes you much more pleasant to be around.


Admire those who do what I wish to do better than I do.

Compare on multiple points, or don’t compare at all.

Count blessings.