Reflections on Aphorisms #32

I’ve been trying to get back into reading Montaigne’s essays. They’re a hard thing to get back into the swing of if you let your inertia slip. I figured I’d take one of the quotes from Montaigne that I highlighted in my volume and go over it today.

Montaigne’s tower. Image from Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Henry Salomé.

Aphorism 55

To follow another is to follow nothing: “Non sumus sub rege: sibi quisque se vindicet.

Montaigne

Interpretation

The Latin portion of this quote comes from Seneca (probably not a coincidence that I would highlight this passage, though my conscious appreciation for Seneca is newborn), and from a larger section of the text in which Montaigne talks about the adoption of philosophical tenets.

I’m somewhat of a follower, insomuch as I have found myself in a situation where I have managed to find people that I agree with, at least in part. Jung, Montaigne, Taleb, and the like are all right in at least part of their assays, their attempts to understand the universe.

In the sentence prior to this statement, Montaigne says that he can agree with people without subjecting his self to oblivion because he has come to an agreement by reaching his own conclusions that match theirs.

There’s truth to this.

Followers make poor members of society.

One of the things that I’ve noticed in almost every book on success is that there’s a tendency for successful people to be servant leaders; they take initiative and do things, but they operate with their own priorities subordinated to others’.

There’s a reason why it makes sense to do this: on one hand, the leader still comes out on top (and so it is that servant leaders are looked to as successful people, because their ability to serve makes them valuable), but it also is very pro-social.

The reason why I bring this up is that servant leaders don’t follow. They lead (and not from behind).

Being able to lead and take initiative is what is required to come to one’s own opinions. If you don’t have this, you will be pulled into the philosophical position of a follower, always floating in the wake of a large movement.

In my own life, I had a long process that led to me becoming who I am today philosophically. I’m fairly agreeable, and I also tend to believe whatever I’m reading at the moment (though not in place of larger existing notions, merely a sort of credulous trust), so I have this follower trend in me. I’m also not the most self-starting; I’m plenty industrious when given directions, but not what one would call a natural leader.

It took a lot for me to begin to pursue my own path. Some of that is a sign of humility (good) and understanding that other people knew more than me (true), but some of it was also sloth (bad) and feeling unworthy of complex judgment and inspection (false, hopefully).

The greatest skill people can have is to be able to make decisions. Preferably they’d do this well, but making decisions instead of going along passively is good by itself.

Resolution

Act, don’t react.

Lead for the benefit of others.

Inertia is either miserable or great; do what it takes for inertia to be great.

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