Reflections on Aphorisms #76

I’ve decided to spend some time going over François de La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes (Project Gutenberg link). I’m not going to necessarily do them exclusively for a while, but I’m going to pick through the ones that interest me and give them my treatment.

My dream life has become more vivid of late. I always view that as a mixed bag. I’m a fan of the Jungian theory that many dreams are messages from the unconscious mind, and they’re not always a sign that things are going well. On the other hand, I enjoy having dreams and they haven’t seemed particularly malign, so I’m hoping they hold some hidden potential for me.

Aphorism #114

We have all sufficient strength to support the misfortunes of others. (Maxim 19)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

I like to rant a lot about vices and the limits of humanity, but today I want to take a more positive approach and talk about what we’re good for.

I generally believe that people have a self-deceptive view of themselves that glosses over failings and projects them on others (or elements within the self which are innocent of vice), and that tends to make for a depressing subject matter. I swear I’m more upbeat in person.

But one of the things about this failure to perceive the self is that it also means that our virtues go unnoticed.

One of the things that people don’t realize is that they have power that enables them to be good.

I see a lot of people who fall into nihilistic and bitter philosophies. They oppose things for the sake of opposing them, falling into an Adversary archetype (which is something that merits discussion at a later date).

These people often have an under-developed sense of their own potential and their own virtues. It’s worth noting that it is possible for a person to lack virtue, even as the potential for virtue is ubiquitous.

One of the things that I feel people have a duty to do is to help others. I don’t mean this in the sense of an obligation, though people who don’t do it definitely place themselves in peril for doing so, but rather a sort of Way. To help others is to fulfill part of our larger purpose for being. You don’t have to, but if you don’t you’re playing with fire.

And the reason for that is that you’re not using your strength.

Jordan Peterson talks a lot about this, so I owe him credit for some of the foundation of this idea, but I think that there’s another thought that I don’t believe he’s developed strictly in this context.

As humans, we’re both independent and interconnected in ways that are impossibly complex. There’s a collective unconscious, which is both a product of long-term biological and social developments and a reflection of the zeitgeist.

When we help others, we’re reacting to that unconscious. We’re connecting to the being–psychologically understood–of humanity at large. It’s a way to shape our minds, to bring us closer in union. Of course, there is always some danger in this. Drowning people are dangerous, and you can expose yourself to things that you don’t want to expose yourself to. You really have to be strong to help others. If you’re weak, you will join them in suffering, but do nothing to ameliorate their condition.

The great news is that we have that strength within us, which is what Rochefoucauld is identifying here.

Resolution

Bolster my strengths.

Never assume that I can’t help.

Remember that others make me, and I can impact others.

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