Reflections on Aphorisms #77

Taking a brief break from La Rochefoucauld today for a little variation in perspective. Don’t worry, I’ll go back to his Maximes. I just like to keep a fresh perspective on things instead of getting too heavily focused on a single writer’s work.

Aphorism #115

To ask for advice is in nine cases out of ten to tout for flattery.

John Churton Collins


I have a really hard time with this. Because of past traumatic experiences as well as my own tendency to want to be successful, I crave validation for everything I do.

It’s a problem in many cases because not only do I wind up becoming reliant on this validation I also find it a little distasteful. First, one should always be honest in their dealings with others, and fishing for praise is possible in a tasteful way. It’s not hard to just ask what people think, and they’ll give you an honest answer. To ask for help when you don’t desire any is just a waste of everyone’s time.

We’re social creatures, and it makes sense that we want to look good. There’s an added element of flattery in asking someone for advice. It shows that there is enough respect in the relationship that the opinion of the advisor is valued above the asker’s.

However, when this falls flat the opposite effect is had: the person who has been asked for advice instead realizes that they are being used for emotional gain. Even if there weren’t a slightly scummy immorality to the process, it would still be a practice that risks consequences for the flatterer.

One good antidote to this is to surround yourself with people you respect and humble yourself to the point that you are willing to do whatever they suggest. I try to do this; if I am taken by a momentary desire to flaunt stuff for appearance’s sake, at least I can redeem it by actually using the feedback I get. I also try not to judge other people when I look at their work unless they have asked me to do so.

I feel that I should take a moment out of this to quickly praise my brother, who has faithfully helped me edit some work and whose feedback I highly value, even though there were a few times when I was definitely just trying to show off writer chops.

Of course, there’s an extra element of risk here for those who work in the creative fields. I’m sure there are accountants who like to get approval for their wonderful spreadsheets (disclosure: I’m not actually sure what accountants do, though I appreciate their work), but those of us who are in the business of creating things wind up at even greater risk of wanting to preen and show off.

For most of us, people like me who freelance, it’s a matter of survival. If people don’t like my work I don’t keep working and my creative endeavors are over. I plan on returning to teaching, but I would like to do so after I get an advanced degree, not because the money ran out.

If someone is truly successful, though, there’s also a cocky attitude that can come up. There’s a thrill in knowing that you’re good at something; I’m a good writer, for instance, in the sense that I do it comfortably and almost professionally.  There’s an even greater thrill in knowing that you excel at something. If you are recognized as one of the best, the temptation to shed humility grows even more insidious.


Remember you are mortal.

Don’t lie: if I want praise, show off openly.

Take the advice of others.

Reflections on Aphorisms #75

Another day, another thought. I’m really kind of tired and worn out after so much crunch. Even though I haven’t really been getting more done than usual, I’ve been forcing myself to focus on single projects, which tends to exhaust me more than spreading my efforts out.

I’m also just generally forcing myself to work a little further ahead, at the cost of putting off some of the stuff that I’d normally be publishing now so that I can get it out on a more regular schedule going forward.

Aphorism 113

The man who lives free from folly is not so wise as he thinks.

François de La Rochefoucauld


One of the things that I find interesting about folly is that the people who obsess over being fooled are often the ones who wind up falling for things that a more rational observer would not put any credit in.

There’s a storytelling trope, going back to Aesop’s writings about the Fox who wants to think of himself as more clever than he is, that the person who values his own self-enlightenment usually closes the pathways to true enlightenment.

It’s worth noting that in the Biblical story of Solomon, Solomon values wisdom, but he seeks it outside himself, requesting it from God.

A lot of the time people want to live their lives in such a way that they try to make sense of everything in the context of the rules they create.

I think we see some of this in secular philosophies, both the modern and especially the postmodern (despite its insistence to the contrary) where there’s a desire to put the universe in a rational box. The problem is that while there may be nothing wrong with the desire to do this, it can become a force that corrupts what capabilities we have to judge.

When we try to live without folly, we really deny ourselves anything which we judge to be without value or meaning. We are poor judges of this. There is a value to almost everything, and the question is whether it holds value to us at a given moment or not.

I think of music as one of these “grand follies”, though Chesterton identifies quite a few in the course of his work (like a good cigar or glass of wine, neither of which would fit my preferences) that are a little more nuanced than my own preferences.

Of course, music in many ways has meaning as a reflection of the pattern of the universe and a form of communication, but let’s put that aside for a minute.

Looking at music strictly as an aesthetic phenomena, it has two roles: beauty and manipulation.

The beauty is “folly” by many definitions. This is the sort of thing people deny themselves, deriding it as pleasant but not worth time.

Of course, music also allows us to manipulate our perception, because our brains respond to it. If I want to get stuff done, I put on loud, fast music that pumps me up. If I’m in a melancholy or contemplative mode, I’ll listen to something like what I’m currently listening to (currently a piece off of a modern TV soundtrack, but I’ll use classical music just as readily).

I love this song. Lost and Milowda from the same album are great too.

However, the effects of something like this quickly fade. Barring a handful of classics, acclimation tends to quickly erase any connotation that a song may have.

So we’re left with just the pleasant feelings that we get from the music.

This is the sort of “folly” that people deny themselves thinking that they would have to sacrifice something valuable to appreciate.

I’m no hedonist by any means, but I also think that there’s an importance to sitting back and celebrating what is good in the universe; there’s not all that much of it, and we should devote ourselves to making as much as possible.

When we let our neuroses get the better of us, we don’t do that.

When I was a child I never wanted to leave the house to go anywhere. I wasn’t agoraphobic or anything like that, I just wouldn’t go out. The pleasures I could get around the house and my comfort in familiar environments outweighed my willingness to explore and experience new avenues.

Those who resist “folly” without evaluating it often wind up living like I did as a kid. They deny any untested experience based on the limits of what they are capable of conceiving. This causes them to miss out on many things.


Don’t assume the hostility of the unknown.

Except in matters of vice, step beyond boundaries.

Abandon pride.

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


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.


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.

The Power of Love

As I’ve been branching out into creative writing, I also have felt a pull to move toward other sorts of writing. I’m going to try my best to keep these essays non-political and positive, or at least not negative and spiteful.

Since this blog is no longer strictly about games, I feel that it’s a good time to diversify, since a lot of the work I’m doing on my game projects is strictly in the background.

Continue reading “The Power of Love”