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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Hi Readers, 

In my quest to bring you the latest on success, I have discovered one of the older writers on the topic. Such is life. Everything old is new again, or something. Anyway, allow me to introduce you to Baltasar Gracián, a Spanish Jesuit who lived from 1601-1658. He wrote a book called, The Art of Worldly Wisdom. Well, it was called Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia in Spanish, and was written in 1647, and when it was first translated into English it was called The Courtier’s Manual: Oracle and the Art of Prudence

I agree, that latter title doesn’t exactly call out, “Hey, I’m a book about success!” Good thing somebody re-translated the book and renamed it something pithier. Because it is pithy. It’s full of aphorisms. Over three hundred of them. I have yet to read the actual book (full admission of lameness), but now that I’ve heard of it, I’m going to. After all, a book that influenced Nietzsche and La Rochefoucauld is just the thing in these crazy times. 

So, no, I haven’t read the actual book, but I have read a précis of it, and I’ve looked up a bunch of the maxims. I’m taken by these two bits of advice today. Maybe the attraction stems from how they do not pertain to certain yellow haired politicians. Who can say? All I know is, these appeal to me. 

Maxim No.7 - “Become a person of substance” because “Only the truth can give you a true reputation, and only substance is profitable.”  

Substance consists of prudence, wisdom, goodness, self-control, and self-knowledge. Do you know anyone with these qualities? Certainly not the yellow-haired politician.

Maxim No. 34 - Know your strongest Point — your pre-eminent gift; cultivate that and you will assist the rest. Every one would have excelled in something if he had known his strong point. Notice in what quality you surpass, and take charge of that. In some judgment excels, in others valour. Most do violence to their natural aptitude, and thus attain superiority in nothing. Time disillusions us too late of what first flattered the passions.

In other words, know your strength and run with it. This is easier said than done, it seems to me. And, apparently, Padre Gracián thought it was tough, too, judging from this sentence, “Most do violence to their natural aptitude, and thus attain superiority in nothing.” Ouch! But if you are lucky enough to know it, then - yay for you! You are on your way to success. 

Apparently, although he was a priest, his strongest point was distilling the wisdom of successful people and turning it into maxims for the strivers. His focus on being a good person, a thoughtful person, and a person of principle, influenced one of my fave’s, Stephen Covey. 

Who can say if Gracián's Maxim 34 has influenced the yellow-haired politician? He seems to have pinpointed his strongest point, self-promotion, and used it pretty successfully. Scary as that is to say. He forgot about Maxim 7, though. But we must not.

So how to discover your pre-eminent gift? 
Beats me.

No - I’m not really serious. Try this. Think about who you were at age 11. Age 11 is a great age. As the 17-year-old pointed out, Age 11 is the age of most heroines in YA novels. Age 11 is a great apogee of self. I am pretty sure I didn’t think of that myself. I am pretty sure psychologists have written about this magic age. Especially for girls, age 11 represents the flowering of childhood individuality before the pressures of adolescence descend to squelch it. 

When I think of myself at 11, before the vicissitudes of puberty hit, I had a pretty good sense of myself. I was  a writer and a dancer and an artist. Writing eventually emerged dominant, but it took some time to re-emerge. So if your gift is apparent, burnish it! And if it is not, ask someone close to you what they think it is, and do everything in your power to find it. We need it! 

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