- We’re creatures controlled by desire.
Regardless of what we have at any given time, there’s usually something that we want. Once we get it, we’ll want something else.
Some schools of thought like the Stoics and Buddhists have exercises toward ridding ourselves of desire, and religions point us toward God as the ultimate desire.
As useful as these tools are, they don’t always suffice. But there is a comfort in at least recognizing that we’ll likely always long and desire for something.
2. The things I get mad at other people for are things I do too.
If I find someone guilty of too much self-interest, or angry that someone didn’t sufficiently acknowledge me, or feel like someone didn’t give a full effort or are slacking off, I have to remember that I’m just as guilty of these things.
“3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” — Matthew 7: 3–5
3. Everyone has different motivations and we can’t attribute our motivations to them.
Some people are motivated by virtue. Some people are motivated by recognition or fame. Some people are motivated because they care about others or want to make the world a better place. Some people are just motivated by distraction so that they can run away from whatever’s happening inside of their heads.
Whatever the case, since it’s often hard to understand what we ourselves are motivated by, if and when we come to some realizations about our motivations, we can’t think that other people operate the same way.
4. Someone somewhere thinks what you’re doing at any given moment is useless.
Does that make them right? Sometimes, maybe. (Probably in cases where it’s a task that could be automated or done more efficiently.)
But most of the time this is just a reminder that we all have different interests, most of which make no sense to people who don’t share the same interests.
Keep moving in the direction where you feel pulled, and not the direction where people think you should go. (Within reason.)
5. Avoid crowds.
This isn’t always possible, but if you can, do it.
Like Seneca writes to Lucilius, crowds have a way of disturbing things that we have already made calm within ourselves, or they influence us toward useless things we could have avoided otherwise.
Also, if you’re like me, crowds are too loud and unpleasant, anyways. No reasonable decision has ever come from the masses, but reasonable decisions have come through deliberation and quiet.
6. I saw a quote on Instagram that people can only meet you as deeply as they’ve met themselves.
There’s some nuance to this, but what it reminds me that I like is that people can only engage with you on things that they’re willing or open to engage about. This often means they’ve had to have already engaged themselves with said thing.
7. Sometimes cynicism is useful.
Cynicism should never be the end-goal of a person’s philosophy and generally it’s a bad way to approach life, but sometimes it’s useful.
One example would be that a cynic would say that every company and person is motivated by self-interest. While this might not always be true, it’s true enough times that being aware of its truth is necessary.
We should have faith that people have good intentions, but we shouldn’t be so naive that we’re caught by surprise when they don’t.
(Also, some good intentions are just self-interest in disguise. There’s enough of a high that people get from being helpful that it affirms that all help that’s given isn’t altruistic, but sometimes it indeed comes from the giver’s want to feel needed or important.)
8. Affirm what you love more than recognizing what you hate.
One of my problems with left-leaning philosophies (not liberal, but left), is that they aim to destroy things and affirm what they hate.
Liberals on the other hand, seek progress and take an optimistic (in my opinion often too optimistic) approach to the future.
Conservatives aim to conserve, protect, cherish, and take caution in making changes. They realize it’s harder to destroy things than to build them.
Right-wing philosophies are, of course, authoritarian and often equally as destructive as the left, just in different ways.
The important point though, you can’t build a world you love, or a meaningful life by destroying rather than affirming.
9. Look at the world how it is, not how you want it to be.
“The truth is cruel, but it can be loved, and it makes free those who have loved it.” George Santayana
It’s more pleasant to shield ourselves from harsh realities, but that makes us more likely to be caught off-guard and unaware.
Life is complicated and there are some harsh truths to existence, but seeing life as it is gives us the opportunity to engage with it appropriately, and be even more grateful for its beauty despite its hardship.
To engage with life without rose-colored glasses but still maintain hope, charity, strength, and good character, read Seneca.
He’s not perfect and he can be harsh, but he’s a good teacher that moralizes as if he’s a companion that’s giving aid along a beautiful and winding journey. Seneca is the Virgil we need for the modern world.