If you seek wisdom, learn from history. While each of us carries our own set of unique strengths, we are largely all the same. Human nature is not very complicated: we gravitate toward pleasure and we avoid pain when possible. If we are placed in the same historical scenario, we will often respond the way someone before us did.
Our nature is demonstrated in the themes and cycles found in history. Wisdom from the past is relevant to the future, generally speaking. And even though it might be hard to decode what some of our predecessors were saying, the value of the wisdom we will receive is worth the price of the struggle. In my experience, reading historical classics has caused a few brow furrows and has required slower reading and longer reflection time. What I have gained is insight, strength, and encouragement.
There is an expanding of the mind that happens when you try something new, even if you are bad at it. Reading Confucius was challenging. It took me about 6 months to get through it. I read 2 pages at a time and then let it rest on my nightstand while the jumbled thoughts lingered in my mind. While I have not made sense of it all, some of my confusion was clarified and I have learned.
Here are some quotes I enjoyed.
"A gentleman avoids seeking to satisfy his appetite to the full when he eats and avoids seeking comfort when he is at home. He is diligent in deed and cautious in word, and he associates with possessors of the Way and is put right by them. He may simply be said to be fond of learning."
(Stretch yourself by doing uncomfortable things)
"Those who understand a thing are not equal to those who are fond of it, and those who are fond of it are not equal to those who delight in it."
"When I walk with two others, I always receive instruction from them. I select their good qualities and copy them, and improve on their bad qualities."
"One does not worry about the fact that other people do not appreciate one. One worries about not appreciating other people."
"Not to talk with people although they can be talked with is to waste people. To talk with people although they can't be talked with is to waste words. A man of understanding does not waste people, but he also does not waste words."
"Gentlemen do not promote someone because of what he says, and do not reject what is said because of who said it."
Family or Government:
"If you lead them by means of government and keep order among them by means of punishments, the people are without conscience in evading them. If you lead them by means of virtue and keep order among them by means of ritual, they have a conscience and moreover will submit."
"'What action does one take so that the people will be obedient?' Master Kong replied saying: 'If you promote the straight and set them above the crooked, then the people will be obedient. If you promote the crooked and set them above the straight, then the people will not be obedient.'"
"If you oversee them with dignity, they will be respectful. If you are dutiful towards your parents and kind to your children, then they will be loyal. If you promote the good and instruct the incompetent, then they will be encouraged."
"In ritual it is better to be frugal rather than lavish, but in mourning it is better to be sorrowful rather than unmoved."
"Even in the mist of eating coarse rice and drinking water and using a bent arm for a pillow happiness is surely to be found; riches and honours acquired by unrighteous means are to me like the floating clouds."
"There are three things which the gentleman guards against; in the time of his youth, when his vital powers have not yet settled down, he is on his guard in matters of sex; when he reaches the prime of life and his vital powers have just attained consistency, he is on his guard in matters of contention; and when he becomes old and his vital powers have declined, he is on his guard in matters of acquisition."
Go ahead, give that old, challenging classic book a try- you know the one that is on your shelf to impress yourself or your guests. Make the classic your friend, and there is no better company to keep.
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
1190 Marsh Street, San Luis Obispo, CA