Disappointment and Wisdom

The number of people who will disappoint you in your life will vastly outstrip the number who will pleasantly surprise you. Worse yet, many of the former group will come from among the latter, which is particularly painful, as dashed hopes will sting most where hopes were highest. Nevertheless, this does not justify ceasing to seek the rare pleasant surprises. For even the reality that falls short of your ideal helps you, to the extent that it teases (and then crushes) your hopes, to recognize what the proper standards ought to be. 

Eventually, one will learn through repeated disappointments to put less stock in hope. This should not, however, mean ceasing to believe in the so-called ideal, but rather inuring oneself to the distance between that ideal and the world of one’s experience, i.e., giving up practical hope without losing sight of what one may hope for. This decisive and necessary step in self-knowledge involves walking a tightrope in the soul, but this tightrope is the only bridge to wisdom. For to forsake ideals outright in favor of experience is to become an economist, a materialist, a utilitarian — which, paradoxically, means to falsify and corrupt experience itself. By contrast, to forsake experience in favor of ideals is to become a hermit, a cynic, a fanatic — which in turn means to falsify and corrupt the ideal itself.

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