Reflections on Life and Living

A dragon sitting on his gold.— Nothing that makes life worth living requires that one’s life be particularly long. On the contrary, to state what is self-evident, the obsession with longevity represents little more than a search for more time to postpone what one ought to do — ideally, to postpone it long enough that one forgets what the prolonged time was for, and begins to feel almost persuaded that the mere accumulation of years is a great value or achievement in itself.

No pain, no gain.— No life will be worthwhile which sets pain avoidance as its primary goal, however subtly this is done. A painless life would be a life without growth or understanding. The reasonable aim is not to avoid pain, but to avoid fruitless and unnecessary pain. This is done, in the first place, by deliberately choosing nothing which cannot be justified as serving the aims of a life devoted to ultimate goods, and in the second place, by continually sifting one’s life in search of all the inevitable causes of fruitless and unnecessary pain which you have fallen into (wasted opportunities, foolish choices, moral weaknesses), in order to set about making them fruitful and necessary after all. Oscar Wilde wrote that a woman who cannot make her mistakes charming is only a female. Similarly, a human who cannot make his past errors and ignorance essential — that is, who cannot redeem the pains of weakness and folly by transforming them into necessary means of development — will never be a mature adult in the fullest sense.

Knowing your judges.— Irrationality and anger are corrupt and usually false judges; you will likely be well-served by standing in deliberate opposition to their assessments. Thus, when foolish or angry people hate or ridicule you, you may be reasonably certain that what they despise most is precisely your virtues. You may therefore employ their judgment as a kind of supplementary guide to future choice. That is to say, be the thing they hate, and heighten your soul in the very traits they seek to demean. They will undoubtedly hate and ridicule you more for this — thereby proving that you understood them well, and vindicating your choice.

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