Monday, March 31, 2008

Wisdom from the ages

I remember sitting around one afternoon with my grandma looking at family trees, and her pointing to various people on the tree reciting a maxim that person used.

I wish I would have paid better attention, because today I only remember one of the maxims grandma repeated that day -- her own.

I still have a card with grandma’s handwriting: "Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe."

As a kid I thought she made it up on her own. Now I know she didn’t. Regardless, it’s still a good one.

Not wanting to copy grandma’s maxim, I set out on an adventure to find my own. I have a couple good books right here.

Marcus Aurelius: "Your life is what your thoughts make it."


Epictetus: "Let not your mind run on what you lack as much as on what you have already."


"How much time he saves who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks."

Cool, but a tongue twister.

"The wise man sees in the misfortune of others what he should avoid."

We could make a whole column on this one.

Epictetus: "Imagine for yourself a character, a model personality, whose example you determine to follow, in private as well as in public."

We all need a positive mentor. There are as many today as 2,000 years ago I’d imagine, despite what some skeptics might say.

Epictetus: "It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows."

As Socrates taught me, I know that I know very little. However, I kind of like this one.

Epictetus: "It is the nature of the wise to resist pleasures, but the foolish to be a slave to them."

This makes it hard to be wise.

Epictetus: "It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters," and, "Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.."

I’ll have to think about these before I write about them.

Epictetus: "Learn to wish that everything should come to pass exactly as it does."

It may even have been Epictetus who wrote that one should not wish to become popular or famous, that only misfortune comes to those that are.

And, he wrote that one should never go into politics for the same reason.

Okay, I’m getting off track.

Epictetus: "Men are disturbed not by the things that happen, But by their opinion of the things that happen."

So we need to be careful how we form our opinions, or, we need to get our news from more than one source.

"Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent."

My dad taught by example more so than by his stern hand or his lecture.

A coworker laughed at me when I told her this, but I look at the clock and give myself 30 seconds when lecturing my kids.

I give my kids the same 30 seconds to make a point. This is hard to enforce because my kids are quite loquacious.

Epictetus: "There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will."

Ignorance is bliss. No news is good news. Stupid people are of the happiest lot. I envy them.

"To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete."

I like this one, but I’ll never remember all that.

"When you are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger."

Or, as the Bible says, "Judge not lest ye be judged."

Epictetus: "Whoever does not regard what he has as most ample wealth, is unhappy, though he be master of the world."

Epictetus: "No man is free who is not master of himself," or, "Only the educated are free."

Here’s a saying I saw in a bar once, "There are more old drunkards than old doctors."

When as kids we tried to get grandpa to quit smoking and drinking, he said, "I’d rather do what makes me happy than be an old man who never enjoyed life."

I agree with him. On the same note, I’ve heard the following many times from my patients at work: "If I’d have known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself."

If I had a dime for every time I heard that, I’d be rich.

Marcus Aurelius: "Do every act of your life as if it were your last."

On the same note, "I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."

Marcus Aurelius: "It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."

Macus Aurelius: " Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours."

Marcus Aurelius: "Every man’s life lies within the present; for the past is spent and done with, and the future is uncertain."

Grandpa would agree with that, as his maxim was, "History belongs in the past."

I certainly didn’t get my love of history from gramps.

And, to end today’s philosophy session with Marcus Aurelius:

"Remember that very little is needed to make a happy life," and, "He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe."

Again, old philosophy, wisdom from the ages, still rings true.

A bottle in front of me...

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