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006 - On Sharing Wisdom - Moral Letters for Modern Times

A problem shared is a problem halved.
Mountains with scrub brush - Moral Letters to Lucilius
Photo by James Bellerjeau

I feel, my dear Deuteros, that I am not only continuously improving, but have become improved. I do not yet, however, fool myself with the fantasy that I need no further refinement. There are many among us who could benefit from less flab or flirting with fame, and firmer muscles. That I see my own failings with fresh eyes does not depress me. I take it as a sign that my perception is sharpening. And if these thoughts are just placebos, am I not yet healthier for their consumption?

It is with this optimism that I am encouraged even further to respond to your questions. I see in you the same desire to improve, not least in your acknowledgment of doubt. I too doubted, and a problem shared is a problem halved.

How you would rejoice to know how much I feel I have come to understand, and how this wisdom grows daily. “Share this wisdom with me,” I hear you already, and I tell you I do so gladly. Wisdom shared is wisdom doubled, and nothing pleases me more than adding to the store of wisdom in the world. If bad news is an orphan, good news has many parents. Let the truth be fruitful and multiply, and let any who wish stake a claim to parentage.

You do not lack for sources of truth. Thanks to the internet, the wisdom of all the ages is but a keystroke away. Why then do so many fail to gain wisdom from the source that flows endlessly at their feet? You do not understand water if you will not wade into the river. When your feet stand on pebbles smoothed by the eons of water passing over them, you may gain firsthand a feeling for the truth that a lifetime spent reading will not impart. Saying is not enough, only doing. Reading is not enough, only doing. Do not do as I say, do as I do.

And now I both say and do thusly: remember to follow systems not goals. That is to say, adopt simple habits that move you in the right direction, rather than focusing on the desired destination. If you want to lose weight, rather than setting a goal of losing ten pounds, remove the unhealthy snacks from your house and buy fruits and vegetables instead. When you are hungry and have only healthy options to hand you are more likely to choose correctly.

In this way you increase your chances of success regardless of which shores you wanted to wash up on. Knowing where you want to go helps set a direction, true. But a direction alone brings you no closer to your goal. (You will find Scott Adams a most able teacher if you want to know more about systems versus goals.*)

Many daydream of starting a business, becoming wealthy, or achieving high office. How much more useful to know what steps you need to take on your journey. Researching these steps is not difficult, and many who have gone before you have shared their steps. Consider Cal Newport or Tim Ferris if you want a point to jump from. Taking daily steps along the path of continuous improvement will render your ultimate destination irrelevant, even as it increases your chances of arriving there.

I leave you with this small thought of the day, which gave me pleasure when thinking of you. It is this phrase from Ronald Reagan, who understood that a single step, no matter how small, will help so long as it is a step in the right direction:

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.

Be well.

* I am not sponsored or paid for mentioning this or any other site.

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