112 - On New Students - Moral Letters for Modern Times
I am happy to hear that your conversation with the wealthy and now questioning parent has gone well. It is usually all but impossible to be objectively heard when discussing how someone is raising their children. It is a testament to your own powers of persuasion that you managed to get them past the point of doubt to the desire for a change. Philosophy always welcomes new students, and we hope this parent is putting the first steps on the path to wisdom.
The desire for change is certainly a necessary precondition for progress. But it is just as certainly insufficient to carry the new student far. Your friend comes to you in a desperate state because they have been too successful in life. “Too successful? What do you mean? Should their proven track record at overcoming obstacles not also help them pursue a different path now?”
You have only temporarily caused your friend to question the wisdom of their choices, Deuteros. Consider the forces arrayed against your further progress: their family, their other friends, all of society. Then there is their own mind, which we know is an unreliable partner unless honed by the most rigorous of training. They will think back on all they have done; all they have accomplished. In their old life they were the master, the unquestioned conqueror. Now they are the novice, starting all over from the bottom of the hill.
No doubt your friend means well. You have flamed the nagging discontent into a discomfort they no longer feel they can ignore. But if it was an excess of luxury that has brought them to this pass, they will also be sorely tempted to let their past luxuries lull them back into submission. After a break from fine things, they will find their entreaties all the more alluring. They presently think they cannot live with their vices, but they will soon realize they cannot live without them.
By all means, encourage your student to continue, and be a role model as much as you are an active teacher. But let’s see for how long their actions match their resolve before we welcome a new pilgrim in our midst.