Gracian on mystery

In the Information Age, we assume that more information is always better, but that is not true. First, too much information can be overwhelming and lead to “paralysis by analysis,” crippling decision making. Second, if we knew everything, life would be very boring indeed. A health dose of mystery and uncertainty is what makes life interesting.

If you want people to remain interested in you, become a master of suspense. Below are some aphorisms in this vein from Baltasar Gracian’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom (Maurer translation) along with similar ones that I have heard and any thoughts I had. Their beauty lies in being easy to learn but hard to master.

3 – Keep matters in suspense – Successes that are novel win admiration…Mystery by its very arcaneness causes veneration. Even when revealing yourself, avoid total frankness, and don’t let everyone look inside you.

17 – Keep changing your style of doing things – This will confuse people, especially your rivals, and awaken their curiosity and attention…The consummate player never moves the piece his opponent expects him to, and, less still, the piece he wants him to move.

81 – Renew your brilliance – Excellence grows old and so does fame…So be reborn in courage, in intellect, in happiness, and in all else. Dare to renew your brilliance, dawning many times, like the sun, only changing your surroundings.

94 – Unfathomable gifts – Allow yourself to be known, but not comprehended…You can win more admiration by keeping other people guessing the extent of your talent, or even doubting it, than you can by displaying it, however great.

212 – Never reveal the final stratagems of your art – Don’t dry up the sources of your teaching or your giving.

253 – Don’t express your ideas too clearly – Most people think little of what they understand, and venerate what they do not. To be valued, things must be difficult.

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