Gracian on action

Actions speak louder than words. Put your money where your mouth is. No matter how you say it, the meaning is clear: actions matter. In the 1600s, Baltasar Gracian published The Art of Worldly Wisdom, which included insights on acting that are still remarkably relevant and useful today. Apparently, not much has changed in 400 years when it comes to getting things done.

Below are selected aphorisms from 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.

6 – Reach perfection a No one is born that way. Perfect yourself daily, both personally and professionally, until you become a consummate being, rounding off your gifts and reaching eminence.

Thoughts: Pursue excellence, not fame or money. Make yourself into something you’re proud of; let the rest of the chips fall where they may.

150 – Know how to sell your wares a Not everyone bites at substance or looks for inner value.

Thoughts: A mentor once told me that everything involves selling. You sell yourself (jobs, relationships), experiences (advice and opinions), and goods.

165 – Wage a clean war – The wise person can be driven to war, but not a dishonorable one. Act like the person you are, not the way they make you act… To conquer without nobility is not victory but surrender.

Similar: Be the better man; don’t stoop to their level; it profits not a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul (multiple variations from the Bible)

Thoughts: Some would say that all is fair in love and war and that “nobility” puts you at a disadvantage. Perhaps the reality is that one can adhere to this rule whenever possible but must bend it when necessary. The world of power is mostly grey, not black or white.

204 – Undertake the easy as though it were difficult, and the difficult as though it were easy a so as not to grow overconfident or discouraged…diligence conquers impossibility. In moments of great danger, don’t even think, simply act.

277 – Display your gifts – There is a time for each one…When you have both talent and a talent for displaying your gifts, the result is something prodigious…It takes skill not to reveal all of your perfection at once, but to do so little by little, always adding a little more.

284 – Mind your own business – Esteem yourself if you want esteem from others. Go where you’re wanted, and you’ll be well received. Never come unless you are called, never go unless you are sent. The person who commits himself on his own initiative brings hatred upon himself if he fails, and earns no gratitude when he succeeds.

Thoughts: This is perhaps the most difficult life lesson to learn: how to balance self-interest and selflessness. Neither extreme is good. If you are too selfish, people will not be inclined to help you or to acknowledge you. If you are too selfless, people will not necessarily appreciate you either. You cannot help people that never thought they needed it in the first place.

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