Gracian on peers

One could conceivably succeed in this world on one’s own merit, but it is certainly easier and more fun with peers. To be a successful leader though, one must have peers. What are peers? Peers are people that understand you and/or your goal on some deeper level and can offer guidance and help. People can have many friends, but they usually have fewer peers. Peers are good friends, family, colleagues, and mentors all rolled into one super category.

In the 1600s, Baltasar Gracian published The Art of Worldly Wisdom, which included tips on finding peers that are still remarkably relevant and useful today. Apparently, the more society has changed, the more it has stayed the same.

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.

11 – Associate with those you can learn from – Make your friends your teachers and blend the usefulness of learning with the pleasure of conversation.

15 – Surround yourself with auxiliary wits – Things turn out well for the powerful when they are surrounded by people of great understanding who can get them out of the tight situations where their ignorance has placed them, and take their place in battling difficulty.

75 – Choose a heroic model – and emulate rather than imitate…Nothing makes the spirit so ambitious as the trumpet of someone else’s fame.

108 – A shortcut to becoming a true person: – put the right people beside you…Customs and tastes and even intelligence are transmitted without our being aware of it. Let the quick person join the hesistant one…That way you will achieve moderation without straining after it.

Thoughts: Opposites may conflict, but they can also be mutally beneficial if they can forge a working relationship.

116 – Always deal with people of principle – Their very rectitude ensures they will treat you well even when they oppose you, for they act like who they are, and it is better to fight with good-minded people than to conquer the bad. There is no way to get along with villainy, for it feels no obligation to behave rightly.

166- Distinguish the man of words from the man of deeds – One cannot eat words (mere wind) or live on courtesy (polite deceit)…To retain their worth, words must be backed up with deeds.

195 – Know how to appreciate – There is no one who cannot better someone else at something…The wise person esteems everyone, for he recognizes the good in each, and he realizes how hard it is to do things well. The fool despises others, partly out of ignorance and partly because he always prefers what is worst.

Similar: Look for the silver lining; everyone has his positive side

258 – Look for someone to help bear your misfortunes – Some people want to take charge of everything and all they do is take all the criticism. So have someone that can pardon you or help you bear hardship.

Similar: No man is an island
Thoughts: Even the strongest people need support sometimes, and they tend to be the hardest on themselves.

265 – Get those who depend on you into tough situations – A risky situation, at the right moment, has made people into true persons…In this way many discovered what they were worth and how much they knew, and all this would otherwise have remained buried in timidity.

Similar: See 291; trial by fire; the moment makes the man
Thoughts: This sounds harsh, but as a leader, you must challenge able people. That is how greatness is achieved.

291 – Know how to test others

Related: See 265

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