Gracian on the importance of balance

Increasingly, our world feels like one of extremes. Things must be right or wrong. You’re either with me or against me. People want a quick result, a definitive answer. While this is an understandable reaction in an age of too much information, think of how much they miss by rushing. Speed doesn’t even guarantee success; in fact, it often makes it less likely.

For a richer appreciation of the world (and possibly more success), one must learn the importance of balance, learn to accept duality. Life is not black or white; it is both…and everything between. 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.

12 – Nature and art, material and labor – All beauty requires help. Perfection turns into barbarism unless ennobled by artifice. Perfection requires polish.

Thoughts: ‘Nature vs. nurture’ and ‘talent vs. hard work’ debates fit in this same mold. To succeed, you need to make the most of both.

16 – Knowledge and honorable intentions – ensure that your success will bear fruit… Superior talents given to baseness come to a bad end. Knowledge without judgment is double madness.

82 – Neither all bad nor all good – Carry right too far and it becomes wrong. The orange squeezed completely dry gives only bitterness. Even in enjoyment you shouldn’t go to extremes.

130 – Do, but also seem – To excel and to know how to show it is to excel twice. What is invisible might as well not exist. A fine exterior is the best recommendation of inner perfection.

174 – Don’t live in a hurry – Many have life left over when luck runs out. They waste their happy moments and further down the road would like to turn around and return to them. There are more days than luck. Be quick to act, slow to enjoy.

181 – Don’t lie, but don’t tell the whole truth – Not all truths can be spoken: some should be silenced for your own sake, others for the sake of someone else.

247 – Know a little more, live a little less – Some say the opposite. The right kind of leisure is better than the wrong kind of work. Life is precious, and it is as foolish to spend it on mechanical tasks as to spend too much of it on lofty ones.

252 – Live neither entirely for yourself nor entirely for others – It is a vulgar sort of tyranny. If you want to belong entirely to yourself, you’ll want everything for yourself. Such people don’t know how to yield, even in the smallest things. Some people belong entirely to others; they have not a day, not an hour to call their own. If you are prudent, you will understand that people seek you not for your own sake but for their own.

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