Ready for our second monthly Coffee Time? This month I challenged myself to do a lot more reading. One book particularly stood out as interesting, informative and a little intriguing. So let’s grab a coffee and get right into it…
We Are What We Think by Jame Geary is an excellent introduction to the lives and principles of many famous philosophers. The book details a range of mini-biographies that are centred around the aphorisms written or spoken by such philosophers. In fact the book is described as “a journey through the wisest and wittiest sayings in the world.”
Unfortunately before discussing it’s successes I must criticise a few things. I realise that I am no philosopher however in the first chapter of the book, Geary outlines the principles of various religious prophets / preachers in order to give a grounding to the later aphorisms. Within this, I found that Geary is quick to look at something and make some bold assumptions or statements. Some of the interpretations of Jesus’ words were far from an accurate representation of the Christian faith. Consequently, I found myself reading sceptically through the remaining book.
Despite this, I still couldn’t quite put the book down! It’s set out in chronological order and since it’s composed of mini-autobiographies, it’s really easy to digest. I had never really looked into philosophy before and I found the structure brilliant for a beginner. It’s not all religious prophets either – Dr Seus even gets a mention!
Today I want to share 3 aphorisms from the book:
- It is the greatest of all inconsistencies to wish to be other than we are. Arthur Schopenhauer was a genius and reasoned that happiness can’t be based on risky possessions but rather on personality. “It is a harmony which produces an agreeable and rational character; and for the simple reason that everything which makes the man and gives him his mental and physical qualities is nothing but the manifestation of his will; is, in fact, what he wills. Therefore it is the greatest of all inconsistencies to wish to be other than we are.” Although Schopenhauer concluded from this that life is mostly misery and that we should expect no victory in a personal growth battle, I myself find this has the opposite effect. Such an aphorism reminds us that we are who we are, and therefore should not look to the right or left, wishing to be someone else. It reminded me of our journey to be distinctive and to become the person that we wish to be.
- Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. Benjamin Franklin founded the first public library, demonstrated that lightning was a form of electricity and invented bifocal glasses. He was a man of many virtues including “resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.” This completely caught my attention: I am a firm believer in performing to your very best whilst ensuring that what you are doing is good, and has a beneficial effect. Reading this during exam time was particularly relevant – I resolved to study as best as I could and sit exams without failing to do justice to my ability. It has moral with “what you ought,” and reminds us to consider the effect that our actions have upon the world around us.
- Insist on yourself; never imitate. Ralph Waldo Emerson has been referred to as “the prophet of nonconformity.” For some reason this idea of insisting upon yourself captivated me, perhaps reassuring and acknowledging that being your own individual isn’t always easy but that it’s what we are obliged to do. Another of his aphorisms is, “It is easy to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Encountering crowds is something that our modern society knows full well and this is an excellent reminder of the importance to enjoy the presence of others, yet still hold onto our own virtues, looks, opinions. It can be easy to either follow the crowd or refuse to associate but as Emerson rightly pointed out, what truly brings success is to achieve a perfect balance.
I have definitely enjoyed reading around some of the wisest and wittiest sayings in the world! It has it’s limitations but if you want to read something that constantly causes you to stop and think, this book is for you!
I hope you enjoyed this second coffee time! What have you be reading recently?