This is a republishing of the Shoulders of Giants newsletter.
👨🏫 Topic: No one does wrong willingly
📸 Visual: The Thinker of Tender Thoughts and inside Carl Jungs mind
🔍 Quote: Marcus Aurelius’ reminder of death is comforting
📜 Passage: Annie Dillard on a good day vs a good life
Was opening this your choice? I bet it feels like it.
You probably think it’s not even worth questioning. But I think it was inevitable that you’d read this right now. There were no other realistic options.
And sure, you can try to prove me wrong. You can close this and do something else. Or show your free will by doing something so weird I wouldn’t see it coming. Like if you stood up, screamed, ran in a circle, did a backflip, and then cartwheeled out of the room.
But that’d also be expected. Your life history, personality, and mood make that exactly what you would do in this situation… if you did it.
Life’s a cause-and-effect machine. We’re just cogs in it. We’re kites blowing in the wind—a conduit for things to happen through.
Every time we make a decision, the conditions are right for that being the only option because everything we do follows a chain of cause and effect.
I have to write this newsletter. And not because it’s on my to-do list. I have to do it because driving factors in my life made me someone who wants to share great ideas. So I’m writing an issue you’re reading because it has to happen.
Life’s almost formulaic. Given X parents, Y environment, and Z circumstances, of course I’d become who I am today. It was inevitable.
This realization made me look at people differently and flooded me with compassion.
How can I be upset at what someone does when they’re a product of cause and effect?
How can I resent someone for being themselves when they can't be anything else?
“Not even God would be free to change its nature if it existed”—Julian Bagginiis
These thoughts are embodied by the Socratic Paradox. It states that no one does wrong willingly.
It’s based on Socrates’ belief that humans are driven by self-interest, and any wrong-doings happen because we’re blinded by pleasure.
No one’s goal is to hurt you. That doesn’t help them. They might hurt you to reach another goal, but you simply getting hurt isn’t it. Our goals are self-serving, and how we go about them is out of our control—we’re just a product of cause and effect.
If someone’s childhood makes them an angry person, they’ll be angry on their path to pleasing themselves. They don’t know any better.
That’s why Diogenes Laertius said, “There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” If people knew enough, they’d do the right thing.
This also changed my thoughts on forgiveness. I realized that “having forgiveness” isn’t just something saint-like people recommend for others’ benefit. It makes my life better too.
Resentment ties up energy in other people. Forgiveness cuts the link.
From another perspective, forgiveness matters because I’d want it. I’m a victim of nurture, and I don’t want that held against me.
When leaves fall on your head in Autumn, the tree’s not trying to do you wrong. It’s a tree. Its leaves falling when it’s cold is its nature. Crossing paths with that tree in those circumstances makes leaves falling on your head inevitable.
Anyway, before very long you'll both be dead - dead and soon forgotten.—Marcus Aurelius
It seems counterintuitive, but being reminded of death is comforting. When life stresses me out, remembering that soon I’ll be gone washes it away.
There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough.
The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.
A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?