Wisdom That Takes a Lifetime to Learn

Treat Thompson



This is a republishing of The Steady Fella Newsletter. Once a month I share ideas from great thinkers so we can stand on the shoulders of giants, instead of figuring life out alone.

What we'll learn (in 5 minutes):

👨‍🏫 Topic: Four ideas from four great humans of history

🔍 Quote: Louis E. Boone on the fear of failure

📜 Passage: Joe Keohane on why we don’t talk to strangers

Wisdom That Takes a Lifetime to Learn

I’ve realized that a part of life is learning how you'll wish you would’ve lived when it’s all said and done.

Basically, figuring out how to forecast regrets using your current lifestyle.

Knowing what you’ll regret later in life gives you control over your satisfaction.

The ultimate insight comes from reflecting on life on our deathbeds. Hindsight is 20/20. But it’s far too late to matter by then.

Luckily we have a wealth of wisdom from the remarkable lives of history. They can give us a lifetime of insight in a fraction of the time. These people are defined by their ideas that have endured centuries improving the existence of others.

Here are four of these lifetime ideas.

Love Without Fear of Loss: Hannah Arendt

We will lose everything we love, including our lives — so we might as well love without fear.

Fearing a certainty is wasted energy that takes the life out of life.

Most of us live under an illusion of permanence and security. But those don’t exist. Everything around us is fleeting.

Being attached to the idea of something lasting forever limits you. Whether it’s a relationship, your parents, or your own life. To fully enjoy life, we have to love without the fear of loss.

Hannah Arendt writes:

In their fear of death, those living fear life itself, a life that is doomed to die.

Fearlessness is what love seeks. Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future… Hence the only valid tense is the present, the Now.

Have More Music and Nature in Your Life: Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, philosopher, and holocaust survivor, spent three years in four different concentration camps.

After escaping death, he spoke about the two great pillars of aliveness that helped him survive the worst circumstances in life—music and the natural world.

He said:

It is not only through our actions that we can give life meaning we can fulfill the demands of existence not only as active agents but also as loving human beings: in our loving dedication to the beautiful, the great, the good.

He was saying that we can find meaning in life beyond what we do. We can find it as consumers of what's beautiful and great in life.

He added:

Imagine that you are sitting in a concert hall and listening to your favorite symphony, and your favorite bars of the symphony resound in your ears, and you are so moved by the music that it sends shivers down your spine; and now imagine that it would be possible for someone to ask you in this moment whether your life has meaning.

I believe you would agree with me if I declared that in this case you would only be able to give one answer, and it would go something like: “It would have been worth it to have lived for this moment alone!”

Music is the most intense expression of life. When a song hits just right, it can be so euphoric and resonating that at that moment, it makes life worth living.

He noted a similar effect with nature and people:

Those who experience, not the arts, but nature, may have a similar response, and also those who experience another human being. Do we not know the feeling that overtakes us when we are in the presence of a particular person. The fact that this person exists in the world at all, this alone makes this world, and a life in it, meaningful.

I felt this when I went backcountry camping last summer. Swimming in the Georgian Bay and appreciating the escarpment in front of me was pure bliss. It made me feel grateful for being alive and not missing out on that moment. In that instant, that was the meaning of life.

Choose Kindness: Leo Tolstoy

One of the worst human tendencies is to harshly and unfairly judge people of the past and present.

We have an enormous intolerance for humans being human.

We live in a culture that often confuses doing what's right with being superior or self-righteous.

The honest initiative to better the world gets crushed by the intolerance for minor mistakes and flaws.

It’s human nature to occasionally act unwisely and unlovingly. Especially during moments when you are mentally or emotionally weak or worn out.

After analyzing his own imperfect life, Leo Tolstoy wrote:

The kinder and the more thoughtful a person is, the more kindness he can find in other people.

Kindness enriches our life; with kindness mysterious things become clear, difficult things become easy, and dull things become cheerful.

You should respond with kindness toward evil done to you, and you will destroy in an evil person that pleasure which he derives from evil.

Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.

It may sound corny, but it’s as true as any statement. Kind people get more kindness out of the world. It enriches their lives and the lives of others.

Vanquish Your Anxiety: Seneca

Seneca wrote:

There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.

We imagine more fears than we face in real life. These imagined fears do more harm than most of what we experience does.

He adds:

Some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.

We keep ourselves from fully living when we are constantly bracing for an imaginary catastrophe.

Featured Quote

Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.

- Louis E. Boone

Your life becomes defined by what you didn’t do when you let the fear of failure dominate it.

Regrets become more prevalent than memories of what you achieved.

Featured Passage

It's easier and more enjoyable to talk to strangers than we think. The participants in all these studies predicted that their interactions with strangers would go badly, they would be hard, and people would reject them and they were delighted to find that they did not. And when they did strike up these conversations, they were happier, and felt a stronger sense of belonging. So why don't people talk to one another on the subway? Epley and Schroeder argued that it's not that everyone really prefers silence, but that they all assume no one else wants to talk, and they believe it will go poorly if they try. This is known in the field as pluralistic ignorance. Basically, it means everyone having the wrong idea about everyone else.

Why did it come as such a shock that a random stranger could be approachable, cordial, and interesting? Because, simply put, we don't expect them to be fully human. In big cities, you get this phenomenon where you're treating people like obstacles," Schroeder says. And this creates a sort of loop: City dwellers think of strangers as objects, so we don't talk to them; and because we don't talk to them, it never fully occurs to us that they are, in fact, really people. We know intellectually that they are, of course, but we often act like we don't.

- Joe Keohane