The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian

Here is one preacher, a Spanish Jesuit who lived his life on his own terms, writing books about subjects close to his heart and earning the ire of his seniors in the order. Coming at a time in the seventeenth century, Balthasar Gracian must have been one cool person, going by the themes of his writing, though he lived barely for 57 years.

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4/5

Author : Baltasar Gracian
Originally Published : 1947
Publication :DoubleDay, Dover Publications
Pages :208
Genre(s) :-
Non-Fiction, European Literature, Philosophy, Ethics

The Art of Worldly Wisdom is translated from original Spanish into English by Joseph’s Jacobs in 1892. Small pieces of true wisdom you encounter in pages after pages that leave you amazed at the wisdom of this priest and you wonder how much exposure to life he must have had before writing this book. Balthasar has put across these nuggets that remind you of Zen teachings, but relevant to daily life. All these gems are worthy of a person ambitious for making it big in life. It reminds you of Paulo Coelho’s book ‘Warrior of the Light’ which has a similar format.

“There is morerequired nowadays to make a single wise manthan formerly to make Seven Sages, and more isneeded nowadays to deal with a single personthan was required with a whole people in former times” he says as you are struck with how relevant this is even today. More so today, you feel, but remember, he has felt the same way back centuries ago. Though the world has changed drastically ever since, has life changed then?

Balthasar says that Character and Intellect are both needed in life, and that intellect alone is not sufficient. Keep some things to yourself, some amount of mystery is required to arouse excitement and curiosity, says he, adding that one ought not to open all cards at once. You imitate the divine way when you cause men to wonder and watch. Now that’s some eyebrow raising insight indeed!

Some advice is fit for leaders, like more is to be got from dependence that courtesy. What it means is that when you keep people dependent on you, you keep their hope alive without fully satisfying it. Once their need is fulfilled you cannot command the same respect and gratitude from them.

Another nugget is that one must detest competing and gaining superiority over your superiors because that way you sabotage your own growth prospects.
Befriend those who can teach you some wisdom. Occasionally change the way of your action so that if someone is competing with you (enemy, in his words) , they are taken by surprise.

A precious gem is how Balthasar teaches you to control someone- first identify his true passion, appeal to it with your words and then set it in motionby temptation so that you control his will in the end. How aptly this applies to today’s consumer psychology.

Be gracious, know when to withdraw without holding obligation, weigh your luck before acting or refraining, know how and when to use sarcasm, enjoy things when it is the right time (when they are ripe), use cunning but don’t abuse. Never lose yourself-respect, says he, which speaks volumes about the psyche of the person.

After a while as you read the book, you realize that this person is no ordinary Jesuit priest and he has had exposure to various people in diverse situations. He comments about being a good human in the same vein as that of being a good leader, diplomat and a wise and shrewd person who thrives in the society. You must pass through the circumference of time before you arrive at the center of opportunity, he says. He shows you to be patient (slow and sure- quickly done can be quickly undone), to excel in something (mediocrity never wins applause), to be the first of a kind shows excellence. The world laughs at everyone, but the wise remain calm and work towards enriching their lives.

It is the depth of his advice and the width of its meaning that appeals to anyone who reads this book.

 

Key takeaways

  1. The book is a repository of well-meaning advice in small pieces, easy to read and understand and profound in application in real life
  2. Balthasar’s compilation comes from his heart, derived out of experience. From how to live a good life, to gaining respect, undertaking life’s small and big tasks to training your mind towards greatness, the company you keep and the way of leading life, he has covered it all.
  3. One must bow before this great man who has kept a simple yet invaluable compilation of the ‘How to lead a good life’ kind of book
  4. His focus is on being a man or repute who lives a good life, is a good human being, knows how to earn money and respect and is congenial with his fellowmen.
  5. Not only are all of these virtues, but his way of life also leaves you in wise territory, bordering on shrewd.

Why I recommend this book

Because it packs into 300 odd nuggets, everything that the elderly would teach their young one over a lifetime. Gift it to a young adolescent or a newbie corporate aspirant and you have left them with something to feel in awe.

I find such books truly interesting for their wisdom and brevity which makes for meaningful reading. If you have come across any such book, do share with us and let the tribe increase.

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