Be Spotless

Be Spotless: the indispensable condition of perfection. Few live without some weak point, either physical or moral, which they pamper because they could easily cure it. The keenness of others often regrets to see a slight defect attaching itself to a whole assembly of elevated qualities, and yet a single cloud can hide the whole of the sun. There are likewise patches on our reputation which ill-will soon finds out and is continually noticing. The highest skill is to transform them into ornament. So Caesar hid his natural defects with the laurel. – Baltasar Gracian (The Art of Worldly Wisdom)

The common, cliched advice is to be open about your weaknesses, but this serves no purpose. If you reveal your weaknesses to others, they will be exploited. You not only unlock the possibility of others exploiting you with the information they have, but they will respect you less. Revealing your flaws signals a weakness of character. They will see that you cannot control your emotions, and this will diminish from your credibility. Napoleon was one of the most accomplished generals in history, and yet,  his chief diplomat Talleyrand successfully managed to make a fool of him a number of times. One in particular was when Talleyrand helped spread rumors that he was conspiring against Napoleon in secret.

He knew that Napoleon would reveal his biggest weakness: his short temper. He knew that Napoleon would not be able to contain his anger after he had heard news of a conspiracy against him. And he knew this because the great general had revealed this weakness to him in the past in multiple occasions. He gave away a valuable tell.

The cunning Talleyrands of the world do the same; they pay attention to what your weaknesses are, and then they patiently wait for the appropriate moment to expose them. Everyone is a victim of their own psychology. When you understand someone’s psychology, you can find the right triggers. The only defense is to conceal this information. This requires self-control and self-awareness. The cunning know how to extract useful information when you least expect it, when your guard is down, tired, or unfocused.

After Napoleon’s burst of outrage against Talleyrand, when he resorted to personal insults about the latter’s wife – hinting that she was having an affair, the politicians in the room took note of this character flaw. At the same time, Napoleon’s fit of anger was contrasted with Talleyrand’s coolness and nonchalance. This put Napoleon’s credibility at question, how could a leader of a nation, a person in such an important position, have such little control over their temperament? This was question, when it was pondered over in the minds of observers, dutifully accomplished the goal that Talleyrand had from the start.

 

Keep the Imagination under Control

Keep the Imagination under Control; sometimes correcting, sometimes assisting it. For it is all-important for our happiness, and even sets the reason right. It can tyrannise, and is not content with looking on, but influences and even often dominates life, causing it to be happy or burdensome according to the folly to which it leads. For it makes us either contented or discontented with ourselves. Before some it continually holds up the penalties of action, and becomes the mortifying lash of these fools. To others it promises happiness and adventure with blissful delusion. It can do all this unless the most prudent self-control keeps it in subjection.

– The Art of Worldly Wisdom, Baltasar Gracian

Most people thriving within a functional economic system design a vision of an ideal reality they want for themselves. They sacrifice things of value to actualize this vision, and base their self-worth on how successful they are in doing so. Of course, it is useful to engage in this forward thinking process –  without clear goals, and the ability to scrutinize your behavior, you would never make any progress. But there is a danger to succumbing to the arbitrariness of your perception.

Your imagination of what an ideal future should look like is based on a distorted understanding of reality. Your perception of time, your abilities, the actions of others, are all inaccurate. And when you wholly identify with the vision you are seeking, you lose the capacity to deal with reality as it is, becoming a victim of your sea of self-generated illusions. Before trying to rule new kingdoms, you must learn to rule your own. Keep yourself grounded, by controlling how you react to your illusions of reality.