Cicero’s Six Mistakes of Man.

In Essays, Philosophy, Stoicism

Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero was, by any standards, an amazing man. Philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, and the list goes on. He had a huge influence of the Latin language and one could argue that the rediscovery of Cicero’s letters kickstarted the Renaissance.

Just to clarify: while I think men are generally more guilty of the following mistakes, I don’t think women should get off so lightly!

So, without further ado…

1. Believing that one person can profit by crushing another.

It’s hardly surprising that over the millennia people still believe that you can profit from somebody else’s downfall. After all, that’s what capitalism is all about. We live on a planet with finite resources but a system which promotes endless consumption: someone, somewhere, has to lose.

Your successes will be much sweeter and long lasting if instead of trying to destroy your competitors, you actually help them out. You victory will not be as quick and it may not be a victory in the traditional sense, but you will be winning as a human being.

I think one of the hallmarks of an educated and cultured person is the ability to empathise with others, no matter who they are.

2. The tendency people have of worrying about things they can’t change.

I’ve often discussed on this website the things that we can control. It turns out that it’s not much: we can control our thoughts and our actions and that’s about it. Read my essay on On Control for a more indepth discussion on this issue of what we can control.

So the problem is this: while we may be able to have some effect on things outside our direct control, there is no guarantee yet we worry about it. We constantly create alternative “what if” scenarios and wonder if it was our fault.

The truth is that you will never know if it could have gone any differently. The first thing that must be accepted is that the past in unalterable and so there is very little point of endlessly dwelling on it. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t think about the past, I think that there is much to learn from our personal past experiences and also from the collective experience of the human race.

Worrying about things you cannot change is a waste of time, time that could be far better spent concentrating on the things we can change.

3. The tendency people have of insisting that something is “impossible” just because they cannot do it.

Another reason some people insist something is impossible is because they cannot even conceive how such a thing might be accomplished.

Almost everything that we take for granted today would appear pure magic a few hundred years ago. It would appear impossible and yet, here we are.

Change is a strange phenomenon: most people vastly overestimate how much can change in a day and underestimate how much can change in a year.

Have you noticed that whenever you go ahead and make a major life change, you will always have people telling you that it’s too extreme, that you can’t do it, that it’s not practical or that it’s just plain impossible.

Often this is the case because people secretly want people to fail, especially when that person is doing something different. The logic is quite simple: If you are doing something different to them, you are, in some ways, saying that what they are doing is wrong.

And people hate being told that they are wrong.

This leads us nicely to the fourth point…

4. Holding fast to trivial pride, preference, and prejudice.

People hate being told that they are wrong because it wounds their pride. A truly wise person doesn’t get insulted when his mistakes are pointed out to him. He is thankful that he has a chance to correct his ways.

One should accept the fact that none of us are infallible and so you should question both your own opinions as well as the opinions of others.

The best way to live is with a thick skin and an open mind.

5. The fact people stop learning and do not continue to hone their minds, particularly by acquiring the habit of reading and studying.

This is gets to the core of what this website is about – continual education. We’ve discussed ways to educate ourselves each and every day and of course reading and writing featured prominently in that. I will repeat a small excerpt here:

You know what’s the really amazing thing about reading? It allows you to experience other people’s ideas and points of view, as well as other cultures without having to leave your front door. It’s almost like teleportation! Reading also works like a time machine. You get to have wonderful conversations with people who lived hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. That’s real magic.

I honestly believe that if you stop learning you stop living.

6. People’s consistent and insistent attempts to compel others to believe and live as they do.

I guess I could be accused of this sixth point by publishing my essays, but I would like to have a chance to voice my defence:

Firstly, I encourage everyone to think, and stand, on their own two feet. Take the information and ideas you find on this website with a skeptical, but open, mindset. Try things out and see if they work for you, I can only vouch for my own experiences. Think of the ideas presented here as being open-source: you are free to modify, redistribute and even sell, free of charge.

Secondly, I do not force anyone to read my essays! I don’t advertise, I don’t share links, I don’t optimise for search engines. My readers read because they want to.

The thing I really find strange about people who compel others to believe and live as they do is that almost everyone agrees that true hell on earth would be a society in which everyone agrees on everything. Intelligent debate, disagreements and problem solving are the spice of life.

Conclusion

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed our short journey in the past and I would highly recommend you check out Cicero’s works, I especially recommend his essay On Duties.

Enjoy.