Manners and Morals

Manners and Morals

Application and capability

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

By Pendar

This blog is part of the series Not So Ancient Wisdom, based on Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence

Aphorism # 18:

Application and capability. There is no distinction without both of these, and superlative distinction when they occur together. An average person achieves more with application than a superior one does without. Reputation is won through hard work; what costs little is worth little. Even in some of those in the highest positions, application has been found wanting; rarely can we overcome our natural temperament. Not to be exceptional in a mundane pursuit, because you prefer being average in a sublime one, can at least be excused as noble. But there is no excuse if you are happy being average in a mundane position, when you could be outstanding in a sublime one. Both nature and art are needed, topped off with application.

This aphorism is a little misleading. Perhaps a little footnote is needed: Ain’t necessarily so for the privileged. It’s regular folks who must apply themselves. The extent of application for the privileged individual is lending him or herself to being handed “distinction.” Work hard, la de da… We’ve heard that before.

But I love the ideas about mundane and sublime pursuits. “Not to be exceptional in a mundane pursuit, because you prefer being average in a sublime one…” – that’s me. But it’s a little unfair to say that you shouldn’t be happy being average when you can be outstanding. If someone is happy then that someone is lucky.

Anyway, “rarely can we overcome our natural temperament.” If that “natural temperament” isn’t terribly ambitious then being happy in mundane pursuit makes perfect sense.


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