Monday, 30 May 2016

A compelling example of common sense and rational living

The 16th century was a period of extraordinary conflict and violence. Disputes about religious and territorial matters divided the population in factions engaged in continuous wars, persecutions, and torture. Luckily, not everybody fell prey to the dominant ideas of the time and a few men taught us lessons that we should strive to keep always present in our mind.

The French writer Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) is one of the most interesting personalities of that time. We would probably never have heard of him if he had been more successful in his profession and businesses, or one should rather say, if he had attempted to become more successful.

An aversion to flattery

After learning Latin, the most widespread language at that time in Europe, and receiving some basic training in jurisprudence, Montaigne spent more than a decade as secretary of different legislative councils and courts of justice in the south of France.

Later on, he resided for a while in Paris, but he was clever enough to realize that his natural aversion to lies, flattery, and pretence made him unsuitable for a lifelong career as civil servant. When he turned 38 years of age, in the middle of one of the worst periods of religious conflict in France, he decided to abandon his career and retire to a farm in the south of France.

Living in accordance with nature

What followed during the next 15 years was a memorable attempt at living life according to nature and common sense. Everyday, Montaigne would devote the necessary effort to his farming activities, but not with the purpose of expanding his wealth, but simply to ensure his subsistence and that of his family.

For the rest, Montaigne set himself the goal of reflecting about the good life and writing down his thoughts as he went along. Surrounded by the books that he had accumulated in the previous decades of his life, he wrote continuously during his forties and early fifties.

While his neighbours in the south of France took sides passionately in favour of some ideological faction or other, Montaigne always called for moderation, pleaded for peace, and recommended tolerance as the best policy to ensure prosperity and maintain human dignity.

Sound principles

Montaigne's essays were published in successive compilations, which he corrected and edited further, until he was happy with the result. The principles of common sense, prudence, tolerance, moderation, and learning from experience, permeate his whole writings from beginning to end.

Since the 16th century, other thinkers have tried to establish the principles of the good life, but few have equalled Montaigne's erudition and literary skills. For those who, in our age, seek to learn how to live in accordance with Nature, Montaigne's essays are, more than four centuries after his death, still a delight to read.


Image: Photograph of medieval painting. Photo taken by John Vespasian, 2015.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books.
 Rationality is the Way to Happiness

Sunday, 22 May 2016

There were no roses in the times of Moses

Anxiety and apprehension

Joshua woke up in the dark with his heart beating wildly. The nightmare had returned to haunt him, as it had done every night for as long as he could remember. It was always the same anxiety and apprehension. Why did he dream night after night of being stoned by his own people?

He took a deep breath and tried to slow down his heart, when he heard a noise outside the tent. Was a desert lion roaming the camp? He listened attentively and perceived the sound of steps. The first light of dawn was visible through the seams of the tent. Who was walking outside so early? Joshua rolled out of his camp bed, put on his sandals, and walked silently out of the tent.

There was nobody to be seen, but the silent fields around the camp confirmed Joshua's suspicion. He sharpened his ears, but heard no cry of owls and no sound of crickets. He knew that nature retreats into total quietness only out of the fear caused by human presence.

When Joshua saw a man's silhouette moving up the slope of Mount Sinai, he could not believe his eyes. It was Moses, one of the tribe's elders. Joshua was baffled. Why on earth was Moses climbing the mountain?

He is just an old fool, reflected Joshua. He hesitated for a moment whether to shout at Moses that he should come back, but that would have woken up everybody in the camp. Irritated by Moses' folly, Joshua began to climb the mountain himself, in pursuit of the old man.

The slope was steep and Joshua was soon out of breath. No matter how fast he climbed, Moses seemed to move even faster. Three hours later, when the sun was high in the sky, Joshua stood still and inspected the bushes around him. He was fed up. Where was the old man?

Joshua had lost trace of Moses, but now he was perceiving an intermittent noise, as though someone was trying to light a fire using a flint. That had to be Moses, but what on earth was he doing? Joshua advanced towards the noise and found the old man sitting on the ground, holding a chisel and a hammer in his hands, with a stone tablet between his legs.

 We have to go back

“We have to go back,” said Joshua irritated. He was so exhausted by the climb that he had forgotten all politeness. Moses shook his head. “I have not finished yet,” he replied. He set the chisel blade on the stone tablet and hit the chisel head softly with the hammer.

Joshua looked over Moses' shoulder and saw that the old man was carving words on the tablet. “What are you writing?” he inquired. “The laws,” answered Moses calmly without stopping his work. “The laws of our people.”

Moses' answer did not make any sense to Joshua, who grew even more impatient. “Which laws?” he retorted. Moses shrugged his shoulders as he continued carving letters. “God's laws,” he explained. “I have already told you about them, but you never listen to me.” Despite the reproachful words, Moses' voice was devoid of bitterness.

A cold wind coming from the bushes made Joshua shiver. The situation was making him uncomfortable. The truth was that Joshua had no right to criticize Moses, no authority to tell him what to do or where to go. Joshua felt embarrassed and sat down on the ground next to Moses.

“You have worked a lot,” he commented with admiration, looking at the five sentences carved on the stone. “Five laws won't be enough,” countered Moses. “I still have to write another six on a second tablet.” Then he took in a deep breath. “I am tired, Joshua, will you help me? This is why God has sent you here.”

The quicker we get it done, reasoned Joshua, the sooner we can return to the camp. “What do you want me to do?” he asked. Moses finished the last word on the first tablet, handed over the chisel and the hammer to Joshua, and produced a papyrus from his tunic.

“This is the text of the laws that God has dictated to me,” instructed Moses, giving the papyrus to Joshua. “You will find a second tablet behind those bushes. Carve the six remaining laws on that tablet and make sure that you don't forget anything.”

Joshua walked to the nearby bushes, looked behind, and saw that a stone tablet was indeed lying on the ground. He sat down, put his legs around the tablet, and read attentively the text on the papyrus. Was Moses telling the truth? Were those God's eleven commandments?

An unexpected problem

When Joshua lifted the chisel and the hammer to start carving, he realized that something was wrong with the stone tablet. Surprised, he stood still, set his tools aside, and inspected the problem. A red flower had grown through an interstice in the stone and was opening its petals over the tablet.

It was a long time ago since Joshua had seen flowers, but he was certain that he had never seen one so beautiful. “It has the colour of fire,” he remarked. Should he tell Moses about the flower? After a brief reflection, Joshua concluded that telling Moses would be of little use and would just delay their descent from the mountain.

The whole day, Joshua worked under the sun, carving word by word, until he had copied on the tablet the last six commandments from the papyrus. Finally, he set his tools on the ground, contemplated his work satisfied, and bent over to smell the flower's perfume. It was a pity that lifting the stone tablet was going to cut off the flower from the ground.

“There are no other flowers in the mountain,” observed Joshua. “This one is unique. If I destroy it, such flowers might never grow again.” At that moment, Moses' voice came through the bushes and brought Joshua back to reality. “I have almost finished!” he shouted back to Moses. The sun had begun to descend on the horizon and Joshua had a decision to make.

He retook the chisel and the hammer and, with extreme care, he enlarged the interstice around the flower's stem. When the opening became wide enough, he lifted the stone tablet and smiled. He had managed to save the red flower. “The effort has been worth it,” Joshua told himself as he stood up.

Suddenly, the stone tablet broke in two and the smaller piece fell down. It had not withstood the hole that Joshua had made to liberate the flower. At that moment, Moses called again, urging Joshua to go back. The sun was already low and, very soon, there would be no light.

“What have I done?” lamented Joshua staring at the piece of tablet on the ground. He bent over and saw that the fragment contained only the eleventh commandment: “You shall be tolerant and seek to understand other people.”

He hesitated until he heard Moses call him once more. It was time to go. “I'll leave the broken piece here and throw away the papyrus,” Joshua decided. “One law more or less won't make any difference for Moses. Nobody is going to pay attention to the other ten commandments anyway.”

The two men descended Mount Sinai in silence, walking side by side. When they arrived at the camp, darkness was complete. Before retiring to his tent with the tablets under his arm, Moses embraced Joshua. “What you have done today lays out the path for our future,” said Moses. “Our people will remember it forever.”

That night, for the first time in his life, Joshua enjoyed a quiet sleep. Instead of having a nightmare, he dreamed of a beautiful red flower. The next days, he felt remorse about the broken piece of tablet that he had left behind, but he told himself that it was not worth it to climb the mountain again to pick it up. “Since Moses himself has not realized that the eleventh commandment is missing,” concluded Joshua, “it cannot be that important.”


[Image by masterplaan under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

The 10 Principles of Rational Living

Monday, 16 May 2016

A formula for changing your opportunities from limited to unlimited

In the 12th century, philosophy was simple and inflexible. A man was born into a certain family and inherited his father's trade. A peasant raised his children to follow into his footsteps. Perspectives were narrow and improvement unthinkable.

A small minority

The fate of each person was to accomplish certain prescribed tasks and preserve tradition. A good part of a person's earnings was spent to maintain his position: to keep housing, attire, and diet according to his condition. Those who succeeded in improving their social status represented a small minority.

The medieval mentality encompassed a mixture of short-term frenzy and long-term resignation. On feast days, banquets were held and wine consumed, but during the rest of the year, passive acceptance was the rule. Silent suffering was viewed as a sign of wisdom.

People in the Middle Ages focused on immediate advantages and lacked long-term plans. A peasant in the 12th century would not have viewed a good harvest as an opportunity to save money, move to the city, and start his own business. In his mind, a good year was just a temporary escape from misery, not a step towards a better situation. 

A sound philosophy

Our age offers almost unlimited opportunities to those who possess ambition and initiative, but it demands a radically different philosophy. Unless you acquire sound financial habits, chances are that you won't be able to seize those opportunities.

Unfortunately, not everybody makes the effort to pursue improvement. If you doubt my words, ask yourself the following questions: How many people save regularly in order to achieve financial independence? How many make to-do lists regularly? Material growth is linked to psychological development. Wealth is the consequence of vision and persistence.

Our world offers numerous opportunities to individuals who want to exercise their creativity and entrepreneurship. Businesses can be started with little capital, digital technology can be used to enhance productivity, and the internet allows everyone to sell his products around the globe. If you want to improve your situation, there are no limits to what you can achieve.

The psychological barrier

No excuse can justify renouncing this immense array of possibilities. The barriers to change are mostly psychological. Irrespective of your current situation, you can embrace transformation. If you take action, you can improve your life.

The transition from the Middle Ages to modern thinking began in the 13th century, when Thomas of Aquinas wrote down his observations on the nature of individual initiative. His views about risk represented a major advancement vis-à-vis medieval beliefs. His understanding of the existence of different prices in various markets put an end to the medieval mentality and introduced the world we know, where each man determines his own destiny.

Nowadays, if you ask people about what is blocking their progress, you might hear the same answers that were given in the 13th century: insufficient resources, excessive competition, and lack of contacts. Even though the world has drastically changed, not everybody is conscious of the unlimited opportunities. 

The next step

Unlike peasants living in the Middle Ages, we no longer inhabit an immobile world that limits our ambitions. Is it your goal to further your education and accelerate your career? Do you dream of starting your own business?

Usually, saving some money is going to be the first step for making improvements in your life. You are going to have to let go of your impulse to spend money today and focus instead on the opportunities down the road. Time will reward your efforts if you define your objectives and carry out a plan to attain them.


Image: Photograph of a medieval painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian in 2015.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

The 10 Principles of Rational Living

Monday, 9 May 2016

The crucial role played by initiative in personal happiness

Aristotle was a great philosopher, but entrepreneurship was one thing that he never managed to understand. In the Nicomachean Ethics, his essay on justice and morality, he views society as a market where human desires are stable, where the demand for each product is constant, and each purchase has a predictable price.

Say no to unrealistic views

One does not need to look at the world for long to rate Aristotle's view as highly unrealistic. The truth is that, in the field of work and commerce, prices vary incessantly. New products appear daily on the market. Growing ventures create jobs, while old-fashioned industries are reducing the number of their employees. Trading conditions change, markets move, and money circulates.

Businessmen are conscious of the fact that initiative leads to success. Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of innovation. Economic growth begins with one person making the first move and showing the way. In order to surpass average results, a man has to step out of the routine.

In the world of business, clients and profits are the result of entrepreneurship. A company that has profitable sales can always borrow money. Bankers seldom refuse a loan to businesses that generate positive cash-flow. Personal initiative fuels innovation and drives companies to higher levels of performance.

An irreplaceable element

The situation is not much different in the area of relationships. Friendship and love grow stale without personal initiative. Developing a happy social life requires a certain type of entrepreneurship. This is a factor that cannot be replaced by any amount of wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, the entrepreneurial factor in love and happiness is frequently underrated or denied. Television repeatedly shows stories where success happens by chance. Films love to portray heroes who attain happiness by coincidence without any effort from their side. Those tales are mostly made-up and a wise man should never take them as a fair representation of reality.

Entrepreneurial activity involves shifting resources through time and space. A businessman might, for instance, borrow money at 6% interest in order to invest it for a 10% return. If he does that several times with growing sums of money, chances are that he will become very wealthy.

The example can be applied to the field of relationships. If you wish to enjoy a great social life in the future, you should make the effort to establish new contacts regularly. Even if you just meet one new person per week, sooner or later, you will get to know a few individuals who share your values.

Friendships and love relations can begin in the most unusual circumstances. The key requirement is that individuals should be open to an initial contact. Brief introductions may lead to further interactions that develop into long-term relationships. This is why entrepreneurs are always alert to unexpected opportunities and love to meet new people. You will observe the same attitude in those who enjoy happy social lives.

Fresh opportunities

Entrepreneurial minds can be spotted by their extreme impatience at school or during their apprenticeship. They dislike slow motion and are driven towards activities that produce tangible results. They want to lead a life of growing improvement and continuous progress. They view speed as a synonym of efficiency.

Let me encourage you to adopt an entrepreneurial attitude in the area of personal relationships. Everybody has constrains in terms of time and resources, but those limitations should not prevent you from seeking out opportunities to meet new people whom you might find interesting.

Conferences that revolve around your favourite subjects constitute great places for meeting like-minded individuals. In the majority of cases, those initial contacts will not lead to friendship or love and that is precisely the way it should be.

Entrepreneurs are only interested in opportunities that are right for them. They know that, before they can embrace one successful idea, they will have to discard many others that lead nowhere. Possibilities are infinite, but resources are always limited.


Image: Photograph of ancient sculpture. Photo taken by John Vespasian in 2014.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

How rational living helps you increase your personal effectiveness

You can win big in life by adopting an entrepreneurial mentality. It will allow you to overcome problems that other people find insurmountable, enabling you to detect hidden solutions and opportunities in difficult situations.

Improvement takes practice

How can you train yourself to become more entrepreneurial? Taking risks, staying alert, and being quick at exploiting chance encounters are things that do not come naturally to most of us. Nevertheless, like any other skill, entrepreneurship becomes sharper through practice.

The best approach is simply to make a list of those traits that you wish to acquire and work constantly at improving the quality of your thinking. What characteristics of the entrepreneurial mind can you make yours in order to accelerate your personal development? My list contains five suggestions:

Accept uncertainty

What does a moral virtue have to do with entrepreneurship? Everything. Intolerance and inflexibility are deadly poisons when it comes to detecting opportunities and taking initiative. Unless you push yourself to tolerate uncertainty and risk beyond normal levels, your mind will never operate on a high entrepreneurial gear.

Why should you follow traditions that make no sense? Can things be improved? Why do we have to wait in line to purchase certain products or services? Is there a better way? When everything is expensive, try cheap. When everything is cheap, try borrowing. The best opportunities lie always below the surface.

Make clear choices

There is moral ambition and there is the search of wealth, but other people are embarked in a quest for honour, or simply desire to make the world a better place. Pick your choice and keep it present in your mind. What really counts here is consistency. Random changes in your goals will block your entrepreneurial vision. Confusion generates chaos. 

Consistency of purpose sharpens the mind. Ambition is worthless unless it is accompanied by an iron determination to persist, to try again, to stand up and push repeatedly until the wagon moves. Why do different people possess unequal levels of determination? Personal philosophy plays a major role in this. Those who have a stable, rational, and integrated view of the world tend to advance faster on the entrepreneurial road.

Contented souls seldom have the drive that is necessary to challenge the way things are. On many occasions, entrepreneurship is linked to personal dissatisfaction with a product, service, or environment. Annoyance and irritation can fuel the motor of change. A strong wish to turn the present into a better future is the thread line of many entrepreneurial careers.

Make your own list of the traits that you want to develop and place it on a visible place in your kitchen or bathroom. The world of tomorrow is shaped by those who reflect on their life's purpose while cooking and brushing their teeth.


Image by nblumhardt under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

The 10 Principles of Rational Living