This is the first in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
2. Character and intelligence. The poles your talent spins on, displaying your gifts. One without the other brings only half of success. It isn't enough to be intelligent; you must also have the right character. The fool fails by behaving without regard to his condition, position, origin, or friendships.
Without delving into what is the 'right character' and what constitutes being 'intelligent', Gracian does state the two must both be possessed by the individual to achieve success.
This reminds me of Sun Tzu saying (to summarize) 'know your enemy and yourself and in one hundred battles you will never be in peril, when ignorant of the enemy, but you know yourself, the outcome is even, and when you know not yourself or your enemy you are certain to be in peril in every battle' (The Art of War, Chapter III, #'s 31, 32, and 33).
Both require internal and external understanding.
Gracian is not as clear on this point until one reads the last sentence regarding the fool. If one's condition, position, origin or friendships are not considered, then one is a fool. So external understanding is as important as internal.
Looking externally, then, allows one to rightly or otherwise, assess their own character and intelligence as compared to others.
Character is a Middle English word that was taken from French via Latin and initially from the Greek kharakter, 'a stamping tool' (The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories). In the early 16th century it came to mean a 'token, feature, or trait' and after that 'a description, especially of a person's qualities.'
As such, character requires a qualifier and how you are perceived by others is critical to your success. The perception will most likely be derived by how you present yourself to others, but it will also be based on what others who do not know you learn from those who do.
Act as if no one were watching, or some variation, is often considered a definition of one's character in that a person's true self is how that individual acts when no one is watching. On the other hand it also cautions that what is presented to others isn't always a true indication of the individual.
The ideal then is to present one's self consistently in both instances. This, however, doesn't mean one will present one's self well. The consensus is that social norms will change how one acts in public to accommodate them, whereas when not in public the true self will be revealed.
The goal then, is to act alone as one would in public.
Intelligence is derived from intellect, another Middle English word, based on the Latin, intellectus, 'understanding', from intellegere 'to understand' or literally 'choose between'. The term was little used before the 16th century.
The 'choose between' is intriguing. It implies to me that given two choices, the person with intelligence will choose the 'right' one. Of course intelligence as we consider it today is far more complex than a single option of choosing between this or that.
I've personally found that the most intelligent people are those who can take very complicated concepts or situations and make them understandable to the layman.
For fun, let's represent Character and Intelligence as literal paired poles. Each pole would be bound one to the other, but heighted based on the quality each one possesses.
The bond would be you, the individual person.
Now we come to your 'talent'. Regardless of your character or intelligence, you possess talent.
At issue is the quality of your talent and the extent to which you 'display your gifts.'
Here I would insert 'balance'. The better one can align character and intelligence, the more one's talent can 'spin' or flourish and thereby be projected for better or worst.
The higher the poles of character and intelligence, being well-balanced, will result in talent spinning faster (than if the two were unbalanced and unsteady) and therefore, given their height, projecting further without being obstructed by others.
As is found throughout Gracian's work, there is a lot to digest in a short piece of his writing.
Hope you enjoyed these musings on aphorism #2. Feel free to post your thoughts or comments!
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Ross R. Nunamaker