The height of perfection. No one is born complete; perfect yourself and your activities day by day until you become a truly consummate being, your talents and your qualities all perfected. This will be evident in the excellence of your taste, the refinement of your intellect, the maturity of your judgement, the purity of your will. Some never manage to be complete; something is always missing. Others take a long time. The consummate man, wise in word and sensible in deed, is admitted into, and even sought out for, the singular company of the discreet.
(1601 - 1658)
One of my favorite reads in 2008 was "The Art of Prudence" by Baltasar Gracian, a distinguished member of the Society of Jesus during the 17th century. Published in 1647, this is a book that stands the test of time even though its literary style is completely baroque.
In 300 short sentences or aphorisms, Gracian summarizes the practical wisdom necessary to meet the challenges of a competitive world. His starting point is the premise that we are all masters of our destiny and that our attitude determines our fate.
It is remarkable how a book written over 350 years ago is, at the same time, perfectly contemporary. In fact, it deals with almost all the values that we have established in our group of companies, such as generosity, honesty, passion for excellence, etc.
Nevertheless, I have decided to discuss Gracian in this blog entry in relation to his extensive development of one of our core values, namely, intelligence. Directly or indirectly, the book is steeped in this value. For Gracian, prudence is a refined form of intelligence.
To encourage you to read Gracian’s book, I am transcribing three of the text’s first aphorisms, with its original numbering:
2 Character and Intellect: the two poles of our capacity; one without the other is but halfway to happiness. Intellect is not sufficient; character is also needed. On the other hand, it is the fool's misfortune to fail in obtaining the position, the employment, the neighborhood, and the circle of friends that suit him.
4 Knowledge and courage contribute in turn to greatness. Since they are immortal they immortalize. You are as much as you know, and a wise person can do anything. A person without knowledge is a world in darkness. It is necessary to have eyes and hands, in other words, judgment and strength. Without courage, wisdom is sterile.
11 Deal with people from whom you can learn. Let friendly interchange be a school of erudition, and conversation, civilized instruction. Make friends your teachers, joining learning’s usefulness and conversation’s pleasure. The intelligent combine two pleasures, enjoying the applause that greets what they say and the instruction received from what they hear. Usually, we are drawn to someone through our own interest, but here, that interest in ennobled. The circumspect frequent the company of eminent individuals whose houses are theatres of greatness rather than palaces of vanity. There are those renowned for their discretion whose example and behavior are oracles in all matters of greatness and whose entourages are also courtly academies of good and gallant discretion.
At the end of the day, Baltasar Gracian offers us a definition of intelligence applied to everyday life that stands the test of time. I am including in this blog entry a simple interactive application from Gracian’s work.
In these very complicated times, and given the shortage of great men and women in the world, it is worth reviewing Gracian’s ideas as expressed through his books. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.