The Art of Living Well: Be Yourself and Don’t Compromise Your Freedom According to Montaigne

Montaigne advocates living an ordinary life well. Of course, an ordinary life is not a careless life. It is not easy to truly live a good life. How to live an ordinary life well can be said to be the center of his life thinking. The content of the following sections of this lecture is roughly centered around this center.

To live an ordinary life well, you must first be a good person. Regarding the principles of life, Montaigne did not talk about any big principles. I followed his style and summarized his meaning in the simplest language. There are two main ones: first, be yourself, and second, be a good person. The former involves his view of happiness, and the latter involves his view of morality. With these two items, the basic quality of life is good. Let’s talk about the former first.

1. Be yourself

“Do your own thing and know your own heart.” Montaigne attaches great importance to this motto said to be from Plato, saying that it points out the main responsibility of life. A person must first understand what kind of person he is, and then know what he can and should do. Then do your own thing well and don’t meddle in external affairs and other people’s business. For everyone, doing what is most in line with their own nature is happiness.

Montaigne himself was a person of true temperament. He followed his own nature in doing things and did not force himself to accept things he didn’t like. He felt that he was happiest this way. No matter how good the world thinks, if it is not in line with his nature, he will not do it and will not regret it. He is aloof from the world, so few people are jealous of him or hostile to him. He said: He dare not say that he is loved by others, but if he is not hated by others, no one has more opportunities than him.

Montaigne said that the best thing is to live an upright life, the most profound knowledge is to know how to live this life naturally, and the most dangerous disease is to ignore one’s own existence. What you should care about is not what society says about you, but what you say about yourself. If you know how to think and control your own life, you have accomplished the greatest thing of all. As long as your true self remains intact, you have nothing to lose. The true self is the bearer of all values ​​in life. Without this bearer, all values ​​cease to exist. A person who desires to turn himself into an angel is a fool, because he himself no longer exists. Who will be happy and excited about this change?

We owe some parts of ourselves to society, and the best parts of us to ourselves. So being good at being alone is a great ability. True retreat is to draw the mind back to oneself. This can also be done in cities and palaces, but it is easier to do in solitude. The monastery is supposed to be a place of solitude, but the discipline stipulates that the monks must stay together all day long, and no matter what they do, they must do it in front of everyone. This situation made Montaigne feel extremely uncomfortable. He said that he would rather be alone forever than It’s so much better to never be alone.

We should have wives, children, and property, but not be so clingy that our happiness depends entirely on them. We must keep a secret back room for ourselves, only for ourselves, where we can have daily conversations with ourselves, unknown to outsiders. There, talk and laugh with yourself, as if your wife, children, and property didn’t exist, so that if you lose them, you won’t feel as if the sky has fallen.

Montaigne has an intriguing saying: “Such things happen to me often. I can’t find me when I look for me. I find me more due to chance encounters than conscious search.” My understanding is that doing so It is an overall awareness of oneself, not something deliberately done. Without this overall awareness, it is useless to deliberately do it; with this overall awareness, there is no need to worry about not having the opportunity to meet the true self. If you feel lonely when there is a lot of noise, or suddenly feel sad when the spring breeze is triumphant, maybe you have met your true self.

2. Don’t rent yourself out

On the surface, people seem to value themselves, but in fact they are always renting themselves out. Their gifts are not for themselves, but for those who enslave them. They live in the home, not as themselves, but as tenants. People should cherish the freedom of the soul, and only at the right time can they temporarily mortgage their freedom, and such opportunities are rare. But they mortgage their spiritual freedom everywhere, no matter whether it is big or small, relevant or irrelevant, they mix it up indiscriminately. As long as they are not in a hurry, they feel as if they are not living.

Montaigne expresses this idea in different ways. He also said that everyone is actually richer than they think, but they are desperately borrowing money and begging from others. No one is willing to give money to others, but they will give time and life to others, squandering these two things that should be stingy most. People must play a certain role in society, and they may wish to play the role well with all their heart, but they must understand that it is just a role. Do not regard the mask and appearance as the spiritual essence, and regard the role as yourself. Don’t rent yourself out, don’t squander yourself, don’t treat the role as yourself. These expressions express the same meaning: cherish your true self.

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