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“Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us examine how happy those are who already possess it” (François de la Rochefoucauld).
MANY OF LIFE’S REGRETS COME FROM NOT HAVING LOOKED AT THINGS CAREFULLY ENOUGH. It frequently happens that we acquire possessions or become involved in activities that end up bringing us more grief than happiness, and it would have been relatively easy to see where they would lead if we’d examined them beforehand. That boat you thought you had to have, for example. Did you even ask anyone how much time it would take to maintain it? As La Rochefoucauld points out, before letting ourselves be disturbed by desire for something, we ought to “examine how happy those are who already possess it.” We ought, in other words, to look before we leap.
“Fine print” is usually boring to read, but it’s often helpful to read it anyway. And the more important the contract, the more wise we are to read the fine print. But we don’t often do that, do we? We assume too much. We take too many things for granted, without examining them, and then later, when we realize what we’ve gotten ourselves into, we wish we’d inspected the situation a bit more carefully.
As little as we examine some things, however, there are others that we examine too much. For instance, most of us spend far too much time inspecting and analyzing business that is not our own. A “busybody” is a person who meddles or pries into the affairs of others, and that’s exactly what we catch ourselves being and doing sometimes. In fact, I have a friend who, based on his observation of human nature, has formulated the following rule: our interest in any topic is inversely proportional to that topic’s bearing on our own conduct.
A far more productive use of our time would be to engage in self-examination. When Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” he wasn’t talking about making someone else’s life more worthy by examining it! Our progress in life depends on our willingness to scrutinize ourselves. The flaws are there waiting to be seen, and they are correctable — but only if we submit to self-scrutiny.
“When we see men of worth, we should think of becoming like them; when we see men of contrary character, we should turn inward and examine ourselves” (François de la Rochefoucauld).