The Scipionic Circle 68: Building Your Circle of Compassion, Choosing Friends Mindfully, and Epistemic and Social Confidence
"Here’s something to consider: If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself?"
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle - I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Widening the Circle of Compassion
“It’s even difficult to hear that what we reject out there is what we reject in ourselves, and what we reject in ourselves is what we are going to reject out there. But that, in a nutshell, is how it works. If we find ourselves unworkable and give up on ourselves, then we’ll find others unworkable and give up on them. What we hate in ourselves, we’ll hate in others. To the degree that we have compassion for ourselves, we will also have compassion for others. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at. Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we’re trying to live up to. There’s a slogan in the mahayana teachings that says, ‘Drive all blames into oneself.’ The essence of this slogan is, ‘When it hurts so bad, it’s because I am hanging on so tight.’ It’s not saying that we should beat ourselves up. It’s not advocating martyrdom. What it implies is that pain comes from holding so tightly to having it our own way and that one of the main exits we take when we find ourselves uncomfortable, when we find ourselves in an unwanted situation or an unwanted place, is to blame.” — From When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön.
II. Choosing Friends Mindfully
“Here’s something to consider: If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself? You might say: out of loyalty. Well, loyalty is not identical to stupidity. Loyalty must be negotiated, fairly and honestly. Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement. You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place. Quite the opposite. You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse. It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you. It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improve. If you surround yourself with people who support your upward aim, they will not tolerate your cynicism and destructiveness. They will instead encourage you when you do good for yourself and others and punish you carefully when you do not. This will help bolster your resolve to do what you should do, in the most appropriate and careful manner. People who are not aiming up will do the opposite. They will offer a former smoker a cigarette and a former alcoholic a beer. They will become jealous when you succeed, or do something pristine. They will withdraw their presence or support, or actively punish you for it. They will over-ride your accomplishment with a past action, real or imaginary, of their own. Maybe they are trying to test you, to see if your resolve is real, to see if you are genuine. But mostly they are dragging you down because your new improvements cast their faults in an even dimmer light. It is for this reason that every good example is a fateful challenge, and every hero, a judge. Michelangelo’s great perfect marble David cries out to its observer: “You could be more than you are.” When you dare aspire upward, you reveal the inadequacy of the present and the promise of the future. Then you disturb others, in the depths of their souls, where they understand that their cynicism and immobility are unjustifiable. You play Abel to their Cain. You remind them that they ceased caring not because of life’s horrors, which are undeniable, but because they do not want to lift the world up on to their shoulders, where it belongs. Don’t think that it is easier to surround yourself with good healthy people than with bad unhealthy people. It’s not. A good, healthy person is an ideal. It requires strength and daring to stand up near such a person. Have some humility. Have some courage. Use your judgment, and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity. Make friends with people who want the best for you.” — From 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson.
III. Epistemic Confidence and Social Confidence
“We tend to conflate epistemic confidence and social confidence, treating them as if they’re a package deal. It’s easy to picture someone with both types of confidence, such as a leader pumping up his team with an inspiring pep talk about how there’s no doubt in his mind that they’re going to succeed. It’s also easy to picture someone lacking in both types of confidence, stammering nervously, ‘Uh, I’m really not sure what we should do here . . .’ But epistemic confidence and social confidence don’t have to be a package deal. Just look at Benjamin Franklin. He was brimming with social confidence—famously charming, witty, and ebullient, he made friends and launched new institutions his entire life. He was basically a celebrity in France, where he was constantly surrounded by adoring women who called him ‘Cher Papa’ (‘Dear Papa’). Yet Franklin paired his abundance of social confidence with an intentional lack of epistemic confidence. It was a practice he had started when he was young, after noticing that people were more likely to reject his arguments when he used firm language like certainly and undoubtedly. So Franklin trained himself to avoid those expressions, prefacing his statements instead with caveats like ‘I think . . .’ or ‘If I’m not mistaken . . .’ or ‘It appears to me at present . . .’ It was a tough habit to stick to at first. One of Franklin’s favorite pastimes as a young man had been proving other people wrong, or what might nowadays be called ‘destroying’ people in arguments. But the habit soon got easier as he started noticing how much more receptive people were to his opinions when he expressed them gently. Over time, Franklin became one of the most influential people in American history. He codrafted the Declaration of Independence. He convinced France to back the American colonies’ revolution against the British. He successfully negotiated the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, then helped draft and ratify the US Constitution. In his autobiography, an elderly Franklin reflects on his life and marvels at how effective his habit of speaking with ‘modest diffidence’ turned out to be: ‘And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had early so much weight with my fellow-citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old,’ he concluded.” — From The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't by Julia Galef.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Donald J. Robertson on overlooking our flaws when criticizing others:
“When you point your finger in anger at someone else, remember that three fingers on the same hand point back in your own direction.”
II. Mark Twain on the danger of certainty:
“It’s not what we don’t know that gets us in trouble. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”
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Thank you for reading,
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