The Art of Worldly Wisdom Book Summary - The Art of Worldly Wisdom Book explained in key points
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The Art of Worldly Wisdom summary

Baltasar Gracián y Morales

A Pocket Oracle

4.2 (438 ratings)
21 mins
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    The Art of Worldly Wisdom
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    Creating and nurturing lasting friendships is key to success.

    Let’s start off with a maxim that’s as simple as it is important: “have friends.” Sure, this seems obvious, but there’s a reason Gracián thought it was important to include. This is because the advantages of having friends aren’t necessarily as simplistic as you think. And as you’ll see, how you go about choosing your friends has a big impact on your place in the world.

    Gracián recommends trying to make a new friend every day. Even if it only results in a new acquaintance rather than a future confidant, this is an important act. If you find this difficult, then Gracián has some advice – the best way to make friends is to already act like their friend. Apply this principle to your in-person or online communications to more effectively form new friendships.

    Now, although Gracián definitely recommends casting your net wide, this doesn’t mean all friendships are created equal. In fact, you should be careful when choosing which of your friends you trust the most or those you spend the most time with. One factor to consider is that there are usually two types of friends – friends of talent, and friends of humor. Although you might value a humorous friend for the entertainment they provide you, spending time with them might have negative consequences. This is because when observed in their company, others might assume that you too are only of humorous value or, as Gracián bluntly puts it, a fool.

    To make sure this doesn’t happen, be sure also to surround yourself with talented people. Gracián even thought that if you simply spent time around people more intelligent than yourself, you would supernaturally receive some of their intelligence. While we now know that that isn’t true psychologically speaking, we can’t deny that we are influenced and inspired by those we spend time with.

    For example, take a moment to examine the lives of some of today’s most successful people. What do they all have in common? They all associate themselves with other successful people. What’s more is that in many cases, they were doing so before they made their big breaks. This is because if you cultivate a network of outstanding, talented people, it will lead to a number of knock-on effects. One of these has to do with learning. When you run into problems or need advice, having a network of thriving people around you means you’ll never be short of advice or solutions. Your constant learning and gathering of experience means that, one day, you too will be able to share your knowledge with others.

    So, now that you know who you should be seeking out to be your close friends, how do you go about cultivating these friendships? Gracián presents numerous tips on how to do so, and we’ll go through three of these.

    First and foremost, don’t hold onto your views too firmly.  Sometimes, conceding a point or accepting you’re wrong can be integral to maintaining rapport and social standing. If you’re too harsh in defending all your positions all the time, your social reputation will suffer. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to give in on everything. You undoubtedly have existential and deep-rooted opinions that shape the core of your identity, and no good friend should expect you to change them. But when it comes to everything else, don’t waste too much social capital arguing with friends.

    The second way you can maintain and deepen friendships is by not talking about yourself. For some of us, this can be hard. But, as Gracián explains, talking about yourself often leads to being perceived as either vain or meek. This is because focusing on yourself can easily lead to excessive self-praise – or self-criticism.

    Finally, the third principle behind cultivating friendships is to avoid being boring. This sounds rather obvious, but for Gracián, it’s key to social relations. He notes that when you associate with people at the top of their field, not being boring becomes even more important. This is because successful people are often very busy, meaning that they’re even more annoyed with people who they feel are wasting their limited time. So, make an effort to practice brevity and variety when conversing with friends. As Gracián says, “good things, if brief: twice good.” On the flip side, “badness, if short, isn’t so bad.”

    Sadly, even the best of friendships sometimes come to an end. It’s in situations like these where you have to be very careful – the closer the friend, the worse the future detractor if things end badly. So take care when it comes to ending friendships. Take a gentle, forgiving approach if at all possible, and avoid saying anything offensive that might come back to haunt you.

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    What is The Art of Worldly Wisdom about?

    The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647) is a timeless self-help classic. Comprising 300 short but brilliant maxims, it sheds light on how to live your life, achieve success, and win respect. It has remained consistently relevant throughout its nearly 400-year publication history, inspiring the likes of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche.

    Who should read The Art of Worldly Wisdom?

    • Anyone looking for time-tested wisdom on how to live a better life;
    • Curious minds interested in the subtle art of giving and receiving favors; and
    • Self-help fans wanting to see how little the genre has changed over the centuries.

    About the Author

    Baltasar Gracián was a seventeenth-century Spanish Jesuit priest, philosopher, and novelist. Over the centuries, his Art of Worldly Wisdom has been reprinted countless times in over a dozen languages. In 1992, a new English translation sold over 200,000 copies and topped the American best-seller list.

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