to my beloved anissa on her 18th birthdayJune 21 2012 at 11:31 AM
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"it is often the case that people of noble character and great mental gifts betray a strange lack of worldly wisdom and a deficiency in the knowledge of men, more especially when they are young; with the result that it is easy to deceive or mislead them; and that, on the other hand, natures of the commoner sort are more ready and successful in making their way in the world.
the reason of this is that, when a little girl has little or no experience, she must judge by her own antecedent notions; and in matters demanding judgment, an antecedent notion is never on the same level as experience. for, with the commoner sort of people, an antecedent notion means just their own selfish point of view. this is not the case with those whose mind and character are above the ordinary; for it is precisely in this respect—their unselfishness—that they differ from the rest of mankind; and as they judge other people's thoughts and actions by their own high standard, the result does not always tally with their calculation.
but if, in the end, a little girl of noble character comes to see, as the effect of her own experience, or by the lessons she learns from others, what it is that may be expected of men in general,—namely, that five-sixths of them are morally and intellectually so constituted that, if circumstances do not place you in relation with them, you had better get out of their way and keep as far as possible from having anything to do with them,—still, she will scarcely ever attain an adequate notion of their wretchedly mean and shabby nature: all her life long she will have to be extending and adding to the inferior estimate she forms of them; and in the meantime she will commit a great many mistakes and do herself harm.
then, again, after she has really taken to heart the lessons that have been taught her, it will occasionally happen that, when she is in the society of people whom she does not know, she will be surprised to find how thoroughly reasonable they all appear to be, both in their conversation and in their demeanor—in fact, quite honest, sincere, virtuous and trustworthy people, and at the same time shrewd and clever.
but that ought not to perplex her. nature is not like those bad poets, who, in setting a fool or a knave before us, do their work so clumsily, and with such evident design, that you might almost fancy you saw the poet standing behind each of his characters, and continually disavowing their sentiments, and telling you in a tone of warning: this is a knave; that is a fool; do not mind what he says. but nature goes to work like Shakespeare and Goethe, poets who make every one of their characters—even if it is the devil himself!—appear to be quite in the right for the moment that they come before us in their several parts; the characters are described so objectively that they excite our interest and compel us to sympathize with their point of view; for, like the works of nature, every one of these characters is evolved as the result of some hidden law or principle, which makes all they say and do appear natural and therefore necessary. and you will always be the prey or the plaything of the devils and fools in this world, if you expect to see them going about with horns or jangling their bells.
and it should be borne in mind that, in their intercourse with others, people are like the moon, or like hunchbacks; they show you only one of their sides. every man has an innate talent for mimicry,—for making a mask out of his physiognomy, so that he can always look as if he really were what he pretends to be; and since he makes his calculations always within the lines of his individual nature, the appearance he puts on suits him to a nicety, and its effect is extremely deceptive. he dons his mask whenever his object is to flatter himself into some one's good opinion; and you may pay just as much attention to it as if it were made of wax or cardboard, never forgetting that excellent italian proverb: non é si tristo cane che non meni la coda,—there is no dog so bad but that he will wag his tail.
in any case it is well to take care not to form a highly favorable opinion of a person whose acquaintance you have only recently made, for otherwise you are very likely to be disappointed; and then you will be ashamed of yourself and perhaps even suffer some injury.
" - arthur schopenhauer, counsels and maxims