June 23


Wisdom Comes Only From Regret

Here is some life advice from Marcel Proust (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, on whose blog I found it).

There is no man … however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory. And yet he ought not entirely to regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man—so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise—unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded. I know that there are young fellows, the sons and grandsons of famous men, whose masters have instilled into them nobility of mind and moral refinement in their schooldays. They have, perhaps, when they look back upon their past lives, nothing to retract; they can, if they choose, publish a signed account of everything they have ever said or done; but they are poor creatures, feeble descendants of doctrinaires, and their wisdom is negative and sterile.

We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. The lives that you admire, the attitudes that seem noble to you are not the result of training at home, by a father, or by masters at school, they have sprung from beginnings of a very different order, by reaction from the influence of everything evil or commonplace that prevailed round about them. They represent a struggle and a victory,” – Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove.

Now, in my mid-thirties, I feel myself very conscious of the “fatuous or unwholesome incarnations” which I have for a long time been passing through, and so I hunger greatly for the affirmation that Proust offers here.


john benjamin, life advice, marcel proust, within a budding grove

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  • I should be very wise by now with some of my stupid past regrets! But really, when I look at some of the follies of my youth I realize that maybe they have made me a more compassionate person towards others instead of being judgmental.

    Great post!

    • Let us hope that compassion is the penultimate stage before wisdom 🙂

    • Agreed! I actually tried to read the novel in which this quotation comes from, but gave up. It’s really wading pace, very slow.

  • I love “they have sprung from beginnings of a very different order, by reaction from the influence of everything evil or commonplace that prevailed round about them.” You learn a certain set of principles when you are young, and then you have them tested by experience. I think you need to face the grey areas in life before you can really know what you stand for. Thanks for sharing!

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