One of the key themes of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (which I’m currently reading for the first time) is self-deception. The reader quickly perceives that Nikolai Rostov, Andrei Bolkonsky, and many other characters are fooling themselves about their own worth, thoughts, and actions. There is a connection here to a famous quote from Tolstoy:
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
To think of changing oneself, one must first know oneself with unblemished honesty, which is far easier said than done. Indeed, as I am fond of saying:
The easiest thing in the world is self-deception.
We’re all too aware that the world is immersed in ceaseless commentary about societal and political matters. Everyone has opinions about the changes they would like to see in the world, and some people have such strong opinions that they believe it’s necessary first of all to destroy the existing order of things. No moderation for them: the only solution is revolution!
This is where we can appreciate another great quote from Tolstoy:
There can be only one permanent revolution – a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man.
Yet people are much more willing to advocate and agitate for the outer revolution of political regeneration, because the inner revolution is the hardest of all. Climbing the ladder of moral improvement requires extraordinary self-discipline, as we learn from all the greatest ethical and religious thinkers: Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, Aristotle, Epictetus, Augustine, Spinoza, et al. It was with good reason that Spinoza ended his Ethics with the following sentence:
All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. After all, another of my aphorisms is this:
You don’t have to achieve an ideal to realize the benefits of idealism.
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