The events of life bear most harshly upon the inexperienced; the yoke is heavy to the tender neck. – Seneca
What does that mean?
This is another great quote, but which had to be trimmed substantially in order to fit on Twitter.
Based on a slightly different translation, a longer version is: “Cruel fortune bears hardest upon the inexperienced; to the tender neck the yoke is heavy. The raw recruit turns pale at the thought of a wound, but the veteran looks undaunted upon his own gore, knowing that blood has often been the price of his victory.”
Cruel fortune is another way of saying bad luck or misfortune. It happens to all of us at some point in time. But hardest hit are those unused to the burden it brings with it.
While the example in the longer version of the quote is a bit harsh by the standards fo today, it was a very clear and understandable example at the time.
The quote reminds us that not everything in life is easy, or happens without effort or cost. As we become more experienced, we better understand what it takes to see things through to the end.
Why is being tough enough important?
In this case, I don’t mean tough as in mean. I mean tough like the soles of your feet. The more you walk, the tougher they get. Walking a long distance is hardest on those who are inexperienced, and have tender feet. To those who walk miles every day, it is nothing at all. It’s just part of life.
Similarly, financial misfortune hurts all, but the people who are experienced, the veterans of the financial markets, they understand how the cycles work, and can adapt. Those who are new to it, the inexperienced, they are the ones who suffer the most. They see a downturn as the end, where a veteran sees an opportunity to buy.
Being tough enough to not suffer too greatly at a downturn in your fortunes or a string of bad luck implies a certain level of experience. Not everyone is a veteran of war, and not everyone is injured in the pursuit of their goals. But if you’ve done something a few times, you get a feel for what could go wrong, and can be prepared for it.
Philosophy can provide some of that experience, and is easily transferred between aspects of life. If you understand that your happiness comes from within, you don’t have to be unhappy because the markets tumbled or a friend dumped you. You may still be upset, but you understand and can adapt, at least a little bit.
Where can I apply this in my life?
This ability of Philosophy to provide a way to understand the world around us is important to me, and I hope, to you as well. As we become more familiar with the experiences of others and how they think, we can begin to apply their lessons to our lives. In essence, we become veterans through their experiences and writings.
While no amount of reading could prepare you for the results of a knife fight, we can be prepared to understand the pain or the fear that might come from such an event. Similarly, if we understand the cycles of nature and of life, death becomes less freighting. As winter follows fall, so death follows old age.
Knowledge doesn’t make death welcome, but it helps us to understand how life works, and how everyone follows their own path from birth to death. Similarly, friendships blossom, mature, and eventually end. That doesn’t make losing a friend any easier to bear, just easier to understand.
The other option is to try to gain actual experience in each aspect of your life as quickly as possible. In this manner, you can attempt to become a veteran before your first wound. In reality, every ‘battle’ you are in brings with it the chance of injury. Whether the financial markets or building a book case, things can go badly.
Philosophy won’t help you avoid injury, whether physical or financial. But it will help you cope with the results, and perhaps a bit in the planning stages. Hopefully if you have been reading for a while, you know my preference for finding mentors or at least websites or books which contain the experiences of someone who knows.
Become a veteran in practice, rather than on a battle field. That is why people practice, people train, and they do it over and over again. You don’t want to learn a lesson with your dying breath, you want to learn it in practice so that you can survive if it happens to you in the real world, right?
Or, you can go through life being inexperienced, and being harmed most grievously each time things take a turn for the worse. Personally, while I dislike practice, it certainly beats the alternative. Prepare yourself for the times when things go against you, for someday they will.