i was reading this atlantic article about the popularity of an ancient chinese philosophy course at harvard. this course attracts so many students that the enrollment ranks third at the university, behind intro to econ and intro to cs. one of the philosophical tenets taught in this course is that “[t]he smallest actions have the most profound ramifications”:
When we notice and understand what makes us tick, react, feel joyful or angry, we develop a better sense of who we are that helps us when approaching new situations. Mencius, a late Confucian thinker (4th century B.C.E.), taught that if you cultivate your better nature in these small ways, you can become an extraordinary person with an incredible influence, altering your own life as well as that of those around you, until finally “you can turn the whole world in the palm of your hand.”
i can’t help but be reminded of the latter part of verse 32 in proverbs 16, which i find beautifully striking: “whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, / and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” how odd to think that the person capable of ruling her spirit is better than the one who conquers a city. but then again, perhaps a great deal of wisdom in self-control and self-awareness has become lost to us. could it be that one’s spirit is actually more unruly than a city? or maybe it’s just more important to rule your own spirit than to rule a city.
and let’s not forget heraclitus’ maxim, “character is destiny.” after all, what is character but a series of tiny decisions and actions that we undertake over time, which pave the way to how we cultivate ourselves, determining where and how we end up?