What Is Man? is a powerful book written by Mark Twain that was sent to me by the heavens at the exact time I needed it. It advised me to look inside at what my mind was telling me to do instead of continuing to re-live behaviors that gave me happiness in the past.
Here is the wisdom I learned:
1. “Whatsoever a man is, is due to his make, and to the influences brought to bear upon it by his heredities, his habitat, his associations. He is moved, directed, commanded, by exterior influences—solely. He originates nothing, not even a thought.”
2. Your thoughts are instantly formed without any work on your part, the result of thousands of influences that shape you into who you are. No thought of yours is truly original—it has all been influenced. All men do is observe and combine.
3. A man can only achieve the top of his society, not another’s. A French musician can produce the finest of French music that is deeply enjoyed by his peers, but he will never produce music that is enjoyed by Chinese people.
4. A writer or artist is nothing more than a machine that is built up by influences. If an artist produces richer work than another, it’s because he used brighter paint or finer threads. In other words, his influences were better.
5. Self-improvement is a form of training that takes raw material (knowledge) and turns it into something beautiful (finished product), like taking iron ore from a mountain and turning it into steel that constructs skyscrapers.
6. You are motivated only to benefit your own good, not to help others. Those who decide to help others do so because it satisfies something within. Everything you do is for your own approval, even selfless acts that benefit strangers.
7. A man will never do anything which goes against what gives him true comfort. His behavior secures him peace of mind that has been determined by his training and temperament “He will always do the thing which will bring him the most mental comfort—for that is the sole law of his life.”
8. “There is no act, large or small, fine or mean, which springs from any motive but the one—the necessity of approving and contenting one’s own spirit.”
9. Inner turmoil is a result of not doing what brings you comfort. Close your eyes and let your mind direct your behavior to that which it wants. It is your master—a master created by training and make.
10. We are indifferent to another person’s pain unless that pain causes us pain.
11. Men do make sacrifices but it is for their own sake first, to please his spirit in some way.
12. Once a man thinks he has found truth, he puts up high walls to defend it. He is no longer open to different ideas or thought.
13. Your master (mind) is fickle and indecisive. Sometimes it makes you do things that make you feel pain. It is not perfect.
14. A good man will train himself in a way that his behaviors content him and also benefit those around him.
15. A man committing a horrible crime is actually an act that took many years and countless negative influences to accomplish. It was not a spontaneous behavior.
16. “Temperament is born, not made.”
This book was absolutely brilliant and ranks aside Walden as a work that helped right my wobbly balance. I did sense a touch of Eastern philosophy within its pages, particular how thought is independent of self. While I do think that genetics play a larger role than Twain suggests, it’s a mere minor fault in one of the best book’s I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.