Our Mind and Our Manners

Bill Abbate

Do you ever come across a quote that makes you sit up and take notice? I recall one such quote some years back when I first read the words of Pliny the Elder, a highly accomplished Roman author, lawyer, philosopher, military commander, and provincial governor. He is also known for writing the world's first encyclopedia, Naturalis Historia (Natural History). His quote was:

"The great business of man is to improve his mind, and govern his manners; all other projects and pursuits, whether in our power to compass or not, are only amusements." Gaius Plinius Secundus a.k.a. Pliny the Elder (23/24 – 79 AD)

When someone has something to say about how we can or should live our life, I always take notice. This is especially true when it includes the word "business"!

Pliny's wisdom is timeless, as this quote is more than two thousand years old! Some may not be familiar with terms such as "our power to compass or not." It simply means our power or ability to grasp, seize, or attain something. Or not, as he puts it. His use of this term refers to projects or pursuits in our lives, which includes almost anything we attempt to do.

Let's look at the two things Pliny suggests we make it our business to build our lives on: improving our mind and governing our manners.

Improving our mind

In this business of our lives, is anything more important than improving our minds? As our mind improves, our life improves. Some go so far as to say we are what we think, and our lives are the result of this thinking.

There is little doubt that everything in life rests on our thoughts, so to neglect working on our mind is to neglect ourselves, those we love and care for, and the life we are creating.

Improving our minds is not simply gaining more knowledge. We have practically all the world's knowledge available at our fingertips today with computers and the internet, but that does not mean our minds are improved.

To improve our minds requires strengthening our ability to think. How can we do this? Following is a list of a few ideas. We can:

  • Enhance our ability to take more than one perspectives about a subject.
  • Develop and deepen our curiosity and interest in more things in life.
  • Learn more about ourselves and others.
  • Listen more than we talk.
  • Overcome and remove our self-imposed limitations by living a life of finding what we can do instead of what we can't do.
  • Increase our ability to make connections in the world to see things we have not seen before.
  • Develop more common sense, wisdom, and emotional intelligence.
  • Journal and write to expand our thoughts and our mind.

The above are but a few ideas. What others would you include? I would love to add yours to this list and would appreciate it if you could list one or more in the comment section below.

Minding our manners

Why would it be important to govern our manners? Have you ever been around someone with poor manners? Not table manners, such as using the wrong fork, but poor manners in general.

One definition of manners is the outward bearing or way of behaving toward others. Did your parents ever tell you to "mind your manners"? If not, perhaps you were one of those very, very few perfect children out there!

Manners involve how you act, what you say, how you say it, and always involve other people. Since no one goes through life without relationships, can you see how important your manners can be? We set expectations in other people with our good or poor manners.

The reality of our manners is they impact those with whom we interact and their behavior. Our manners influence whether we earn respect or give respect to others. They are interwoven into our lives and all of those around us, impacting every relationship.

Manners are an integral part of every civilized society. Good manners can bring peace, while bad manners can create strife. Can you think of any reason for someone to display bad manners purposely, for good results of any type? If so, please add it to the comments below, as I would love to read it.

Can you understand why someone with bad or poor manners could get left behind by others? Our manners affect everything we do and everyone we touch in life. By governing our manners, we are in control of ourselves and our conduct. All of this affects not only what we say and do and how we see others, but what they say and do and how they see us.

Final thoughts

There is little doubt that most of us can benefit greatly by going about the business of improving our minds and governing our manners. These two things truly are the foundation of everything we build our lives on.

Why not focus on improving your mind and governing your manners to gain and live a better life? After all, as Pliny put it, all other projects or pursuits are only amusements!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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