Great Lessons

Bill Abbate

What can we learn about life from a philosopher who lived 2,400 years ago? Plenty!

Let’s look at three pieces of wisdom from one of the greatest philosophers in history and how they can help us live a better life in today’s world.

One of the greats

He is one of the pivotal figures in Greek and Western philosophy, along with his student Aristotle and teacher Socrates. His words have resonated with mankind for more than two millennia and will undoubtedly remain trustworthy and influential far into the future.

As the founder of Western political philosophy, he wrote a great deal about different forms of government. His works are so widely studied they even influenced Christianity through their impact on St. Augustine. Unlike many of his contemporaries, the entire body of his work has remained intact!

Plato was born around 428/427 B.C. and lived a long life dying at 80 even though the average life expectancy was only 35 years at the time. He died around 348/347 B.C.

Plato founded the first higher learning institution in Western civilization. It was located in Athens and named The Academy.

Following are three pieces of Plato’s life-changing wisdom, with takeaways for each.

Conquering the self

“For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” Plato

If you never conquer yourself, you could wind up living a life filled with mediocrity. Conquering yourself requires discipline and strength. These are needed to control unreasonable desires, runaway emotions, hasty reactions, and unrealistic expectations.

Conquering the self requires developing a high degree of self-awareness, self-control, and self-discipline. The greater these become, the better, happier, and more fulfilling life you will lead.

Without self-control and self-discipline to tame yourself, life can quickly come to ruin.

Self-control is needed to tame your unconscious feelings, emotions, and behaviors that suddenly come upon you.

Self-discipline is necessary for controlling conscious decisions. It helps you hold your tongue and think things through before acting.

Either conquer and control yourself or wind up at the mercy of circumstances and others. Better that you are in control, don’t you think?


“If a man neglects education, he walks lame to the end of his life.” Plato

Every person with a brain made for thinking needs to exercise it to keep it sharp. What better way to do this than to continue learning throughout your life? As the old commercial said, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

As with muscles, when the brain goes unused, it will atrophy. Neglecting education and learning, which are synonymous, will hobble you and compromise your mental health. Who wants that?

Another way to say this is:

To neglect learning is to neglect your life.

Can you imagine forgoing an education in today’s society? What a waste that would be when a world of information is freely available on the internet! Whether self-taught or formal, education creates the path to what you will achieve and possess.

Why not make learning a lifelong passion? All it takes is a bit of self-control and self-discipline to get on and stay on the path of learning. Do it not only to create a better life for yourself, but for those you care about as well!


“The greatest wealth is to live content with little.” Plato

Greed is common in human nature. Some wealthy individuals cannot be satisfied with what they have and will always seek more by whatever means necessary. To get caught up in such a cycle is like drug addiction, with the drug being money and possessions. Such people tend never to be satisfied and, although they have more than they could ever want, live miserable lives. Don’t be like them!

The problem with much of the world today is that too many think wealth is only money and possessions, while it is so much more. The wealth Plato refers to is being satisfied with what you have and not straining and striving for more.

Have you heard the adage:

What you own owns you.

It is true. The more content you are with owning little, the fewer worries you have. What you own always consumes your most valuable resource, time. Owning little requires far less of this irreplaceable resource.

When you have little or nothing to lose, you have little to risk, freeing you up to gain more if you wish. Owning little requires less of your life (time and attention), giving you more freedom. Remember, the more you own, the more you are owned.

Final thoughts

Did you notice the common thread through Plato’s three statements? Each demands self-awareness, self-control, and self-discipline. You need these three to conquer yourself, become a lifelong learner, and keep a proper perspective on true wealth.

It never ceases to amaze me how many principles in life have been consistent throughout the ages. Despite so much change in society today, the fundamentals always remain.

Take to heart Plato’s wisdom and apply it whenever and wherever you can. Why not set aside some time and examine each of Plato’s suggestions as they apply to your life? As his teacher, Socrates, stated:

“The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates (470–399 BC)

If you wish to read the many great works of Plato, you can find them at MIT’s website here, or as a single volume by John M. Cooper here.

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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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