Small Observations of an Insightful Kind

I am reading a book that was published over a hundred years ago by a little known writer who did not, as far as I know, have more than a handful of books published. Some say that everyone has a book inside them, but I am not sure that is true. Everyone has a real and unique story inside them, which can, if plotted, become a book that will keep us amused or entertained and be a pleasant way in which to pass time. The book that I am now reading is not one which has such a story, but is full of small observations of an insightful kind.

Casually, the author exposes these insights, which explain our behaviour when it seems irrational. If you were to extract the observations from the plot and put all the insights together you would have an anthropological study of humanity in London at the turn of the last century. If you simply read the book without attempting to synthesise its wisdom you will absorb the wisdom (or some of it) through the entertainment. The book is called “The City of Beautiful Nonsense” by E. Temple Thurston and you can read or download it for free at the Gutenberg website.

There are more famous books which are a collection of small observations of an insightful kind, and many of them, too. I think that this shows us the processes that our ideas go through and how they often end up. We live, as in a story, through a series of events and from those events we select pieces of what we think is wisdom. That wisdom is a belief, tempered by experience, which may or may not be profoundly true, but to us its truth is paramount and obvious, because we have lived and loved it.

We then recite the idea as a truth, or as a story, or as advice or as belief. That seems the process of living until we reach a condition when we want no more ideas, no more insights and no more trouble. That of course is the dangerous time as we take the small slice of history through which we have lived so far as containing all the wisdom and insights that the world will ever need. That may be so, but is unlikely to be so and it is even less unlikely that we will have been able to have the wisdom the select the important insights or the insights that will mend a broken world or even a broken heart.

Great minds can synthesise these insights; small minds live with them as prejudices. We ought to try to honour these insights, not as dogma or as hard wisdom, but as soft malleable wisdom (all real wisdom is malleable) whose truth lies in the strength of the ideas and whose wisdom lies in the beauty of truth.