Studying the Six Mistakes is a good idea since regardless of authorship, they are perennially applicable. Life can be so much easier of we don't sabotage ourselves with unnecessary errors!
According to Cicero the six mistakes that people seem to keep making throughout history are:
1. The Illusion That Personal Gain is Made Up of Crushing Others
But perhaps some of us tend to go overboard to the point of stepping on others because we are at heart a conservative species; we are hardwired for scarcity from thousands of years of living in the wild and being subjected to forces outside of our control like drought, famine, and so on.
This is still true today to some extent: we rely on a just in time supply chain for many of our resources. Competitiveness may have evolved along with the basic need for survival. So it's no surprise that some people take things to a hyper-competitive extreme and hoard resources.
To combat this psychology of scarcity and hyper-competitiveness in human nature, perhaps we should strive to define success more in terms of virtue and less in terms of material prosperity.
2. The Tendency to Worry About Things Which Can Not Be Changed or Corrected
The realization that you don't control external events often produces an introspective state of mind, where you are primarily concerned with bettering yourself, eliminating your character flaws, with healing your own life.
Of course you should be concerned about the well-being of other people. But rather than stressing over things that you cannot change, you might be better off taking care of your family or volunteering your time in order to make and impact.
Getting angry over injustice, even when it is warranted, is like grasping a hot coal - you are just burning yourself and those around on account of something you don't control.
3. Insisting That A Thing is Impossible Because We Cannot Accomplish It
Many of the technologies that we take for granted today, for example, were unthinkable during the Roman period.
Sure, something may not seem possible right now, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be accomplished someday or that a group of people working together couldn't accomplish it.
4. Refusing to Set Aside Trivial Preferences
I would include politics as a trivial preference, even though I get annoyed and stew in my head about other people's political views from time to time.
But it's good to remember that for better or worse, public policy is usually a complex matter of give and take. Is it really worth it to damage or even end relationships of political preferences?
5. Neglecting Development and Refinement of the Mind and not Acquiring the Habit of Reading and Study
Cicero loved books and libraries so much that stated "A room without books is like a body without a soul." He took refuge in his books during times of personal upheaval, which is likely why he considered reading so essential for happiness.
Ideas, books, and thinking about important subjects can fulfill you for an entire lifetime. When you don't seek out ideas, you have nothing to think about except for things like money, sports, pop music, and dominant culture.
Not reading enough also happens to be a common end-of life regret that many people have, so if you want to avoid this mistake, then get reading!
6. Attempting to Compel Others to Live and Believe as We Do
It really becomes a problem when people insist that the State pass laws which compel others to behave in a politically correct way for example, even when they are not hurting anyone. Authoritarianism has always been a perennial problem. (So maybe politics isn't a trivial preference after all then???)
My friend Josh Bachyinsky has laid out a formula for dealing with this ongoing human problem of imposing one's moral beliefs on others in his book The Zombies: On Morality.
The problem, in Josh's estimation, lies with people imposing what he calls "objective-prescriptive," moral beliefs on others, when doing so may be sub-optimal for them. His argument is about maximizing what is ideal for each person. You can also check out my video interview with him on YouTube:
How about you? Which of Cicero's 6 Mistakes are you most guilty of?
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