What I like to call "The Method of Socrates"* is a powerful weapon of understanding, education and free, critical thinking.
I simplify it to something you can wield in many occasions.
Use it when you want to identify what is actually discussed, to verify what one understands and means to say, and when you want to make people discover that they only think they know but they know almost nothing. You would use it with caution, when adequate, not like an apprentice sorcerer.
To imitate Socrates, you start with making ignorance conscious, you bring out into the open – tactfully - that which we do not know; then, the door is unlocked to think critically and to learn.
Without finding out that they do not know, people are sufficient, like cups full to the brim, incapable to absorb something different or new. You must help empty some of their their cup and make them feel that they "know nothing
Then, like Socrates you will make learn, not from received wisdom, but by advancing from one puzzlement to the next, knowing more and more of what you do not know; not from certainty to more certainty but from question to question.
One of the killers of good judgment and of conversation is the supposition that "we know" and that the words mean the same thing for all of us; the best way to misunderstanding is to ask the inept question: "Did you understand?" and to take the empty answer: "Yes." for a proof of success.
Meaning-full communication is to ask: "What did you understand?" or "How would you define or explain this? What do you think about ...?" or some similar polite version (like "Please tell me more" or "Please explain") for finding out what was meant and understood.
For this reason, reject the convention that everybody knows, “of course we all know the subject” and propose, with or without irony that you personally don’t know
, that in fact you feel totally ignorant and want to be explained.
Then, ask the Socratic Quid question  “What is it?
” Persist politely; repeat the question if needed, to have clarified what it is and what it is not, what is different from other things. Do not accept the replacement of definition of that which is essential with mere obvious examples. Amazingly, most people, including experts, prove unable to give a true definition of things they profess or practice every day, as the superficial understanding is obscured with plenty of words, details and received opinions. It is hard to pin down the nature of things. In fact the simplest and self-evident looking notions we use every day, are the most difficult to define.
The second face of the Socratic method which I retain, is not in this or that question but in the questioning
; it is not the trees, it is the forest.
Socrates gives himself the unrestricted licence to ask questions. He felt that to be free you must know yourself and own the words you use
; that unexamined life is not worth living . Without this attitude you cannot imitate him.
Socrates assumed that all the knowledge was already there , in the person, sleeping or gestating; the task of the master is, accordingly, the art of the midwife
, to help people's own understanding to be born.
After that first step which was to make people understand that they did not understand (or too little) of things they believe to know well, this maïeutic, paradoxically, demonstrates the contrary - that we know more that we think we know. Moreover, it makes us feel that we are not blank slates to be written on by other people, but instead we have the means to think with our own head.
With this purpose of midwifery, after asking "What it is? » Socrates leads the person, question after question, towards discovering truth.
I would - unlike Socrates - add that after finding out what one believes and understands, where one's mind is, (and only then) you can actually proceed to teach, educate and change the direction of a mind.
The deepest face of the "Method of Socrates" as I see it, the gift from him, is the handing over of the method itself, helping one in learning how to learn; Socrates teaches an attitude to knowledge, a way to examine everything, his magic pointing finger. An old Chinese story  illustrated best what I desire from Socrates:An immortal hovering along a deserted road met a miserable half-starved beggar. In pity, the benevolent ghost touched a pebble with his finger and miraculously, the stone turned to gold. But the beggar did not look content.
Amazed, the spirit chose a bigger stone, laid his finger on it and Lo! it became gold too. The mendicant was still not satisfied.
Puzzled, the celestial being tapped a big rock into gold; the beggar was still visibly discontent. Exasperated, the immortal asked:
"What more do you want?"
The method of Socrates is what he does.
* The philosophers, expert in the study of Socratic thought teach something else, much more abstract, which I am not entitled to deny. Theirs may be the true Socrates who was; I only care for one tool from the ages-improved heritage as it trickles down to us, possibly legend, but a legend of value to my life and skill.
[**] "I thought to myself, " I am wiser than this man ; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either."" Plato, Apology, in Plato I, Loeb CL, Harvard UP, Cambridge.., p.83 (Tr. Fowler)
 Plato, Meno (Tr. Guthrie) 71b, Bollingen ed., Princeton, 1989, p. 354: “..how can I know a property of something when I don’t even know what it is?”
 Plato, Apology, 38a
 Plato's Socrates seems to believe that knowledge comes from a divine realm of pure ideas and that it is pre-existent in man. I do not believe this, but there is always some pre-existent knowledge; I experienced many times the common-sense fact that when you meet real-life persons be it children or, even more, adults, they do contain rich previous experience and lore which must be considered and put to work. You cannot erase that reality and replace it with your teaching; you must build on it.
 Fung Yu-lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, Macmillan, NY, 1960, p. 330
There is the common fool and the big fool.
The ordinary fool is weak, mindless, clumsy and numerous, but the big fool is gifted, intelligent, educated, creative.
The big fool works passionately to do good things – unfortunately, often without reflecting enough, without thinking through their deeper meaning and long-term consequence and without an examined sense of values or priorities.
Big fool, big loss:
Sharp intelligence, wounding blunder.
High knowledge, deep stupidity.
Great wisdom, great sorrow.
At a personal level, common sense (or is some of it uncommon?) recognises that I am a fool:
if I ignore reality around me, by lack of attention or arrogance;
if I ignore people with lack of empathy, do not listen, nor pay attention to who they are and what they care for, beyond my own needs;
if I cannot apply the knowledge that how you do things, where, when, with whom, is as decisive as what you do;
if I do not know myself so that other people know me better and take advantage of my blind spots;
if flattery works with me;
if I am impressed by the company of the powerful and success, titles and power go to my head;
if I make my decisions moved by impatience, emotion and passions like envy, greed, lust (love is no better), hate, anger, cowardice, urge for power or renown;
if I cannot control my rushed emotional reactions or hold my tongue;
if I let myself be carried with sway of public opinion and trends;
if when looking back on what I did, it was imprudence and recklessness;
if I don’t use my strengths while knowing my limits, but engage in tasks beyond my capacities;
if I show poor, superficial judgement, grounded on what comes to eye and ear and my desires, instead of seeking out the important and urgent;
if I cling attached to what is passing and worry excessively for that which does not depend on me;
if by compassion, I die for other people’s misfortunes;
if I do things, have smart ideas, work hard, fight with courage, but I don’t really know why and what I really want - for what cause and with what intention I do all these things;
if I only think short-term, and practice a hand-to-mouth intelligence but delay endlessly the long-term so that I cannot answer: “what are the main things you want and follow in your life?”;
if I cannot consider and master the difference between what I have, what I give, what I do, what I act, who I am, how I live;
if I learn and discover and know, and work just for the sake of it, unaware that these are means and that the end of all is the benefit of people, including me;
if I say the truth for the sake of the truth and do justice for the sake of justice, ignoring that truth and justice must serve higher values of good life, happiness, peace, dignity;
if I confuse how this world of ours really is, with nowhere lands of ideas;
if I confuse my limited life, with the past and the future of humanity, deluded by people who lie to me that I live in History;
if I am too weak to apply what I learned from other people’s errors and my own mistakes and so repeat them forever;
if I fall regularly into those well known weaknesses known as capital sins and degrading turpitude: miserliness, selfishness, cruelty, negligence, neglect, pride, anger wrath, envy...;
if I am arrogant in success but collapse in defeat;
if I am stubborn, so as to persist making from one mistake several…
if I lack courage to say: “I do not know”, “I cannot...”, “Sorry, I was wrong”, “You were right”, “Let me think”;
if I proved on occasion to be ignorant or credulous but still believe to know all;
if I am wasting my irreversibly passing days, squandering my years, my talents and my opportunities...
Then my son, I am a big fool.
As I write these lines I see that the litany will never end. We fools are creative indeed. It would keep growing until it devours all my past. And of course, there are much bigger fools than this and more dangerous too.
The lack of personal wisdom - I would gather at this time - is mostly deficit of depth and vision in daily life, weakness and lack of control: rushed judgment, heedless action, and unexamined life.
It is existence determined disproportionately from outside your deliberation, following unawares urges, fears and desires. It is responding too much instead of acting, bumping into dangers and constraints instead of preventing them early or going around them.
Lack of wisdom persists even in presence of fair understanding of what is wise. The Greeks called akrasia that feeble lack of self-control and of endurance that makes good people unable to do what they know to be good for them. Weakness, self-centred deficit of attention, forgetfulness and other flaws of character may ruin good knowledge of wisdom and the desire to be wise.
I pan and sieve my memories for the useful things I learned in my life. I am puzzled...
Many things I recall are quite normal and supporting of the way I supposed the world would be, good being good and bad - wrong - nothing special to learn there; but what to do about this:
Bad people helped me and good people did me harm.
Friends sold each-other in times of need while enemies joined for the sake of better causes.
Gentle people did evil things and evil ones good things.
Upright ones proved mad, as crazy ones spoke with good logic.
Respectful people were reeking prejudice, outcasts were open to truth.
Some who owed me forsook me and total strangers saved me from trouble, at their risk.
Honest people proved heartless, scoundrels with big hearts gave me with both hands.
Bright people acted like destructive fools while stupid ones were prudent and sensible.
Learned ones were obtuse know-alls and I saw the ignorant curious and improving.
Liars said the truth and honest men lied to crowds.
Kind people were stupid and silly people skillful masters of their trade.
Scrupulous believers proved hypocrites to their vows, cynical atheists died for moral justice.
Loving fathers were callous torturers, and whores, kind-hearted mothers.
Experienced people kept being dead wrong and beginners inexplicably right.
What to do about all this mess? It is not poetry. It is life.
What to learn from this chaos where everything is possible and it’s contrary too - at the same time and from the same point of view? What will you do under the deluge of inconsistency? Give up? Be wise by doing what you are told? Conclude that everything goes?
What do you
learn from it?
What did I learn?
That things are complicated and must probably be suffered to remain so. We should not cheat ourselves or lie to other people that they are simple when they are not.
I learned that I can keep being myself only if I make my own mind, that I must judge to my best, and that is enough... for a while.
I had to grow accustomed and unperturbed to juggle in my mind contradiction unresolved but not denied. Contradiction makes you dizzy only if you cannot make up with endless change.
I understood the saying of an Indian sage that "The enemies of today may be the friends of tomorrow and the friends of today the enemies of tomorrow." This is true in many fields.
I grew prone to agree to disagree, peacefully, as long as I am left in peace.
I learned that there is a time for doubting everything and another to be certain for a while, to judge and decide; there are also some moments to simply trust.
I learned to trust myself “but make allowance for their doubting too
I learned how crippling can be persistence in one's strong honest beliefs in the face of fact and argument showing that it is the time to disbelieve.
I learned that in human matters, precision is far from truth but luring us into error. In such matters conscious trust is to me as useful as fact, provided I discern the difference.
I learned to make peace with the uncertainty that what I do not know and will never know is infinite; I lost the petty need to reduce that infinity to my little knowledge. This joyful, prideful humility - gives me balance and boldness in the middle of the flow.
I learned to ground my knowledge on the little I know, untroubled by the million reserves I always keep in mind.
I grew reluctant to judge people once for ever just because I must do it quickly from time to time.
I learned not to weigh people on what they were or what they are and do and have now, but on what I foresee them to become in time.
I learned to find out or even decide who I am, what I like and what I dislike and hate, value or neglect, what I respect and what I despise in the private garden of my soul.
I learned to stick to my own compass and keep close to my own values, because I chose so, aware of changing winds and tides, accepting that “there is a time for everything.
I learned that it is possible, necessary and advisable to see the good grain inside the bad and the bad seed inside the good fruit, like the contrary spots in yin and yang; this makes you much stronger, even when you fight against them.
At one time, when my son was a small boy I would ask him:
Where do you live?
He answered with good sense:
“Street so and so, second floor.”
I would smile and correct him didactically:
“No Daniel, you live in the Endless, immense Universe, in the Virgo Supercluster, the Milky Way Galaxy of numberless stars and planets, the Solar System, on our good old Planet Earth, continent Europe, Switzerland, Geneva, by the lake Leman on the Rhone river, in Onex, rue Gros-Chêne, 14A, second floor. You live in the World.”
He understood what I meant, quickly, like a smart kid; and he lives his adult life accordingly (or almost).
It helps to know where you live to think out of the box
or when little people bother you down here in the pit.
There are countries, recently “freed” where people do not realise how they are purposefully, methodically dwarfed in their soul by the mere microscopic placement of their home address or name.
Good people consider normal to be recognized to exist and be enabled to sign with their name only after being identified as: identity complete, birth date and place, card number XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, series XXX, delivered by local authority XYZ now confirmed as living in Region XX, City XXXXXXXX, Sector XX, Bloc XXX, Door XX, Staircase Xb, floor XX, app. XX.
In their address there is no reference, of course, of Europe, the World, Earth and so on; but they still get harangued – daily - of being responsible for the greenness of the planet, the regular famine in the third world, the barbarianism of religious oppression far away and the huge bright promise of Paradise which is living in One Global World, free, modern and civilised.
I am a reader, not one of those so called writers.
Mine is the unseen, unrewarded work, without which written words have no reason to be. I do not need to be fair. Faceless as I am, I am the final judge of books. I cut books to my size.
I determine - with my powers to understand and my view - what is in fact written there on the pages.
The intentions I discern are the ones that come to be real. The ugliness I see, maybe my own, becomes the author's. The beauty I see, is my gift to him, to her.
Lucky the pen strong enough to carry me with its flow, the one sharp enough to get past me!
When I am a bad reader I look with slant eyes to catch the mistake; weakness found makes me feel better. When I am indifferent, I lean back and say "amuse me, let me see what you are worth, clown!" When I am of the good ones, I knock, ask the books questions and try to wake up the sleeping wisdom in them, I adorn them generously with the beauty and the thoughts found in me;
then, books glow.
Where is the monument of the nameless reader?
The wisdom of Montaigne is of a sort that will come to be needed again*; that of the thinker who makes his life worth living in times of the beast
Let us face it, there is a time for everything
; under tyranny, wisdom is opportunistic; or silent. Genius, to change the world, must stay alive.
Servitude is distasteful and its compromises are ugly; you survive crawling like a worm.
But there is still choice; as the witty epigram put it in my youth,
"the race of worms is not just wriggling ilk;
some make us sick
but some, make silk" 
Prudent Montaigne was of the silk-giving kind. In fact he was born in silk and lived in silk. As for his work, it was of the world changing class.
Montaigne is heavy artillery disguised as fireworks.
Montaigne’s work, The Essays
, sprouted – as a strange, untimely flower – from the middle of arbitrary rule and fanaticism, at the peak time of witch-hunting in Europe - the sixteenth century. You would not imagine living there. His feat was to plant a seed of independent thinking in the belly of the beast, without becoming a martyr. Born an insider to the system, he enjoyed privilege and approval, made a career, while being as I see him, a most effective dissident. Internal exile seems to be the way of life of genius in bad times; lack of wisdom would be to die for proud impatience of speech.
In a "disturbed sick state" of religious persecution, censorship, savage civil war and plague, in an epoch where (as it often happens in history) might was right, under the inquisitive eye of absolute Monarchy and Church, Montaigne is inner freedom, critical spirit, the I, smiling, in gentlemanly attire; a quiet one-man revolution in human dignity and civilisation. He accomplishes to live unbent in a crooked world.
Montaigne had to learn how to navigate an ocean of insecurity, a reign of cynicism, chaos, stupidity and malice; he did. His, was what I like to call a strategy of the cork
- living now, and consciously evolving relative to ebb and flow of stormy tide, with one clear, floating landmark - keep at the surface, do not founder into wickedness. His way of being free - and of freeing other people - was to craft choices to navigate the complexity of unfreedom.
In his daily life, he was a reliable conservative gentleman, careful to heed Christ and give Caesar what is Caesars' and to God what is God's . What was his, he kept for himself.
In writing, the moralist played the tradition of the wise fool, gently; behind the Fool, hides the mountain. He worked to change the world from a position of weakness.
While practicing subversion of authority (knowingly or instinctively, what do I know?
), Michel Eyquem, freshly accepted country gentleman descending from fish and wine merchants and Marrano patricians, parvenu to French nobility, achieves to be regarded and even better, to live like a grand seigneur of agreeable company and vital counsel to royals as different as Henry III, Catherine de Medici and Henry IV of Navarre.
Mysteriously, the distracted, lazy, dreamy Sieur de Montaigne, always about to retire in the arrière boutique of his ivory tower, tormented by his kidney stones, uninterested in having any power in his hands, is found discretely central in the negotiations to convince Henry of Navarre that Paris is well worth a Mass . Unimportant and anonymous as he pretended to be, he still gets imprisoned at the Bastille, from where Catherine de Medici, that proverbially nice, charitable lady, extracts him urgently: "Touche-pas à mon pote!" This outsider was just too useful, irreplaceable to waste.
The apparent chatterbox was a prudent master of silence; not many people are able to speak so candidly and write so much without ever bragging or allowing secrets to escape their lips. Nothing transpires on his pages from the intrigues of the princes, the negotiations of the factions or the Bordeaux city real politics.
Because he was discreet and kept away from the civil war mêlée, he was solicited, named and summoned in absence to be mayor of the troubled city of Bordeaux, rara avis able to mediate between Catholics and Protestants under the climate well symbolized by the Saint Bartholomew Night massacre. Public savagery preserves a touch of common sense asking help from is opposite.
Meanwhile, he wrote his book – the lasting achievement.
He finds a flabbergasting stratagem to spread different ideas – reflexive writing. He writes to himself, about himself, as if. He does not write like others do about truth of the world, the Universe, nor about religion, just about himself, “domestic and private” ideally naked like a cannibal; it is not about reality he writes, no, no, simply about his intimate person, his body – thumb and prick included and his mind, about the strange, unimportant, private thoughts visiting his playful imagination.
He, a humble sinner, is simply spending rich hours trying his hand and fantasy at attempting mere Essays
The Essays omit to show us how prudent and skillful he was in difficult circumstances with kings, queens and inquisitors. He only describes his skill with robbers. It was not a biography or a chronicle. For a change, he relates in detail how weak he was, the blunders he did, how he never knew what he forgot, how little he knew and how uncertainly.
In fact, he was a skillful social man, a born diplomat; but he does not remind his successes or the events he influenced. He complains in detail about his pains and his clumsiness, his inattention. The man he depicts - so small and weak - shows that a great spirit is amazingly simple, a human being as we all can be
. This is why so many people recognise themselves in his book.
Montaigne is a great author, indirectly. We cannot measure his influence so much by thankful quotes from later peers as by the reaction of great authors who opposed his ideas and who built on that opposition, often without quoting his name. Influence does not mean enslaving followers, rather making people think - their way - to what you propose. He is great by "the share which his mind had in influencing other minds
" . Contemporaries liked his prose and maybe opened their minds without detecting all the implications.
His tour de force in proliferating the ferment of critical spirit
was executed with such a light touch, with velvet gloves, in such a pleasant, moderate, deferential, conservative, opportunistic, entertaining, exotic, metaphoric, unassuming manner, that King and Pope like it; it took almost a century for Inquisition to notice the chain-reaction of critical thought set alight in 1580 by his charming gossip and to forbid the Essays in 1676.
Too late! The Montaigne attitude trickled into Shakespeare, his “I am my book” and "what do I know?" irritated Francis Bacon to retort “Of myself I say nothing
”  and to demonstrate with Method how certainly science can know the world. He fascinated Pascal and challenged Descartes to affirm the absolute power of Reason. He will inspire Diderot and water Rousseau. Kant knew by heart entire passages from him, and built on his skepticism. Nietzsche delighted in him and started playing with matches. His introspective book instituted quietly the reference Weltanschauung of being civilised, of the modern individual, of equality and tolerance. If you seek an example to personify Civilization when marching ahead, Montaigne is one.
Why do I believe that Montaigne was wise?
Consider that wisdom was understood by the sages as the vehicle to living a happy life, with the meaning that such good life is one worth living. With Montaigne I find an instance to observe that the way towards such flourishing must fit the real world where we are born.
We may know much wisdom, generate much wisdom but we are
wise as much as we live wisely, in such a way that makes our life enviable and admirable, in our own world, not in the next.
A wise life à la Montaigne, in times where persecution is at work, is one in which you keep safe, productive and free inside, while you adapt, for fear and for duty, to the sorry country and times where you are born: “I shelter where the storm drives me.” 
His, as Stefan Zweig observed  was "freedom with a rattle of chains."
This sort of Good life is prudent well being, as much as times allow. You keep positive. You live a normal life. You enjoy each stolen epicurean moment, as the bird in hand is worth two in the bush; you keep adroitly out of harm's way, avoid hurt and poverty. Stoic sages help you with a rule to consider only that which is of you, which you can do and to ignore that which is beyond your powers:“Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control.
Under our control are conception, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word,
everything that is our own doing ; not under our control are our body, our
property, reputation, office, and, in a word, everything that is not our own doing.”
For that which you agree, you do your best in full view, with enthusiasm; but you can do little. For lack of anything better, you pride questionably in the thing well done.
Where you differ, you act obliquely, by not doing the wrong thing right
, by the power of inaction and absence, by that which you do not do and do not say
, by allusion.
You trust, perilously, a few good friends. Inside your inner garden you hide Paradise: beauty and wisdom and sincerity, in the company of the great authors who keep alight the flame of civilisation in spite of history perennially wretched.
While you compromise in all this dubious business of survival and comfort, for empowering privilege, you work nevertheless to be a good person, to keep hands clean, to preserve respect for yourself and the other, to give something, so that you are more than a worm.
The common intellectual will do so much. Geniuses, like Rabelais, Maimonides, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Bacon or Montaigne will also nurture a much greater plan, a Masterpiece to endure; that is paid with even murkier dissimulation, compromise and double-talk.
Of course there are alternatives to dissembling; innumerable sincere martyrs chose to die for ideas, of few of them we even know, like Simon Peter, Imam Husayn, Wycliffe, Thomas More, Jan Huss, Giordano Bruno or Jane d’Arc. The mass, chooses to drift. The worst, grow genuinely corrupt, to serve the evil masters better than requested.
Micheau Eyquem is the case for spoiling your kids, provided you give them the education of a prince.
His father was an energetic, rich, ambitious upstart, keen of humanistic ideals. The great books of the classics adorned his walls and his friends illustrated the best of Renaissance humanism. He imagined with them a home-curriculum in new education for the benefit of his son.
While he, the Father, worked hard and humble to grow richer and to rise to nobility, he fancied little Micheau, first surviving child, to be special, an experiment in humanism; first two years sent away in a peasant family to understand simplicity and "real life"; next several years with a Latin tutor, spoken to exclusively in Latin, to become a native speaker of classic culture and to have education tailored to him, not him cut to the size of school; after that only, he learned French as a foreign language; then he was sent to an elite college, away from home, to taste social life and constraint as it is... but still among an elite. As his father revered the sages of antiquity and collected their books, Micheau took to actually reading them, in original and without the intimidated feeling of visiting alien countries, it was his mother tongue; when home, the boy was spoilt, woken up with classic music played at his bedside every morning, never doing or learning other than what pleased him, so that he developed the taste to doing just that, all his life.
Freedom in the mind, culture, autonomy, playfulness, liking your life, indulging in vanity but not taking oneself too seriously, ability to think by keeping a distance, is the recipe of a critical spirit that will hover above his times.
With such upbringing, Montaigne became inclined to understand the human comedy with detachment, as if from the stars, to form his own opinion unprejudiced by what was said in the foreign language of the locals. At the same time he saw and felt things from close, feet on the ground, as simple and serious as they are for a peasant. Luckily, he was born with a pleasant friendly temper bent to avoid conflict and hurt. So he took life easy and acted always with a light hand.
Because he was allowed to feel sorry for himself, he felt sorry for other people too, animals included; he could identify with them, imagine being in their place.
Because he enjoyed life, he grew to respect life and to love it.
As he saw people around him so different, he learned to accept difference to be normal and diversity as a natural thing. Additionally, with a catholic father, a mother of Jewish descent and several protestant relatives and friends, he found religious divides irrelevant.
Then came the books, full with the sleeping wisdom of the past; he was one of those thinkers keen to learn from History
; he read the old historians’ meaningful stories and found in them similarity with his own time; he saw that human nature keeps us repeating the same errors; he absorbed the many antique anecdotes and sayings of the sages and theories of the philosophers from olden times without taking them as granted; he saw that everybody had to be contradicted and no idea was too foolish to have some philosopher embracing it.
Here is one man who took Socrates by the letter. Didn’t Socrates say that the unexamined life is not worth living? So he proceeded to do examine his own life and make it worth living. He did that for decades, ceaselessly and in writing so that his book is indeed his person.
Did the frontispiece of the Delphi temple enjoin the visitor to know himself? Montaigne went on to do just that, day and night, dressed or naked.
Did Socrates claim that his knowledge of his own ignorance was the force that made him wiser than all around him? Montaigne went further. He read the Pyrronian sceptics and was fascinated by the amplified consequence of the Socratic claim: " we know that we know nothing" into the extreme that absolutely everything is so doubtful that there is nothing we can know with certainty; this includes the good sense implication that humans – theologians and priests included - know nothing about God’s ways and thus have no reason to burn people for vain interpretations of creed. So, he turned the nihilistic paradox of absolute scepticism into a tool of freedom: I will doubt everything received, and even my own doubt, and therefore stop troubling myself with theories, keep practical and think with my own mind, as well as I can, humbly enough to avoid stupid, sufficient opinion but also boldly enough to speak with no concern of authority and dogma. I will do what my good sense suggests me and my feeble judgment confirms.
As I read my own private Montaigne – everybody does - I was tempted to interpret his life and "method" in terms of Taoist wisdom. He did not know the Lao-tzu but lived by it;
He does not push, he pulls.
Because he does nothing, much gets done.
Because he leaves space, things happen as he wants.
Because he takes sides with no one, all sides need him.
He has many friends because he is a friend.
He can do things because he keeps things simple.
He goes a long way because he goes with the water.
By knowing himself, he understands other people.
Being unprejudiced, he can talk with all.
As he enjoys himself, he has compassion.
Because he keeps steadily with the golden mean of moderation, when he is critical, people listen.
He survives for the reason that he is flexible, not the kind to die for ideas.
Because he lets live he is left to live.
He is good but he carries a sword.
To be wise – he decided - is not to toil by some perfect saintly model, but to live as you are, better, as well as you can. Wisdom is permanent improvement, not distant ideal.
The unique ability Montaigne has - as a true critical spirit
- is to not only see what is wrong in the evil present but also what is good in it; to see through indignant enthusiasm and to equally perceive what is evil in alternative extremes proposed, in the dogmas touted by the opponent to present wrongs. He does think with his own head, amidst madness . «...keep your head when all about you/ Are losing theirs’..." He would have certainly made his Kipling’s words.
Other great thinkers advise us how to become perfect. Montaigne teaches us how to live wisely and better, as we are and where we are.
© 2013 Ioan Tenner & Daniel Tenner
* It may look strange for me to write so bluntly about such a subject, in a normal time and a free country; but this is why I can do it, I am not a persecuted dissident but a retired elder man with no career ambition and no tenure to defend. Some scholars could write about this much better but they will not do it; they are wise. As for me, I believe that such knowledge may be useful.
 George Ranetti : Cugetare
“Sunt şi-ntre viermi, în viaţă
Deosebiri de clase:
Sunt viermi ce fac...doar greaţă
Şi viermi ce fac mătase!”
 Luke 20:25: "He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
 Paris is well worth a Mass (Paris vaut bien une messe) Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, Random House, 2004
 Hovey, K. A., "Mountaigny Saith Prettily": Bacon's French and the Essay, PMLA, Vol. 106, No. 1 (Jan., 1991), p.72 the share which his mind had in influencing other minds"
 “De nobis ipsis silemus” Francis Bacon, The Great Instauration, preface to New Organon
Horace, Epistles I.i.14)
 Zweig Stefan, Montaigne, PUF, Quadrige, Paris, 1982
 THE ENCHEIRIDION OF EPICTETUS in Epictetus, Vol II, Harward Univ. Press, Loeb C. L., Cambridge, 1952 p 483
Does it ever happen to you that important things you need to say are hopelessly misunderstood?
Did you feel that the words available confuse your thinking instead of helping you to understand and to express your truth?
Did you ever feel abused with words misinterpreted by hypocrites?
Did you suffer the irritating bad faith and bullying of politically correct language or langue de bois
Did you get censored and ridiculed when you wanted to explain that some important word does not only mean an officially defined thing but more or different truth?
If you experienced this, you have an interest to ask who has the right to decide what words mean. It is time to become owner of the words you use.
The freedom of words reflects the freedom of thinking and in good part also makes it. Minds are as free as their words.
Our right to free speech and to freedom of thought became common place, at least in our part of the world; but this right, even granted by law, isn't worth much without mental means rich enough to think well with our own head and to express what we think. Those means are mostly words; better said, what we mean behind those words, in our mind.
The richness of one’s vocabulary measures one’s freedom deeper that the right to speak. Still, knowing words is not enough.
Our thinking is free and our speech unhindered only when we made the words we know ours, by understanding what they mean and by making them represent reliably our point of view. Else, our thought and speech is sterile milling of received phrases.
I became convinced that all the good logic we learn cannot make us think with intelligence or wisely if the words - while they follow each other in proper reason - are poor in shades, not true to the nuances of the world and not true to our point of view.
If the words are "garbage-in," our logic, be it perfect, is worth as much.
It seems to me, that some words available to us are frozen fingers. They got carefully tweaked in their history, eroded, maimed, mis-defined goodthinked and instituted in a way that prevents not only voicing differing view but even naming or understanding important realities and opinions so that we could use our own judgment. This is not new:"1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth."
Probably the Babel-deception - corrupting the words to make free thought hard and its communication impossible - is a tacit, time-tested rule of ruling, not organised conspiracy; nevertheless it is real. If you want to own your mind, better be aware of this.
Welcome then to Logomachy - the Battle of the Words. This is warfare too big for one person alone or for one lifetime, but we can still do something about it, even individually, as I will try to illustrate with my own modest sketchy notes.
Read The Rectification of Meaning
if you care to follow my thought.
 Genesis 11 KJV
To join some new place, we enter stage carefully, politely; shy like guests, eager to be accepted, knowing that there is no second chance to make a first impression. We do the needed steps at our best to show our best. It is, unknowingly, a rite of initiation.
There is good reason to do the same when you leave. This comes not always natural and some think that it does not matter anymore. But it does. There is no second chance for a last impression either and you can also be damaged while leaving.
Time comes, inevitably, when things end. You move, you quit, you are dismissed, a term consumed, the place closed down. Or you found something better. Change.
Ending good times is hugged and kissed with beautiful sadness; when the heart is heavy and unsatisfied, with a powerless sense of loss
, quality parting is less natural... Change is hard. The centrifugal forces are at work towards nowhere-land. You are about to cross the divide between those who are inside and those who are outside. Partir, c'est mourir un peu...
You feel the instinctive urge to break quickly, abruptly. Better a fearful end than endless fear. The instinct is to "fight or flight
” *. Just turn away and go, with a snap at those who come too close. Or slam the door to let steam off and make people hear. Some, who did not treat you right, do not deserve anything else. Their
unfinished business will not be yours anymore. In fact, if your deliberate choice is to be remembered, no matter how, you can use the old Zeigarnik** effect - suddenly suspending everything in mid-air and walking out; this is what you do if you do not care for parting well done.
Behave though as well as when you came. Finish in style. Even with bad feelings you have good reasons to do the right steps, wisely.
Departure well done is a framework that protects you from being damaged while you leave. Do not botch the rite of separation
*** which must be held to close the doors behind you and free your hands, your soul, for new life.
- First of all, part properly because your well-being is to behave constantly as who you are; a gentleman is a gentleman even in the gutter. You have no excuse to say "I do as they deserve". No, you do as you deserve.
- Second, you are made of what you do, your life is built of your events assimilated and nothing will recover a mean souvenir. You may not realise now, but you will live your memories repeatedly, and they are all you keep - they will stay with you, want it or not. Bitter things said and done, necessary things not done, farewells failed, unfinished business that does not rest in peace will weigh unconsciously in your bag like lingering ghosts. Don't poison your blood.
- Third, the sages teach us " Do not spit in the well, you may need to drink from it, again...
" It is not the end of the World just of this little world. The future is weaving threads of surprise, where you meet enemies again in narrow streets
, and need good will from those who do not count today.
*The elements of proper parting
Dress well for the last days if common sense allows it; a white shirt and dark tie, the right robe that fits you, signal well that you count at the burial. In fact your tie tells quietly that this is a burial.
Accept that this is a serious situation. Denial is worsening things.
When you leave, there is often an embarrassed climate of disunion, each one for himself, live and let die; do not indulge in this. Do not be natural! Smile with solidarity, encourage, offer sympathy. Say 'us" for a last time, if you can. Instead of picking on each other like rats crowded, you can chose to pick together on one deserving to be bitten.
Tour the people you know, with a good word for each, careful not to omit someone who does not deserve neglect. As you speak, say goodbye with your eyes, looking in people's eyes, not sideways.
Exchange little gifts, souvenirs; imperishable solid little nothings for those you want to remember you and nice perishable little nothings for the others.
Signal "keeping in touch" Exchange addresses and phone numbers, as useless as they seem to you now.
Give hints that you will give good reference in the future, if that is possible and with care not to be abused. Make to others a small gift of courage; remind that the journey continues.
Confirm identities and roles as you leave, the same way you bowed respectfully when you arrived; call people by their name, say their titles, flatter them with their merits and power, if your stomach allows it. You should confirm identity and respect due, even when you fire someone or especially then.
Do not accept exit interviews - that is final insult and manipulation - but give exit feedback, good and also hostile criticism
- with due care not to have it used against you. You do count. Do not speak facts, just opinion.
Ceremony, event, is an essential signpost when you end things, a full stop that lets you go. Propose a last supper or picnic or toast even when you feel betrayed. Eat and drink together, it is a strong symbol. If you are inspired offer a last word. Some last words last.
Say a prayer if you are a believer or something similar if you believe something else. Let the stupid see this as ridiculous.
I remember myself very angry, offering a mirror-like gift to people to make them see themselves; I mailed a message to everybody - in a company where I met some ugly people who hurt me - to thank for all they have done for me and wish them: "May all your dreams come true!
" This was not so nice, as quite a few dreams are nightmares, reflecting who we are and what we fear and deserve.
Socrates would tell adieu to the crowd that voted him to drink the hemlock:
"The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways - I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows.
Of course, you may choose in some deserved cases, the loudest critique, that of silence.
To end a time in which you invested your soul sacrifice something symbolic; you must pay the ferryman. Then, wash your hands.
The Russians have a custom to sit down for a moment, quietly, to think. Sit down for a last time before you go.
Finally, there is life after life: call soon some people you appreciate and say something nice. This is valuable, as they, like you, feel that they are already forgotten. One of the worst things you can do is not to recognise them when you meet or change the way you treat them because they are no more "in". Let false friends behave like that.
To a moment of uncertainty and ugliness you can bring a touch of beauty and hope. A gentleman is a gentleman even in the gutter.
* Cannon, W. B. (1932). The wisdom of the body. New York: Norton.
** Bluma Zeigarnik, "Über das Behalten von erledigten und unerledigten Handlungen," (ON FINISHED AND UNFINISHED TASKS), Psychologische Forschung, 1927 9 (1), 1 - 85.
*** Some classic books explain the root of my simple advice: A. Van Gennep, Les Rites de Passage, Paris, 1909 and Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation – The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth, Spring, Woodstock, 1995
**** [Plato, Apology, Tr. Benjamin Jovett]
“Don't leave the table!”
Sima Zamfir, peace be upon him, a prematurely oldened, broken genius told me this in my youth.
In one glance he saw the flaw in my fabric, years ahead. He was a sage, too late for himself. Soon, he perished.
Of course I did not understand the dark depth of the words at that time.
I should have. He was the kind of man I rarely had the privilege to meet, one with whom I would awe the presence of someone much, much more intelligent than I. Not only more experienced, but sharp and wise. He had a gift to tell in a few words truth true for a life.
"Once you leave your place at the table, like me," he explained, and I think he was talking about a universal poker table of establishment, "it is very hard to sit back again, mostly impossible"
Did I leave some tables! And he was so dead right. It cost me big pieces of my life and seasons of poverty. I did not do what I did not want to do and paid the price of “No!” Indeed the "us" are unforgiving with the one who leaves them for the "I". Crews don’t suffer to be dismissed by individuals.
This is why I advise friends to keep building on
whom they have, on what they achieved and to avoid the youthful error of trashing away endlessly what they got to start anew from scratch forever, wasting friends, achievement and competence.
Certainly, there is a time to break free
or to break safe
. When you must. No doubt, the opposite of not leaving the table is equally wise and life saving: "'Cos ev'ry gambler knows that the secret to survival,
"Is knowin' what to throw away and knowin' what to keep.
"You got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em.
"Know when to walk away; know when to run.
"You don't ever count your money while you're sittin' at the table.
"There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin' is done." 
I hope you listen. The singer does not need to be a philosopher to be wise.
Give a careful thought, with pride or enthusiasm suspended, both in check, to judge when it is time for what. For you.
 Johnny Cash Lyrics "The Gambler " © www.lyricstime.com 2002-2012http://youtu.be/7ajHezlJq-A
If the encounter is brief,
while you are still you and the face to face is just a small sign,
a wink from her passing by, or a near miss quickly gone,
the thought that you are
about to die is
- afterwards -
a magic wand that made your life substantially longer, whatever its remaining duration may be in fact.
There is no more convincing argument to live better each moment left; or at least differently*.
You felt that this was it, the whole thing, frozen, with all those lose threads and unfinished plans, that which you started and never ended or not even started but dreamt. It takes a life to miss so many things... Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream. 
Strange! When, my dog, Tao died in my hands, I felt shrieking pain. More than this time for myself. That death felt unbearable. All I suffer now is sadness; deep, gray, heavy, like the distant humming of rising storm. I felt the same years ago during an earthquake waiting to see if I live or not. Nothing,
is coming closer. "What I possess, as if far off I see,
And what is gone, becomes reality." 
Winning some, losing some. Life. Not bad after all. What happened to me was because of me. I achieved to only do what I wanted... Well, what I could...
Reluctantly, I draw a line and avoid to sum up that rich harvest but the total is there:
Indeed, I am nothing.
Suddenly, the wheel starts screeching again, everything hurts, the void is not yet due.
I see returning things I
can decide and do. A living dog is better than a dead lion . And I look again at the belongings and worries that own me - they were vanishing, dust, valueless, one moment ago - now coming back for another reprieve.
I can read more books. Ask more questions. And think. I can plant tomatoes again, a tree, mow the grass, rest my eyes on the horizon, paint the South wall and fix the old roof. True, all this is for the house of tomorrow where I will not be allowed
; but my hands will still host those capricious visitors, my heirs.
And I can still write such clumsy little lines, longing without hope to leave in words a trail of the disquiet little spark of spirit I am.
* My son Daniel found the same and expressed it better than me.
 Buddha, The Diamond Sutra translated by Kenneth Saunders
 Goethe, Faust prologue
 Ecclesiastes ix:4