An excellent insight from Alain's essay, "The Ills of Others":
To act with others is always good; to talk with others for the sake of talking, complaining, and recriminating, is one of the greatest scourges on earth . . . . (Alain on Happiness, Frederick Ungar 1973, p. 160)
I once built a small dock with another man. We had little or nothing in common intellectually or spiritually. You could say we lived on different planets. Conversation with him about any matter beyond the sensibly present was pointless or worse. But with tools in hand, confronting the recalcitrance of matter, with a definite physical end in view, engaged in a common project, his words found guidance and anchorage, and our words together served a purpose. Acting together we achieved something. The job done, the handiwork admired, I found myself actually liking the guy. But had we been just talking, I would have found it a moral challenge not to be disgusted with him. Few possess the mental equipment and discipline to engage in fruitful conversation that is not anchored in the mundane.
Again I note, as in an earlier Alain post, the French love of the universal quantifier: "To act with others is always good. . . ." Obviously, acting with others is not always good. for reasons you an easily supply yourself. So why the exaggeration? For literary effect.
Please don't accuse me of committing a hasty generalization. I am not inferring some such proposition as 'French writers misuse universal quantifiers for literary effect' from this one instance, or this instance plus the one cited in the earlier post; what I am doing is illustrating an antecedently established general proposition. This is a distinction one should observe, but is too often not observed, namely, the distinction between generalizing and illustrating. Someone who illustrates a general claim by providing an example is not inferring the general claim from the example.
Emile-Auguste Chartier (1868-1951) was a French professor of philosophy among whose students were Raymond Aron and Simone Weil. Chartier's sunny disposition, however, did not rub off on the brooding Weil. Under the pseudonym 'Alain,' Chartier published thousands of two-page essays in newspapers. Were he alive and active today he would most likely be a philosoblogger.
Speaking of the Stoics, Alain writes,
One of their arguments which I have always found good, and which has been useful to me more than once, is their concept of the past and the future. "We have only the present to bear," they said. "Neither the past not the future can harm us, since the one no longer exists and the other does not yet exist."
[. . .]
. . . keep your mind on the present; keep your mind on your life, which moves onward from minute to minute; one minute follows another; it is therefore possible to live as you are living, since you are alive. But the future terrifies me, you say. That is something you know nothing about. What happens is never what we expected; and as for your present suffering, you may be sure that it will diminish precisely because it is so intense. Everything changes, everything passes away. This maxim has often saddened us; the very least it can do is console us once in a while. (Alain on Happiness, Frederick Ungar 1973, trs. R. D. and J. E. Cottrell, pp. 144-145)
The literary merit of Alain's writing is in evidence in the concluding sentence. My only quibble is with the typically Gallic exaggeration: what happens is never what we expected? Ah, the French love of the the universal quantifier!