Making Friends With The Eminent Dead

Charlie Munger speaks often about making friends among the eminent dead:

“That sounds funny, making friends among the eminent dead, but if you go through life making friends with the eminent dead who had the right ideas, I think it will work better in life and work better in education. It’s way better than just giving the basic concepts.”

In a world where so few people read books outside of required reading for school, so much wisdom is left untapped in the pages of authors from the past.  Although we’re all unique in our own ways, we all go through similar experiences: we’ll all live, we’ll have relationships with other humans, we’ll suffer, we’ll strive for and hopefully find relief, we’ll grieve, we’ll celebrate, we’ll struggle, we’ll succeed or fail, we’ll grow stronger or wither away, and, eventually, we’ll all die.

There are almost endless ways to approach any and all of these situations and living a fulfilling life is about finding what works best for you.  Some things will come easy and others will be a struggle.  We may be lucky enough to find a soulmate early on in life and know that we’ll spend the rest of our days building a beautiful life with that person.  But maybe we have no idea what we want to do for a career.  Or, the career hotshot may be killing it on her way up the ladder and loving every moment she spends at work, but struggles to find and maintain a relationship.

The CEO who seemingly has it all together – tall, handsome, athletic, well-educated, and wildly successful – may be struggling with mental or emotional problems.  Meanwhile that introverted, shy guy in IT may be able to solve a problem that’s long plagued the firm.  Point being, some stuff is easy and some stuff is hard.  When we encounter areas of our lives that challenge us, seemingly beyond our capabilities, it’s easy to think that we’re all alone and the walls are closing in with no way out.

Luckily, though, with just a few hours’ investment, we can glean a lifetime’s worth of wisdom from someone who has come before us and made it through that very problem we’re facing, or at least something similar.  We may find an example where the person emerged victorious and find comfort knowing that the seemingly impossible can in fact be done.  Or we may find that someone failed miserably, but because they were willing to share their lessons learned, we’re able to avoid the same fate.  Plus, we can see that they came out the other end alive.

Munger has certainly benefitted from his impressive peer group of the eminent dead.  He credits such men as Adam Smith as forming the foundation of his knowledge – knowledge that he put to use to found one of the top law firms in the country before becoming even more widely known for his investing prowess.  By looking to history to find those who had the right ideas, Munger was able to learn from their experience, avoid their mistakes, and go on to achieve greater things.  He is living proof of Newton’s declaration: said, if I have done great things, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.

If it’s good enough for Munger, it’s good enough for me.  There are certain historical figures that have stood the test of time, providing a beacon of light to follow for those who choose to seek it out.  For me, I’m always enraptured by American colonial figures, especially the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin.  Going back further, I’ve learned that a lot of my personality is rooted in the very ideas embodied by the Stoics.  As such, I’ve greatly enjoyed the insights found in the writings of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.

Arguably the greatest statesman of the 20th century, Winston Churchill is a goldmine of wisdom and learning.  A study of his life yields lessons on various topics, from building a career, seeking adventure, leading through crisis and criticism, and maintaining a loving and enduring relationship through it all.  Who wouldn’t want to learn from such a man?

No matter what you’re facing in life, it’s worth it to turn to those from history who’ve gone through the same.  Sometimes, that’ll be during a difficult time and you’ll be looking for any sign of better things to come or a light at the end of the tunnel.  Even better, though, is to seek out this wisdom ahead of time, so we’ll be prepared to face things as they come.  Regardless, be like Charlie and make friends with the eminent dead who’ve been proven right over the course of history.  You’ll be much better off for it.

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