Are not all finite beings better pleased with motions relative than absolute?

What did Henry David Thoreau mean by:

Are not all finite beings better pleased with motions relative than absolute?


The quote "Are not all finite beings better pleased with motions relative than absolute?" by Henry David Thoreau suggests that as human beings, we often find more comfort and satisfaction in understanding our progress, actions, or circumstances in relative terms, rather than in absolute terms. Essentially, we tend to measure our lives not by some absolute standard, but in relation to our surroundings, our past, or other people.

A motion that is relative is one that is dependent on the observer’s point of view or frame of reference. For example, a person sitting in a moving train perceives their motion as stationary relative to the train, but a person standing outside sees them moving. On the other hand, an absolute motion is independent of the observer; it is an objective fact, not dependent on the point of view or frame of reference.

We often define our success, happiness, and worth not in absolute terms, but relative to others or to our past selves. For instance, we might feel successful not because we have achieved a particular objective measure of success, but because we have achieved more than our peers, or more than we had in the past.

The idea behind this quote can be applied in today’s world and personal development in several ways. For instance, in the era of social media, we often compare ourselves to others, measuring our worth or success relative to others’ carefully curated online personas. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy or unhappiness. Understanding that these are relative measures, not absolute ones, can help us to focus on our own personal growth and happiness, rather than constantly comparing ourselves to others.

Similarly, in personal development, understanding that progress is often relative can help us to be more patient and kind to ourselves. For instance, instead of getting frustrated that we haven’t achieved an absolute level of skill or knowledge, we can celebrate the progress we’ve made relative to where we started. This can also help us to set more realistic and achievable goals for ourselves, based on our own abilities and circumstances, rather than comparing ourselves to others or to some absolute standard.

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