Voltaire’s Satirical Philosophy: Cultivate Your Garden

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Voltaire’s seventeenth-century satirical novel: Candide: or, Optimism, follows a young protagonist as he ventures all over the world; disaster after disaster befalling upon him at every turn. From narrowly surviving an earthquake in Portugal; to being chased out of Argentina by the Inquisition; to being fined heavily for petulance in Suriname, the reader can’t help but feel for Candide as he desperately tries to be reunited with his beloved lady.

Despite the natural disasters; murders; outbreaks of disease; and robbery he has to endure, however, Candide never fails to maintain his optimism. He has been taught by Pangloss, his tutor, to have the belief that ‘all is for the best’. Nothing will bring him down. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, so to speak.

Have you ever wanted to have a mentality like that? I certainly have.

Along the way, Candide meets a host of deprived individuals, each having gone through hardships seemingly much worse than the rest. Rather than being put down by these sob stories, though, Candide refuses to be stuck in the perpetual, ‘why do bad things always happen to me?’ mentality that has now become rife in our modern day society. People love to complain, failing to understand that the world doesn’t owe them anything.

Candide accepts that life is tough and unfair. And in doing so, he allows himself to move on. To not become stuck in the past. Here is the most cited passage from the novella:

“‘All I know,’ said Candide, ‘is that we must cultivate our garden.’ – ‘You are right,’ said Pangloss, ‘for when man was placed in the garden of Eden, he was put there ‘ut operaretur eum’, so that he might work: which proves that man was not born for the rest.’ – ‘Let us set to work, for that is the only way to make life bearable.'”

Despite the grief and misfortunes instilled upon them over the years, both characters agree that it is better to have lived a hard-fought life than having never lived fully at all. Life’s hardships can be eased through action. A stale and monotonous existence only serves to highlight your problems as you get more and more stuck in your own head.

We’ve all been through horrible breakups for example. Does sitting around watching TV with a box of Kleenex and a tub of Haagen-Dazs help? No. Only once you pull yourself together and face the world will you meet that next person. You will have learnt from past ‘mistakes’ and the chances are they will be a lot better suited to you anyway. ‘Every cloud has its silver lining’, as the cliche goes.

In order to remain optimistic, you must keep moving forward. You must keep making positive decisions. Your head may not want to make those decisions, but your gut will tell you that it’s the right thing to do. Gut instinct. This is how you cultivate the garden of your mind; seeding and sowing the thoughts and ideas planted in the brain. And the only way to plant them in your brain is to take action first. Once they are there, tend to these thoughts. Nurture them. Fuel them with positive references. In time, they will blossom spectacularly, and you will be a more optimistic person as a result.

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