Montaigne and the Superiority of Wisdom in Health

Shane Trotter


Mansfield, Texas, United States

Strength and Conditioning, Kettlebells, Youth Development


The word philosophy is made from philo, meaning love, and sophia, meaning wisdom. Philosophy is, quite literally, a study rooted in a love of wisdom. While you may not wish to contemplate metaphysics and theories on what it means to know something, we all can gain something from a personal journey to determine our own life philosophy.


From consistent reflection, dialogue, and intentional learning, we can come to a far better understanding of how life is best lived. This practice is especially significant for anyone who desires lifelong health in today’s environment where we are pulled towards a quantity and type of food and sedentary behavior that our biology could have never thought possible. We should all reflect daily and seek out different perspectives in order not to be consumed by our own self-destructive impulses and societal norms.



Approach with Wisdom, Not Superiority

I recently read on the philosophy of Michel de Montaigne, a famous thinker from the French Renaissance. Following a near-death experience where Montaigne was catapulted from his horse, he came to a very applicable, easily digestible view of the world. While I’m sure my analysis will prove overly simplified and superficial today, I’ll extract a few health-related pearls of wisdom that I inferred from his perspective.


"Why may not a goose say thus: All the parts of the earth I have an interest in: the earth serves me to walk upon, the sun to light me; the stars have their influence on me; I have such an advantage by the winds and such by the waters; there is nothing that yon heavenly roof looks upon so favorably as me. I am the darling of nature! Is it not man that keeps and serves me?"

Michel de Montaigne


Here, Montaigne illuminates the power of perspective. Most humans walk around with a sense of superiority and certainty that our lives are indeed the best of all species simply because we are the smartest. I love the positive thinking, but it is a narrow perspective.


We humans anxiously spread ourselves thin working to buy evermore luxuries that society has convinced us we need—many of us working so hard as to neglect our health entirely—while the goose flies, swims, and wants for very little.


Perhaps physical gifts and possibilities of movement are as desirable as perpetually increased technology and luxury. Perhaps we should place greater emphasis on appreciating and developing the gifts of physical expression. Might the modern sedentary lifestyle that induces us to need stretching, regimented exercise, and over-categorization of movement be a sort of self-induced de-evolution?



"For truly it is to be noted that children’s plays are not sports and should be deemed as their most serious actions."

Michel de Montaigne


I’ve often professed the need for play in adults and children alike. Perhaps this quote also applies to all of us. If we chase purposeful work, deep relationships, and skill based workouts, then we could accomplish the most essential tasks through play.


There is a tendency today to assume that we learn by reading and being told how things work. We’ve forgotten that exploration, trial and error, and experience are the greatest teachers. Go run, climb, play, and practice a skill. A whole new world might open up.




"A man must be a little mad if he doesn’t want to be even more stupid."

Michel de Montaigne


Over and over Montaigne points to the absurd norms of society. We are so immersed in cultural norms that we rarely recognize that there is another way. It is now normal to pay for lawn care and drive around looking for the closest parking spot possible while spending money to go to the gym and run on a treadmill.


I’ll often be accused of being weird for eating foods that have existed naturally throughout most of humanity for the majority of my meals. It is odd to people that I don’t want to consume chips that would not be possible without complex chemistry.



Use Wisdom with Children

Odder still, it is normal to make youth sit all day at school and immerse them in a world where addictive sugary foods are considered “kid’s foods.” The norm is to justify Pop Tarts, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and dessert with every meal under the guise of normalized opinions like, “let them be kids.”


Even people who value eating healthy will say things like, ”I’m not going to make my kids eat this way,” as if they are doing their kids a favor by normalizing candy and Kraft. We’ll pretend kids can’t subsist on the foods humans have eaten for millennia, making the mac and cheese or fish sticks while us adults eat a healthy, balanced meal. Why is it your kid can only eat chicken in the form of a nugget?


Parents will claim they hope their children grow up healthy while immersing them in habits that ensure children battle a life of cravings. When given Oreos, studies show rats will eat far past the point of satiation. Other studies have shown that rats who were addicted to cocaine and morphine, chose saccharin, an artificial sweetener, over these drugs 94% of the time. Even when the cocaine dosage was increased, rats preferred intense sweetness.


Montaigne and the Superiority of Wisdom in Health - Fitness, sugar, finding balance, philosophy, play, healthy eating, outdoor fitness, growth mindset

Photography by Bev Childress of Fort Worth, Texas


With no exposure to any other path and addiction rooted deep into their biochemistry, it is no wonder that in 2016 39.8% of adults were obese—and that number only grows. Parents are fond of making points to young kids by asking, “if everyone was jumping off a bridge would you?” The answer seems to be that most of us would provided we didn’t realize the full magnitude of our consequences for a few years.


Unfortunately, many do see the absurdity of these norms, yet lack the health education and experience to chart a new course. I commend and recommend a good degree of trial and error.


Facing Modern Challenges

"An untempted woman cannot boast of her chastity."

Michel de Montaigne


While this thought smacks with the double standard of moral expectations common in 16th century Europe, it does elicit some perspective. Sure, we are in poor health in the modern world. However, because of our immense temptation to eat, be entertained, and sit constantly, perhaps we are the most admirable people in the history of the world. Nothing like a little ego boost to end this philosophical reflection.


With our modern challenges, we certainly have to be the most self-mastered people in history. It was easy to be healthy when we lived in river valleys immersed in fish, nuts, veggies, and fruits and we had little more to do than hunt for food.


The good news is we have the bulk of human history and wisdom to draw upon in creating more willpower and resiliency. These are trainable qualities..

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