We romanticize exceptional individuals, affording them a sanctified status that often overlooks their inherent human foibles. This resounds strikingly when we consider the life of François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, an emblem of the Enlightenment era.

Voltaire, an acclaimed writer, philosopher, and staunch proponent of civil liberties is often remembered for his sharp wit, the groundbreaking satirical novella “Candide,” and unyielding defense of freedom of speech and religion. But beneath this awe-inspiring persona was a crafty and enterprising character who wasn’t above exploiting a flawed system to his advantage.

In the 1720s, the young Voltaire and mathematician Charles Marie de la Condamine embarked on a scheme that would make them exceedingly wealthy. The French government, burdened by a massive national debt, had established a lottery system to raise funds. But the plan was deeply flawed. The government-issued tickets were often cheaper than their potential payout, a loophole that Voltaire and de la Condamine recognized and capitalized upon.

In a brazen exploit of this loophole, Voltaire and de la Condamine recruited a syndicate of investors, purchased as many tickets as possible, and repeatedly won the lion’s share of the lottery. This gamble made Voltaire an incredibly wealthy man. While technically legal, it was manipulating a system meant to benefit the state, not private individuals.

Voltaire’s ingenious scam shows us something about the human condition: we are all profoundly complex, multifaceted, and fundamentally imperfect beings. Our heroes, even those as venerated as Voltaire, are not immune to this reality.

A more comprehensive view of our heroes frees us from the mythology of perfection. It allows us to understand that those we admire are not flawless paragons but real individuals who have erred, learned, and grown just like us. Our flaws don’t diminish our worth; our character is a unique amalgam of strengths, weaknesses, successes, and missteps.

We should find inspiration not in a sanitized, perfect ideal but in the acknowledgment that individuals like Voltaire achieved greatness despite, and perhaps even because of, their imperfections. The audacious spirit that drove Voltaire to exploit a national lottery was arguably the same audacity that fueled his incisive critique of power and advocacy for progress.

Striving for an unattainable model of perfection is less meaningful than harnessing our strengths and facing our weaknesses with open eyes. This path asks us to accept our shared humanity, recognizing the potential within each of us to shape the world. Our imperfections are not hurdles to overcome but distinctive aspects of ourselves that join us in our shared human journey. This perspective celebrates not just the ideal of human potential but also the resilience that comes from the undeniable reality of our best aspects and our worst moments.

Joan Westenberg


  1. 🌳 Embrace Nature: Take some time today to go outside and spend some time in nature. It could be a park, a garden, or just a tree-lined street in your neighborhood. This simple act can profoundly affect your mental health, providing a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It allows you to slow down, take a deep breath, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. Plus, the physical activity of walking can help to release endorphins, further boosting your mood.

  2. 📚 Read a Book: Find a quiet corner and lose yourself in a good book. Whether it’s a gripping mystery, a thought-provoking non-fiction piece, or a beautiful piece of literature, reading can be a form of self-care. It allows you to escape from reality and immerse yourself in a different world. Plus, it can stimulate your mind, expand your understanding, and improve your vocabulary and language skills. Pick up that book you’ve meant to read and let yourself be transported to a different place and time…

  3. 🧘‍♀️ Meditate: Make some time today for quiet reflection. You could try a guided meditation, focus on your breathing, or simply sit silently and let your thoughts come and go without judgment. This can be a powerful way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, and promote emotional health. Plus, it can help to increase your attention span and improve your focus, making you more productive in the long run. Find a peaceful spot, sit comfortably, and spend a few minutes contemplating.

Thank you for reading Tiny Spells. We can only grow if we grow together; share this post to spread the word ✨


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