don-quixotebig.jpgI was at the library about a month ago, and I wanted to get a classic book that I had never read. I was browsing through the shelves and found “Don Quixote.” I had always heard about this book but had never read it, so I decided to give it a go. As I have been reading I have found the character interesting. He is obviously a caricature, but there are a ton of lessons and applications that I can make. I am not even close to being finished, but I wanted to take this opportunity to share some lessons.

The basic story is about a man who loves books of chivalry, like the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. He has read so many of these stories that he has convinced himself that he is destined to be a “Knight Errant,” or a knight who roams the countryside looking for adventure. So he gives himself the name Don Quixote, saddles up his old horse, recruits a squire, and sets off looking to defend the helpless and protect the innocent.

This is all well and good, but the problem is that he is so lost in his books that he sees everything in his path as an adventure, even if it isn’t one. For example, in the most familiar one he sees several windmills on a hill and thinks that they are giants. He attacks them, only to be thrown off of his horse when he reaches them. In another instance he attacks innocent men because he thinks they are chasing two women who happen to be traveling the same road. Laterdon-quixote.jpg he sees a dust cloud approaching and assumes it is an army. He describes all of the knights and flags and horses before charging into battle, only to find himself in the middle of a flock of sheep. He gets beaten up most of the time, and the only times thus far that he has been “successful” is when he attacks unarmed people just minding their own business.

The common theme in Don Quixote’s life is that he has an inflated view of himself based on the fiction he has read. He has allowed the fiction to become a reality that is unquestioned, despite the facts that otherwise would seem obvious. He refuses to believe what others tell him and even his own experiences. There is an answer for everything, and an explanation that protects his fantasy and allows him to continue to believe that he is right. The unfortunate thing is that his actions, while meant to be valiant and heroic, often lead to his own suffering and/or the suffering of others. Regardless of the situation he is in, he always makes it worse – not only for himself but also for his “squire,” Sancho Panza. He refuses to see truth or admit that he may be wrong.

As I read this I can’t help but think about people who are like Don Quixote in some ways. There are people who have a preconceived notion of what the world is like and their role in it. They see every situation as an opportunity to get involved, and even though they mean well they often end up making things more complicated. They do this by not taking the time to correctly assess a situation. They don’t realize that most of the time either there isn’t a problem or if there is it will work itself out. The problem with these people, unfortunately, is that while they have a great heart, people duck and hide when they see them coming. Add to this the fact that they get beat up in the process, and for no good reason. These things combine to make them largely ineffective. I guess the lesson to be learned is that we should be honest with ourselves about our strengths and limitations. I have to be aware of my preconceptions and prejudices, and before I go charging in to fix a problem I had better make sure of the reality of the situation.