By Ken Trainor
The new year is still fresh, and January is a good time to stoke the fire with a little wisdom. One of my favorite sources is an unpretentious little magazine called "The Sun," out of North Carolina, which I highly recommend if you aren't already oversubscribed. Each month, tucked inside the back cover, can be found a page of quotes titled, "Sunbeams."
Here's a sample:
"When I turn away from nature — human, animal, earthly or cosmic — when I turn away, that is, from intimate livingness, it means, simply and always, that I am afraid." (Sanfor Goodman)
"They say that every snowflake is different. If that were true, how could the world go on? How could we ever get up off our knees? How could we ever recover from the wonder of it?" (Jeanette Winterson)
"Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it, and it darts away." (Dorothy Parker)
"Perhaps that is what love is: the momentary or prolonged refusal to think of another person in terms of power." (Phyllis Rose)
"There is no democracy in any love relation: only mercy." (Gillian Rose)
"Feminism, as I understand it, is the permanent pursuit of equality. It began long before Susan B. Anthony, and it doesn't end until every government in the world guarantees equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work, and a woman's right to control her own reproduction. Women can no more give it up, or de-emphasize it, than black Americans could quit fighting for civil rights and economic justice. It's as basic as struggling to breathe when someone holds you underwater." (Hal Crowther)
"The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in the councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race." (Susan B. Anthony)
But I find wisdom in many other places — even the Bible.
"Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." (Luke, Chapter 12) The important question then becomes, "What is your treasure?" and perhaps, "Is it worthy of your heart?"
Wisdom often raises further questions. The Hippocratic Oath, for instance, which most of us only know as "First, do no harm," is an achievement in itself, but the obvious question is, "What's second?"
A hint, perhaps, can be found in a quote from Todd May, a philosophy professor from Clemson University, who recently published an op-ed in the New York Times.
"There are other lives, far too many, consumed by the task of survival more than that of meaning." The absence of harm, in other words, is good. The presence of meaning is better.
I love finding wisdom in unexpected places, such as an AARP magazine profile of Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease: "My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and inverse proportion to my expectations."
Or during my son's graduation from the police academy at College of DuPage last June. A crusty old cop, addressing the grads, caught everyone by surprise when he quoted A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh: "You're braver than you feel, stronger than you believe and smarter than you think." We could all use that reminder from time to time.
Some quotes are wise, regardless of who actually originated them. The Internet is notorious for misattributions — when in doubt, credit Mark Twain, Nelson Mandela or Abraham Lincoln.
A friend sent the following quotes about five months apart:
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubt." (Bertrand Russell)
"The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts while the stupid ones are full of confidence." (Charles Bukowski)
Either way, it rings true.
And here's a worthy quote that really did come from Lincoln. At any rate Aaron Copland cited it in his Lincoln Portrait:
"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master."
Most people agree with the first part. Unfortunately, too many don't think enough about the implications of the second part.
Quotes can be wonderfully inspiring but hard to retain. A few, however, stick in my mind, helping to guide and provide needed perspective:
"You can't reason a man out of a position he didn't reason himself into" (which applies to a distressingly large percentage of the population).
"It's the going, not the getting there, that's good" (a CTA slogan from the 1970s).
"In the long run, the long run is all that matters" (a more recent CTA slogan).
I've even coined a few quotes in my time. One I call "the universal campaign slogan for Republican candidates" (though they don't always say it so directly):
"Government doesn't work. Send me to Washington and I'll prove it!"
And another that applies to putting this newspaper out each week (and applies even more to parenting style — or to golf):
"Perfectionism only describes the approach. It doesn't guarantee the results."