Category Archives: Quotations

We Have to Be True in Order to Know the Truth

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“I am not one who believes that a man has to show his religious party card before one can speak to [God]. And I am well aware that there are plenty of people who shy away from religion and its institutional aspect precisely because of a certain abuse of this kind of thing. God asks of us, first of all, sincerity and truth. Conformity is not the first requisite, or the second, or the tenth. I do not know where it may stand on the list or whether it is on the list at all, since God has not shown me His list. But since He has made us for the truth, it stands to reason that we have to be true in order to know the truth.”

Excerpt from a letter from Thomas Merton (1915-1968) to Steve Eisner, dated February 1962, from Witness to Freedom: The Letters of Thomas Merton in Times of Crisis. Merton was an American Trappist monk who wore many hats: poet, writer, theologian, mystic, scholar of comparative religion, and social activist. He was a prolific author, having written more than 70 books. His best-known work is The Steven Storey Mountain (1948), an autobiography, considered one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century by the National Review. He was a passionate advocate of interfaith dialogue, i.e., the positive interaction between individuals of different religious, spiritual, or humanistic beliefs at both the institutional and individual levels.

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Famous Misquotations: We Can Easily Forgive a Child Who is Afraid of the Dark, the Real Tragedy…

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsYou have probably seen it a hundred times — you will find it in many collections of quotes (online and in print) as well as posters and tshirts. The full quotation, of course, is “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light” and invariably it is attributed to one of the greatest philosophers of all time: Plato. Only problem is that Plato, who lived around 428 to 347 BC, never said this. Oops.

Attributing this quote to Plato is not far-fetched, perhaps because it is understandably conflated with his well-known allegory of the cave. In his seminal work, Republic (written about 380 BC) Plato writes about a discussion Socrates had with some Athenians. Socrates described the following setting: there are humans chained to the side of a cave, facing a blank wall. Because they are deep inside the cave, they cannot see the outside world — all they can see are shadows (“forms”) of things that pass by the fire. Consequently, they give names to each of these shadows. These shadows are the prisoners’ only reality. One fateful day, one of the prisoners breaks free and ventures out into the real world and is astonished by what he sees. Feeling sorry for his fellow men, he returns to explain how amazing the real world is, and that all they have seen and known is an illusion — merely shadows on a wall. You can imagine the response: most think he is a few peas short of a pod. And they stay put — better to stick with what we know then to walk out into the light, following the ramblings of a crazy escapee. And that image leads us to the meaning of the allegory: don’t stay chained in the dark, go out and explore the world, question everything. Socrates said it best at his trial (described in Plato’s Apology), “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The discussion of dark and light aligns neatly with the allegory of the cave, right? I mean, the sentiment is quintessential Plato? Not so fast, Padawan. To find the true source of this quote you will need to step into a time machine and transport yourself almost 2,500 years later — to 1997! Alas, the true source of this quote is not an ancient Greek but a very modern Canadian — namely, Robin Sharma, a writer and motivational speaker. This famous quote appears in his book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, a self-help book that was published in 1997. According to the author, the book “gently offers answers to life’s biggest questions as well as a practical process to help you create prosperity, vitality, happiness and inner peace. This inspiring tale provides a step-by-step approach to living with greater courage, balance, abundance, and joy.  A wonderfully crafted fable, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari tells the extraordinary story of Julian Mantle, a lawyer forced to confront the spiritual crisis of his out-of-balance life. On a life-changing odyssey to an ancient culture, he discovers powerful, wise, and practical lessons that teach us to [live a fuller, more meaningful life].” Something that Plato could definitely give an enthusiastic high five to. Of course, Plato, would not be happy with the false attribution of the quote. But imagine Sharma’s annoyance of having his aphorism being universally attributed to Plato — “Hey, Robin, you stole that great line from Plato, didn’t you?” It’s about time that we give this living author the credit he deserves. Share this post when you see someone mistakenly attribute the quote to Plato and truly enlighten them (pun intended).

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For further reading: Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Famous Misquotations: A Civilization is Measured by How It Treats Its Weakest Members
Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life

Famous Misquotations: The Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing
Famous Phrases You Have Been Misquoting

For further reading: They Never Said It: A Book of Fake, Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions by Paul Boller, Jr. and John George

The Magic Ring of Myth and the Hero’s Journey

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.”

From The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949) by Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), professor of literature and world renown expert on comparative mythology and religion. In this seminal work, Campbell introduces the concept of monomyth (a term he borrows from James Joyce’s inscrutable Finnegans Wake) — the single great narrative that is woven into every myth, folk tale, or fairy tale ever told. At the heart of this monomyth is what he calls “the hero’s journey”: a hero who goes on an adventure and in a decisive crisis, aided by a supernatural mentor, wins a victory (or atones with the father) and returns home transformed, able to help his or her people. Campbell often reduced the quest of the hero to the simple phrase “Follow your bliss.” The quintessential hero’s journey, of course, is Homer’s Ulysses. George Lucas credited Campbell’s work for influencing his writing of the Star Wars saga. In a later work, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology (1959-1968), Campbell describes the four critical functions of myth in human society: the metaphysical function (awakens a sense of awe before the mystery of being); the cosmological function (explaining the creation and order of universe); the sociological function (validate and supports the existing social order); and pedagogical function (guides the individual through his or her stages of life). One of the most powerful myths throughout the existence of humanity is God; Campbell explains: “God is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all human categories of thought, even the categories of being and non-being.” And just as significant, is the mythology of Christ: “It is clear that, whether accurate or not as to biographical detail, the moving legend of the Crucified and Risen Christ was fit to bring a new warmth, immediacy, and humanity, to the old motifs of the beloved Tammuz, Adonis, and Osiris cycles.” [In ancient Sumerian mythology, Tammuz was the god of fertility. In Greek mythology, Adonis is the god of beauty, desire, and vegetation. His story is derived from the legend of Tammuz. In ancient Egyptian religion, Osiris is the god of the afterlife, the underworld, and rebirth.]

The Last Message You Receive from Someone Close To You

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe brilliant German writer and poet, Goethe, once observed “The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” As the parable in Genesis reveals, we are not meant to travel through the garden alone. One of the great marvels of life is when someone joins us at just the right time — to be able to share the joys of life or help carry a burden or simply be a shoulder to lean on. Whether it is the result of some divine intervention, fate, or coincidence — its impact can be profound and long-lasting. But if life teaches you anything it is this: just as quickly as someone walks into your life, they can leave (to paraphrase the famous Beatles song, “you say ‘Hello’; they say ‘Goodbye’) — and for a variety of reasons: illness, death, suicide, a breakup (friendship or relationship, a profound disagreement, an explosive fight, and so forth. It was this realization that served as an epiphany for Emily Trunko right before she turned 16. She sent out a call for submissions on Tumblr and published them on the blog, “The Last Message Received,” as well as a book of the same title.

Her efforts had a huge impact on her life as well as her readers. In the introduction to her book, Trunko writes: “[The Last Message] has helped bring closure to people who have had to deal with the sudden death of someone close to them, and it has shown suicidal people the shattering impact they actions would have on the the people they would leave behind. It has taught so many people to be more careful with the messages they send, and to remind others how much they care about other people in their lives while they still have the chance to tell them how they feel… I think this Tumblr has made those who read its submissions much more aware and caring.”

The messages and the emotions they evoke are very powerful, and sometimes very raw. They range from elation and hope to sorrow and despair. And some messages are amazingly kind, some are shockingly rude. Here are some excerpts from the book and the blog:

“You have so many personalities and I don’t like any of them.” [written to a person who is bipolar]

“Don’t worry yourself too much about me. I’ll be fine. I have to run, Babe. Only 9 more days.” [individual serving in Libya, two days prior to his convoy being attacked, to his partner; he died a few days later]

“I’m giving up on you.”

“You don’t have to be so fucking dramatic all the time.” [written by a best friend who cut ties with the other friend]

“I love you so much.” [written by best friend; he died two days later]

“Hey! U still wanna hang out?” [written by friend on the day he took his life]

“I’ll fix this.” [written by a boyfriend who left the relationship]

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Read related posts: Best Poems for Funerals: When Great Trees Fall
How To Grieve for a Lost Friend 

For further reading: The Last Message Received by Emily Trunko

The Deepest Joys Are The Simple Ones Shared with Family

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIn the obituary of George H. W. Bush, The Washington Post provided this insight into the private life of the 41st President of the United States: “In 1988, Mr. Bush gave a list of the qualities he most cherished to Peggy Noonan, who wrote his speech accepting that year’s Republican presidential nomination. They were: ‘family, kids, grandkids, love, decency, honor, pride, tolerance, hope, kindness, loyalty, freedom, caring, heart, faith, service to country, fair (fair play), strength, healing, excellence. Mr. Bush viewed his family as part of his legacy. He was intensely proud of the sons who followed him into public service.”

Coincidentally, just a few days ago I came across rather serendipitously touching testimony to old age and family by Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania who served as the Attorney General of the United States under President Bush. His words are a gentle reminder, that as George H. W. Bush so firmly believed, family is the most important thing in life and the memories of time spent with family are life’s greatest treasure — but sometimes it takes advancing age to truly appreciate that truism:

“When I was growing up, the thought of someone aged seventy was coupled with images of incapacity and irrelevance. Having reached that age myself this year, I realize how inaccurate those im­ages were. To be sure, we all, sooner or later, reach an age when we begin to slow down. But as the years advance, I find myself more appreciative of everyday joys, especially the companionship of those I love. In an ironic way, my capacity for true enjoyment seems to have deepened with age. The blessings of family and loved ones have al­ways been particularly enriching. Memories of times spent with my wife, children, and grandchildren are among my most valued treasures. Simple events and conversations of the past increase in value as I rec­ollect them in later years. How often my beloved wife of thirty-nine years and I reminisce about the exciting and challenging opportunities we have been granted. And how often we thank God for giving us each other to provide the balance and inspiration necessary to persevere when the going gets tough. 

Four fine sons, two superb daughters-in-law, and now six grandchildren have been a special blessing to us. They assure that life is never dull. Our vicar­ious participations in their lives let us share in the fulfillment of every passing grade, each goal scored or starring role, each friendship cemented, and a suc­cession of job opportunities and residential acquisi­tions and improvements. Our congratulations-and commiserations over inevitable disappointments­ have always been graciously received. 

Such bonds are a two-way street. For my seventi­eth birthday, for example, my oldest son collected a list of “Greatest Hits: 70+ Memories of My Dad,” which he shared with all of us. Even the most dimly remembered of these events sprang to vivid reality with only a little prompting. Some were truly hilari­ous. And all contributed to a tapestry of remem­brance more valuable than any tangible gift could be…

One of our sons has a disability; he has mental retardation. In many ways, he has contributed the most to my comprehension of the good that can evolve from nearly every situation. He possesses a kind of quiet dignity that, despite his limitations, serves as an inspiration to all who know him. And his own values are very much in order. Recently, when visiting with us, he and I went to the Washington zoo. We saw all the animals and laughed to­gether at the antics of many of them. At the end of the excursion, I asked him what he had liked best about our experience, expecting a reply that took into account the unique characteristics of one or more of the animals we had seen. Instead, he responded, quite simply: “Being with you.”

What a precious gift God has given us in life. We all journey together and are sustained and strengthed by wonderful experiences such as these. In the final analysis, the deepest joys are indeed the simple ones and, as they accumulate over the years, we come to look forward to, rather than fear, the next successive milestone. May it ever be so!”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Wisdom on an Immigrant Father
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
What Valuable Lesson Has Life Taught You?

For further reading: The Older the Fiddle, the Better the Tune: The Joys of Reaching a Certain Age by Willard Scott

A Storyteller Can Remind Us that the Swallows Still Sing Around the Smokestacks

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Fiction cannot recite the numbing numbers, but it can be that witness, that memory. A storyteller can attempt to tell the human tale, can make a galaxy out of the chaos, can point to the fact that some people survived even as most people died. And can remind us that the swallows still sing around the smokestacks.”

American author, Jane Yyatt Yolen (born 1939) has written more than 365 books in the fantasy, science fiction and children genres. Her best-known work is the historical fiction novella, The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988), about a 12-year-old Jewish girl, Hannah Stern, from New York who is travels back in time to Poland in 1942 to experience the Holocaust. Stern witnesses the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand while living at a work camp. Ultimately she understands the profound importance of learning about the past. The novella won the National Jewish Book Award in 1989, and the television film adaptation (1999) was nominated for a Nebula Award. Yolen was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2009.

The Wisdom of Bill Moyers

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomBill Moyers (born 1934) is a respected journalist and political commentator. He served President Lyndon Johnson as White House Press Secretary in the 1960s. After his work at the White House, he produced many award-winning documentaries and news journal programs for PBS, including Bill Moyers Journal; The Power of Myth; The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis; In Search of the Constitution; A World of Ideas; Now with Bill Moyers; Faith and Reason; and Moyers on America. Moyer has received many awards: more than 30 Emmy Awards, the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, a lifetime Peabody Award, induction into the Television Hall of Fame, and the 2006 Lifetime Emmy Award. In bestowing the last award, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences noted: “Bill Moyers has devoted his lifetime to the exploration of the major issues and ideas of our time and our country, giving television viewers an informed perspective on political and societal concerns.” His observations and commentaries are as relevant today, particularly in a Trumpian world, as they were a decade ago (and earlier):

“The corporate right and the political right declared class war on working people a quarter of a century ago and they’ve won. The rich are getting richer, which arguably wouldn’t matter if the rising tide lifted all boats. But the inequality gap is the widest it’s been since 1929; the middle class is besieged and the working poor are barely keeping their heads above water. The corporate and governing elites are helping themselves to the spoils of victory — politics, when all is said and done, comes down to who gets what and who pays for it — while the public is distracted by the media circus and news has been neutered or politicized for partisan purposes.”

“[The public is] distracted by the media circus and news has been neutered or politicized for partisan purposes. [Consider] the paradox of Rush Limbaugh, ensconced in a Palm Beach mansion massaging the resentments across the country of white-knuckled wage earners, who are barely making ends meet in no small part because of the corporate and ideological forces for whom Rush has been a hero… As Eric Alterman reports in his recent book [What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News, 2003]… part of the red-meat strategy is to attack mainstream media relentlessly, knowing that if the press is effectively intimidated, either by the accusation of liberal bias or by a reporter’s own mistaken belief in the charge’s validity, the institutions that conservatives revere — corporate America, the military, organized religion, and their own ideological bastions of influence — will be able to escape scrutiny and increase their influence over American public life with relatively no challenge.”

“There is no more important struggle for American democracy than ensuring a diverse, independent and free media. Free Press is at the heart of that struggle.”

“For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington.”

“What’s right and good doesn’t come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it — as if the cause depends on you, because it does.”

“The printed page conveys information and commitment, and requires active involvement. Television conveys emotion and experience, and it’s very limited in what it can do logically. It’s an existential experience-there and then gone.”

“Television can stir emotions, but it doesn’t invite reflection as much as the printed page.”

“We see more and more of our Presidents and know less and less about what they do.”

“This is the first time in my 32 years in public broadcasting that PBS has ordered up programs for ideological instead of journalistic reasons.”

“There are honest journalists like there are honest politicians — they stay bought.”

“The printed page conveys information and commitment, and requires active involvement. Television conveys emotion and experience, and it’s very limited in what it can do logically. It’s an existential experience — there and then gone.”

“Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of.”

“I work for him despite his faults and he lets me work for him despite my deficiencies.”

“Hyperbole was to Lyndon Johnson what oxygen is to life.”

“Democracy may not prove in the long run to be as efficient as other forms of government, but it has one saving grace: it allows us to know and say that it isn’t.”

“Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.”

“As a student I learned from wonderful teachers and ever since then I’ve thought everyone is a teacher.”

“Democracy belongs to those who exercise it.”

“We don’t care really about children as a society and television reflects that indifference to children as human beings.”

“Our very lives depend on the ethics of strangers, and most of us are always strangers to other people.”

“When I learn something new – and it happens every day – I feel a little more at home in this universe, a little more comfortable in the nest.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: A Republic, If You Can Keep It
What is the Declaration of Independence Worth?
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?

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