The Perfect Dogma Does Not Exist

atkins-bookshelf-quotations“If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anywhere. Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense. The whole of history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness. Isn’t there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine?”

The Master had never heard him speak so fervently. He walked on in silence for a little, then said, “There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend. Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself. The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught. Be prepared for conflicts…”

From The Glass Bead Game (1943) by Hermann Hesse, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.

Where to Find the Meaning of Life

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsSo many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

From the touching memoir, Tuesdays with Morrie (1997), by Mitch Albom.  Morrie Schwartz, a sociology professor at Brandeis University who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease, graciously shared his wisdom with Albom, a former student, in a number of fascinating, profound conversations that were held each Tuesday.

The Wisdom of Finding Forrester

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsIn Gus Van Sant’s touching and inspiring film, Finding Forrester, Sean Connery plays the reclusive, pensive author William Forrester who wrote his magnum opus early in his career and has not written since. Forrester, who rarely leaves his highrise apartment in the Bronx observing the outside world through binoculars, befriends a young high school student and becomes his mentor. Their rapport is as fascinating as it is endearing. As their friendship progresses, Forrester dispenses his pearls of wisdom about love, dreams, and writing…

The key to a woman’s heart is an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.

No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!

The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.

You don’t know a goddamn thing about reason; There are no reasons! Reasons why some of us live and why some of us don’t! Fortunately for you, you have decades to figure that out!

Writers write things to give readers something to read.

Someone I once knew wrote that we walk away from our dreams afraid that we may fail or worse yet, afraid we may succeed. You need to know that while I knew so very early that you would realize your dreams, I never imagined I would once again realize my own. Seasons change young man, and while I may have waited until the winter of my life, to see the things I’ve seen this past year, there is no doubt I would have waited too long, had it not been for you.

Read related posts: The Wisdom of the Life of Pi
Letters to a Young Poet
William Faulkner on the Writer’s Responsibility

Life’s Most Important Questions

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsI think that when you get to the end of your life, you have to ask yourself only two questions: Did I live fully and did I love well? And if you can say yes to those two things, then you’re home free.

From Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, screenplay written by Peter Cameron, Roberto Faenza, and Dahlia Heyman based on the novel by Peter Cameron.

Wise Words Endure

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsColors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure.

Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) American psychologist whose extensive research on behaviorism and the learning process with animals and humans, led to the theory of connectionism, forming the foundation of modern educational psychology. He developed Thorndike’s Theory of Learning that states that all learning is incremental, learning occurs automatically, and that all animals learn the same way. His Law of Effect states that learning that is followed by reward will be strengthened while learning followed by punishment will be weakened. He was an eloquent champion of active learning — letting children learn on their own as opposed to receiving instructions.

Read related post: William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Speech

The Wisdom of Pi Patel

“It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.”

“I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.”

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

“That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence?”

“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

“You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.”

“Life is a peephole, a single tiny entry onto a vastness–how can I not dwell on this brief, cramped view of things? This peephole is all I’ve got!”

“If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

“Can there be any happiness greater than the happiness of salvation?”

“When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.”

“If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.”

““The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity; it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud…”

“Misery loves company, and madness calls it forth.”

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways.”

“I miss him [Richard Parker]. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart. I still cannot understand how he could abandon me so unceremoniously, without any sort of goodbye, without looking back even once. That pain is like an axe that chops at my heart.”

“To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old, who is supposed to bring you a sister-in-law and nieces and nephews, creatures who people the tree of your life and give it new branches. To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you.”

“These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.”

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always… so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”

“What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape. For example – I wonder – could you tell my jumbled story in exactly one hundred chapters, not one more, not one less? I’ll tell you, that’s one thing I have about my nickname, the way the number runs on forever. It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse. That bungled goodbye hurts me to this day. I wish so much that I’d had one last look at him in the lifeboat, that I’d provoked him a little, so that I was on his mind. I wish I had said to him then – yes, I know, to a tiger, but still – I wish I had said, “Richard Parker, it’s over. We have survived. Can you believe it? I owe you more gratitude than I can express I couldn’t have done it without you. I would like to say it formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank you for saving my life. And now go where you must. You have known the confined freedom of a zoo most of your life; now you will know the free confinement of a jungle. I wish you all the best with it. Watch out for Man. He is not your friend. But I hope you will remember me as a friend. I will never forget you , that is certain. You will always be with me, in my heart. What is that hiss? Ah, our boat has touched sand. So farewell, Richard Parker, farewell. God be with you.”

For further reading: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Mariner Books (2003).
The Making of Life of Pi: A Film, A Journey by Jean-Christophe Castelli, Harper (2012)

The Legacy of a Life

When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.

African proverb. Variants include: “When an old man dies, a library burns down.” or “Every time an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”

The proverb was popularized by William R. Ferris (1942-2008), a respected professor of English and History with a special focus on African American folklore and culture, co-founder and director of the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis Tennessee, and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1997-2001). As chairman, Ferris argued eloquently and passionately for the establishment of oral history projects throughout the country: “We must establish oral history projects in every American community. I often quote an African proverb that says, ‘When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.’ It we tape a single hour of conversation with a grandparent, think what a legacy their voice will be for the grandchildren. We must encourage our students to be writers, historians, and teachers. We must educate students to understand the culture into which they are born and teach them to drink from its rich waters as they educate future generations of Americans.”

For further reading: You Live and Learn. Then You Die and Forget it All by William Ferris, Anchor Press (1992).

Beautiful People

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004), Swiss-American psychiatrist who was the leading authority in the field of death and dying, from her book Death: The Final Stage of Growth (1975).


The Triumph of Evil Revisited

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.

Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia (1930-1974), in a speech delivered in Addis Ababa in 1963.

Read related posts: The Triumph of Evil
The Thirteen Commandments

Nothing Changes Unless You Make it Change

If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on being what you’ve always been — nothing changes unless you make it change. I know what it sounds like but every morning that I wake up I think about what that really means. Nothing changes unless you make it change.

Iris speaking in The Samaritan (2012) written by Elan Mastai and David Weaver, directed by David Weaver.

Contribute Joy to the World

I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Roger Ebert, Life Itself: A Memoir (2011)


The Wisdom of Hindsight

It is quite true what philosophy says: that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards.

Soren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, Volume IV (1843). The quotation is often paraphrased: Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

The Family You Choose

In every life, no matter how full or empty one’s purse
there is tragedy.
It is the one promise life always fulfills.
Thus, happiness is a gift
and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes
and to add to other people’s store of it.
What happens if, too early
we lose a parent
that party on whom we rely for only everything?
What did these people do when their families shrank?
They cried their tears, but then they did the vital thing:
They built a new family, person by person.
They came to see that family need not be defined
merely as those with whom they share blood
but as those for whom they would give their blood.

A wedding toast delivered by Mr. Crummles in the film Nicholas Nickleby (2002) written and directed by Douglas McGrath.

No Monopoly on Truth

The idea that there is one people in possession of the truth, one answer to the world’s ills, or one solution to humanity’s needs, has done untold harm throughout history – especially in the last century. 

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2006) and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (2001), from his lecture at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 2001

Perchance to Dream

George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and… say ‘Why?’ … But I dream things that never were — and I say: ‘Why not?’” It is that quality of the Irish — that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination–that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.

John F. Kennedy, address before the Irish Parliament in Dublin, June 28, 1963.

The Problems of Mankind


The great thinker Said Nursi, from the village of Nurs, in Bitlis had a wise saying: “Mankind has three problems: Discrimination, poverty and ignorance. Discrimination can be solved with love and compassion, poverty with sharing, and ignorance can only be resolved by education.”


Spoken by Hadji Gumus in the film Five Minarets in New York also released as Act of Vengeance (2010) written and directed by Mahsun Kirmizigul.

Nosce te ipsum

Definition: know oneself

Origin: The latin phrase, pronounced “NOS-keh tay IP-sum,” means “know thyself”  and first appeared in written Roman texts circa 1539. The source of this timeless quotation is from ancient Greece. According to the Greek historian, Plutarch, the aphorism was inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi built around 1100 BC — site of the Pythian Games (the birthplace of today’s Olympic games). The phrase, however, is often attributed to the Greek philosopher, Plato (a student of Socrates), through the character of Socrates in the Dialogues of Plato, written between 399 and 347 BC. The phrase was the inspiration for Shakespeare when he was writing The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark several hundred years later, between 1599 and 1601. Early in the play (Act 1. Scene III) Polonius provides his son, Laertes, with wise counsel:

This above all — to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

For further reading: Amo, Amas, Amat and More by Eugene Ehrlich, Harper & Row (1985). 500 Foregin Words and Phrases You Should Know to Sound Smart by Peter Archer, Adams Media (2012).

The Paradox of the American Dream

Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for — in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.

Ellen DeGeneres, comedian and host of the Ellen DeGeneres Show

Our economy is based on spending billions to persuade people that happiness is buying things, and then insisting that the only way to have a viable economy is to make things for people to buy so they’ll have jobs and get enough money to buy things.

Philip Elliot Slater, author of  The Pursuit of Loneliness, Beacon Press (1990).

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.


Fight the Good Fight

The Irish tell the story of a man who arrives at the gates of heaven and he asks to be let in and St. Peter says, “Of course. Show us your scars.” The man said, “I have no scars.” St. Peter says, “What a pity. Was there nothing worth fighting for?”

Martin Sheen, acceptance speech for the Laetare Medal at the University of Notre Dame delivered on May 17, 2008.