12 Rules for Life – Part 3 of 3

I’ve decided to share these quotes in the order they appear in the book, plus occasional commentary. All quotes are from the 2018 hardcover edition.

Key:

  • plaintext – Worthy quotes
  • bold – Favorite quotes
  • italics – Quotes I disliked

12 Rules for Life: Best and Worst Quotes

The dominance hierarchy is not capitalism.  It’s not communism, either, for that matter . . . We (the sovereign we, the we that has been around since the beginning of life) have lived in a dominance hierarchy for a long, long time. (p. 14) – Agreed, seems pretty self-evident.

. . . the familiar Western images of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and the Pietà both express the female/male dual unity, as does the traditional insistence on the androgyny of Christ.  (p. 42) – “traditional insistence on the androgyny,” what is he talking about?

You should take care of, help and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued. (p. 62)

. . . a villain who despairs of his villainy has not become a hero.  A hero is something positive, not just the absence of evil.  (p. 78) – Exactly!

. . . winning at everything might only mean that you’re not doing anything new or difficult.  You might be winning, but you’re not growing, and growing might be the most important form of winning.  (p. 88)

Ask yourself: is there one thing that exists in disarray in your life or your situation that you could, and would, set straight?  Could you, and would you, fix that one thing that announces itself humbly in need of repair?  (p. 94)

What would your life look like, if it were better?  (p. 100)

The Old Testament Israelites and their forebears knew that God was not to be trifled with, and that whatever Hell the angry Deity might allow to be engendered if he was crossed was real.  Having recently passed through a century defined by the bottomless horrors of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, we might realize the same thing.  (p. 105) – This is a terrible example of conflating all evils with “judgment from God.”  It’s not biblical (see Job).  Granted, Peterson here is speaking of the “Old Testament God” as a concept, not necessarily as a real Person.  But this kind of thing is what I meant by “repurposing the Bible” to fit a philosophy.

. . . if  you look close enough, the biggest of lies is composed of smaller lies, and those are composed of still smaller lies – and the smallest of lies is where the big lie starts. (p. 228)

People think they think, but it’s not true.  It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking . . . Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world. (p. 241)

The past is not necessarily what it was, even though it has already been. (p. 267) – On second reading, I’m not exactly sure this makes logical sense, but I get the gist of it, and it’s a hard truth.

Assume ignorance before malevolence. No one has a direct pipeline to your wants and needs – not even you.  (p. 320) – Good advice for managing conflict.

When [boys] told off the teachers, they were pushing against the authority, to see if there was any real authority there – the kind that could be relied on, in principle, in a crisis. (p. 331) – Yeah, I’m not really buying that one.  Backtalk is backtalk, let’s not romanticize it.

Maybe the environmental problem is ultimately spiritual. If we put ourselves in order, perhaps we will do the same for the world. (p. 364)

Wit and Wisdom in Chesterton’s Heretics

This year’s reading is off to a good start, not so much in terms of speed (work and other activities have put the brakes on that) but in terms of content.  I’ve just finished G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics, a light book for heavy hearts of little-‘o’ orthodox Christians who happen to be classic literature nerds.  Since I fall under that category, I found Heretics to be a bracing read and surprisingly relevant for the current times.  Chesterton is a hit-and-miss author for me; this book was definitely a “hit.”

Shaw, Belloc e Chesterton
George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and G. K. Chesterton.

Heretics (1905) comes under one of my favorite niche genres – authors writing about other authors.  In this series of essays, Chesterton critiques such literary luminaries as Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw, as well as others who have since fallen out of readership.  Imperialism, Nietzsche’s Superman, human progress, and other topics of the day are covered here, many of which are still relevant a little over a century later, albeit in other guises.  Chesterton’s overarching theme is that religion, specifically Christianity, is essential to contemporary dialogue, not a thing to be flippantly attacked or dismissed as irrelevant.

A non-Catholic myself, I still found encouragement in his defense of Christianity in the modern world.  I am not sure how non-Christians would find it; probably they would pick holes in Chesterton’s turns of phrase, which to me are devices to get you to think, not to necessarily persuade or convince.  In any case, this book shows off Chestertons’s signature style, often pithy and delightfully humorous, and I think anyone who can appreciate a Mark Twainian repartee could get some chuckles out of it.

These are some quotes I particularly liked:

The case of the general talk of “progress” is, indeed, an extreme one. As enunciated today, “progress” is simply a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative . . . Nobody has any business to use the word “progress” unless he has a definite creed and a cast-iron code of morals. – “On the Negative Spirit”

The man who is misunderstood has always this advantage over his enemies, that they do not know his weak point or his plan of campaign. – “Mr. Bernard Shaw”

Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves. – “Mr. Bernard Shaw”

There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in the man who eats grape-nuts on principle. – “On Sandals and Simplicity”

All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired. – “Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson.”  I may print this one and hang it up on my office wall…

The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. – “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family.”

Democracy is not philanthropy; it is not even altruism or social reform. Democracy is not founded on pity for the common man; democracy is founded on reverence for the common man, or, if you will, even on fear of him. It does not champion man because man is so miserable, but because man is so sublime. – “Slum Novelists and the Slums”

Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. – “Concluding Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy”

Nature Walk + Thoughts for the Week

Well, it’s finally come – the end of a long, much needed, and memorable weekend.

Today my family and I went for a walk at a local bird reserve.  We’ve been going here for over a decade; it’s like visiting an old friend now.  Autumn is the best time to see it, though already a lot of the maples have lost their leaves.

After a short detour through the woods, the trail opens up to the tidal flats, home to plenty of sea gulls, mallards, and Canadian geese.  I’ve always thought this looks like something out of Middle Earth.

Though a cold day, it was a great way to unwind and mentally “reset” before the coming week.

Speaking of which, work has been pretty exhausting, and I’m trying very hard to stay positive.  Rapid changes and new responsibilities are the challenges right now.  I hope things will get easier by January.

To offset the stress, I’ve been alternating between several books:

  • The Concept of Anxiety – Kierkegaard, aforementioned
  • Open Letters – Václav Havel
  • Manalive – G. K. Chesterton.  (So far disappointing, to be honest.)

If you’ve never read Havel, I suggest dropping everything (as soon as is convenient) and reading “The Power of the Powerless” which you can find online.  Though a political piece, it can be read apolitically as well.  It is a call to “live within the truth” – as profound as it is simple, and as terrifying as it is essential.  I have started reading some of his other work in Open Letters and finding it just as excellent, so far.

Kierkegaard I shall soon finish; only about 26 pages to go.  It is tough to read, because in The Concept of Anxiety he is replying to a myriad of other philosophers (e.g. Hegel) and I am lost most of the time.  It seems like a book I’ll want to reread in the future.

I have found one quote I like very much.  It’s reminiscent of Myshkin’s “even in prison” quote from The Idiot, although a little less fanciful:

But life is rich enough if one only knows how to see.  There is no need to travel to Paris and London – and it does not help if one cannot see.

It’s something I believe in wholeheartedly. 

H. G. Wells on Victorian Short Stories

H.G. Wells LCCN2014701289

Lately I’ve been wandering down memory lane with H. G. Wells’ The Country of the Blind and Other Stories (1911).  This collection holds, in the words of Wells: “all of the short stories by me that I care for any one to read again.”  Some are new and some familiar – two of them are personal favorites, which I’ll be mentioning in Monday’s podcast episode (“Nine Creepy Victorian Short Stories”).

In the Introduction, Wells gives us a little recap of the short story form and its writers, as far as it had evolved in the late Victorian era.  He praises Kipling, whose writing “opened like window-shutters to reveal the dusty sun-glare and blazing colours of the East.”  J. M. Barrie also gets a mention, along with Henry James, Stephen Crane, Jerome K. Jerome, and Edith Nesbit.  Other contemporaries are listed, whose names are less known to modern readers.  Joseph Conrad alone is noted as having, in Wells’s eyes, continued in the 20th century to write pieces comparable to his pre-1900 work.

The golden age of short stories was not critic-free, Wells recollects.  For example, there was a question of what constitutes a short story.

There was a tendency to treat the short story as though it was as definable a form as the sonnet, instead of being just exactly what any one of courage and imagination can get told in twenty minutes’ reading or so.

Personally, Wells did not care to put a solid definition on what makes a “short story.”  In his view, a short story meant just two general properties, and those were a) “achiev[ing] the impossible,” and b) taking around 15–50 minutes to read aloud.

I have always enjoyed short stories, and to this day, I prefer them over novels.  They also appeal to me as a writer, because my inspiration tends to home in on a specific scene or piece of dialog, which doesn’t necessarily fit in a longer form.

What are some of your favorite short stories (or short story authors)?

Emily Dickinson in 10 Quotes

Yesterday, I finished reading a selection of letters written by Emily Dickinson (1830–1886). I read some of her best poems in my latest podcast episode, but really, her letters are even more interesting, showing us a glimpse of one woman’s life in mid-19th-century America. Here are some of the most memorable quotes from those letters.

Dickinson and Turner 1859 (cleaned)
This picture is unauthenticated but believed to show Emily Dickinson (left) and one of her friends, Kate Scott Turner, to whom some of the letters were addressed

Emily Dickinson in 10 Quotes on…
Being a Young Lady – 1845
How do you enjoy your school this term?  Are the teachers as pleasant as our old school-teachers?  I expect you have a great many prim, starched up young ladies there, who, I doubt not, are perfect models of propriety and good behavior.  If they are, don’t let your free spirit be chained by them.
Valentines – 1848
Many of the girls have received very beautiful ones; and I have not quite done hoping for one.  Surely my friend Thomas has not lost all his former affection for me!  I entreat you to tell him I am pining for a valentine.

Humor and Real Life – 1851

When I know of anything funny I am just as apt to cry, far more so than to laugh, for I know who loves jokes best, and who is not here to enjoy them.  We don’t have many jokes, though, now, it is pretty much all sobriety; and we do not have much poetry, father having made up his mind that it’s pretty much all real life.  Father’s real life and mine sometimes come into collision but as yet escape unhurt…

Missing Friends – 1853

…I thought of you all last week, until the world grew rounder than it sometimes is, and I broke several dishes.

Dickens and Stowe – 1853

[Father] gave me quite a trimming about “Uncle Tom” and “Charles Dickens” and those “modern literati” who, he says, are nothing, compared to past generations who flourished when he was a boy…so I’m quite in disgrace at present…

Ice-Cream – 1861

We have at present on cat, and twenty-four hens, who do nothing so vulgar as lay an egg, which checks the ice-cream tendency.  

The Fourth of July Fire – 1879

And so much lighter than day was it, that I saw a caterpillar measure a leaf far down in the orchard; and Vinnie kept saying bravely, “It’s only the fourth of July.”…Vinnie’s “only the fourth of July” I shall always remember.  I think she will tell us so when we die, to keep us from being afraid.

Her Father – 1880
The last April that father lived, lived I mean below, there were several snow-storms, and the birds were so frightened and cold, they sat by the kitchen door.  Father went to the barn in his slippers and came back with a breakfast of grain for each, and hid himself while he scattered it, lest it embarrass them.  

Sisters – 1883

Your bond to your brother reminds me of mine to my sister – early, earnest, indissoluble.

Doubt – 1883
We pray to Him, and He answers “No.”  Then we pray to Him to rescind the “no,” and He don’t answer at all, yet “Seek and ye shall find” is the boon of faith.

Though I’ve read a fair bit of 19th-century literature, Emily Dickinson’s letters showed me another side of it, through one woman’s life challenges and her own inner struggles.  Some of it made me smile, and some of it was heartbreaking.

I’m again reminded what a blessing the internet can be and is for those of us who live more introverted lives.  The ability to communicated with like-minded people across timezones and geography is so powerful.  It staves off some of the profound loneliness which people, especially women, have endured in times past, while bringing more perspective to our own ideas of the world.