Middle age is the time of life when you yearn for the memory of the fierce passions you had a few decades in the past, but at the same time you yearn for the quiet peace you hope to have a few decades in the future.
(Inspired by reading Dana Gioia’s poem, “Meditation on a Line From Novalis”)
“I find myself often idle, vagrant, stupid, & hollow. This is somewhat appalling & if I do not discipline myself with diligent care I shall suffer severely from remorse & the sense of inferiority hereafter. All around me are industrious & will be great, I am indolent & shall be insignificant. Avert it heaven! Avert it virtue! I need excitement.”
American scholar Ralph Waldo Emerson penned those lines in his journal when he was a wise old man, contemplative but still ambitious.
Actually, he was 17.
I read that quote when I was 17, and it’s terrified me ever since. Have I lived up to it? Of course not. But I hope that I’ve learned some worthwhile things, enjoyed the occasional serendipitous moment, and maybe even done some good for folks around me. To that end, here’s a list of some of my “proverbs:” observations and understandings of life that help me make my way.
- You must learn to recognize and reject your own biases. If you approach things with preconceptions, you will be humbled.
- Respect the physical properties of emotions; they have both potential and kinetic energy, and they have inertia.
- All crime is treason.
- If you don’t think Sunday is a day of rest, you should do more during the rest of the week.
- It’s not surprising that so many people only see darkness and filth in the world– look where their heads are.
- The only kind of man worth being is a hero. Anything less isn’t manhood at all.
- All rejections of opportunities not based on principle are based on laziness or fear.
- Don’t ask, “How’s life treating you?” Ask, “How are you treating life?”
- Fairness is a virtue, but truth is a better virtue. If the truth is unfair, so be it.
- The rebel of the 21st century will be old-fashioned.
- If you’re making everybody happy, you’re doing something wrong. Leaders, innovators, and saints have to be offending somebody.
- A soft life yields a hard heart.
- Stop resenting the tension in life: pressure is what makes progress possible and enjoyment meaningful.
- I believe in reason and responsibility: in the 21st century, that makes me a conservative by default.
- The best way to get new ideas is to use the ones you have.
- The human body is a machine for exercising the human spirit.
- Relativism is the great intellectual cancer of the 20th century.
- Pragmatism is just usefully applied negativity.
- An opinion without reasons and evidence is wrong.
- Time not earnestly invested is invariably wasted.
- Being offended does not make you right.
- A strong mind must be independent of all popular culture.
- Take the serious things in life seriously. Make fun of everything else.
- Your feelings do not change reality.
- If you don’t like something that’s true, you’re wrong and you need to change.
- An ounce of light weighs more than a hundred pounds of darkness.