QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY

BLOG #16, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY
April 16, 2014

It is said that poetry is the most condensed literary art form there is–much more than is true of novels and short stories. I would disagree: quotations are even more condensed than poems.

Of course that gets us into the debate as to whether quotations deserve to be classified as an art form. I submit that they are. It is almost impossible to create shorter condensations of wisdom than in quotations.

For example, how could it be possible to condense the essence of the following any further than these?

“God is Love” (John 4:8)

“I came, I saw, I conquered” (Julilus Caesar)
“All the World’s a Stage.” (Shakespeare)
“What’s past is prologue” (Shakespeare)
“To err is human, to forgive divine.” (Pope)
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35)

Looking back through time, I think I was first captivated by quotations in the old Reader’s Digest. In their early days, their editors routinely featured quotations worth remembering, the essence of Alexander Pope’s immortal “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”

All of us aspire to be witty, to articulate thought so splendidly listeners will be in awe of us. But if we are not the first to come up with timeless phraseology–well the artist James McNeill Whistler captured it best in a conversation he had with Oscar Wilde:

Wilde: “I wish I’d said that.”
Whistler: “You will, Oscar, you will.”

Early on in teaching, I wrote on my classroom blackboard one morning, a quotation I felt worth remembering. I wrote another on the board the following day, and so on. It didn’t take long to discover that it was the first thing students noticed when they walked into the room.

Over time, that daily quotation became part of my persona. So much so that if I missed a day, my students demanded I immediately remedy that omission.

Fast forward to the last eighteen years of writing and anthologizing full time. As books bearing my name accumulated, former students began checking back in. A number mentioned those long-ago quotations–many had copied down their favorites: a number still had them. Several suggested I take advantage of the worldwide web and tweet one every day. That way, they could still pretend they were students of mine.

So it was that on October 1 of 2011, I tweeted my first quotation. I have not missed a day since. In late June of 2014, I’ll log in my 1000th quotation.

I take these postings mighty seriously for I want each of them to be worth remembering. I’ve discovered that most quotation books are merely compendiums of quotations, mighty few of them worth writing down, even fewer worth internalizing.

Though I have well over a million quotes archived, it is never easy to select a month’s worth of quotes. For I determined early on to avoid merely posting same ol’ same ol’s; quotes originating with individuals many of our contemporaries don’t even recognize. Because of this, in order to maintain a good mix of quotes old and new, I continuously search for current quotes worth remembering. I add humorous ones as day-brightening changes of pace as well. But always I also feature the greatest ones from ages past.

I’ll be most interested in your reactions to our quotes. If enough interest is expressed, I’ll consider making them available in printed form as well.

If you like quotes but haven’t yet checked ours out, you can access them at http://www.twitter.com/JoeWheelerBooks.

 

 

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DON’T LET CONCRETE SETTLE IN YOUR HEAD

The moment you’re satisfied with what you’ve got,
The concrete has begun to settle in your head.”
—Reader’s Digest

Modern technology has made it imperative that education be lifelong rather than merely a stage. Do you remember the feeling, as a child, of holding on to the circular bar of a playground merry-go-round as it went faster and faster, and the centrifugal force was so great you felt that at any moment you’d blindly sail off into space? Sometimes the frantic pace of our lives produces the same feeling. Yet, the price of just letting go is higher than one might think.

Nicholas Murray Butler put it this way: “If your curve of efficiency is ascending at 45, and keeps ascending after that period, it may well move upward for your whole life, but if there is a turn downward at 45, you will never recover.” Of course the age designation of 45 is a relative term.

The good Lord created us to grow at every stage of our lives—and on into eternity. Again and again, in His parables, Christ hammered home the message that continual growth is a divine mandate, not merely an option.

Some years ago, in Texas, I was privileged to develop, implement, and run an adult degree program created for all those who seek to re-board the growth-wagon of life. Those were some of the most energizing years I ever experienced. What a difference between those students and the average college students (18 – 22 years old) who more often than not are clueless about life and rarely pose Life’s Three Eternal Questions: Who am I? Where have I come from? and Where am I going? All too many flounder through their college years, drop out, or graduate without any real sense of purpose, or even direction.

Not so adult students! When they re-enter the academic world they remind you of Shakespeare’s Cassius:

“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look”

That’s just it: they come back because they are hungry for what they once took for granted, and are frantically trying to make up for lost time. Indeed some keep sighing, “Oh, I keep thinking of all the years I’ve lost,” as though that loss of momentum precludes ever climbing back on Life’s Juggernaut. I refused to accept such a cop-out; most would sheepishly grin and sign up when I posed this reality to them: “You know, five years from now you’re going to be five years older whether or not you begin the degree process—why not at least be aiming somewhere?”

It was surprising to discover how many were back because they’d finally realized one of life’s most brutal realities: they might very well be the men or women who, more than any others, propelled their company or institution to success, but almost invariably someone with that piece of parchment we call a degree was holding the key position of leadership in their sector, and drawing a commensurate paycheck. And it never ceased to amaze me how quickly my adult students would move up the career ladder once their bosses discovered they were enrolled in a degree program and were making steady progress towards that goal.

That’s really what degrees do for you. They don’t by themselves make you more intelligent, but because people perceive that they do, they validate in the public’s eye everything you do, write, or say. Then there is the requisite self-discipline. Employers feel that anyone who has earned a degree has exhibited staying-power, something they’re always seeking in their top employees.

Degrees accomplish something else in our lives. Sort of like the Millionaire game show: if you miss a given question, you can only drop back so far (to the last major plateau). Just so degrees offer you achievement plateaus you can drop back to, and build towards the next plateau higher up. They represent solid foundational blocks of achievement.

Nor should we ever discount the difference degrees make in our own attitudes toward ourselves. Deserved or undeserved, we stand taller and straighter with them than without. Though it is a subtle difference, we feel it, and it energizes us to continue growing. Each graduation ceremony may thus be likened to another booster rocket in our life’s trajectory.

Given the current rate of technological change, however, degree programs, and even the textbooks prepared for them, may become obsolete before you can even prepare for them. That’s why what your degree is in means less and less each year that passes; it’s the fact that you completed one that makes you a viable job candidate.

Also, as a former chair of English and Communication departments, and hence coordinator of job placement of our graduates, I can testify that, more and more in a society obsessed with electronics, there is developing an ever more desperate search for women and men who can think rationally, reason from cause to effect, explore different schools of thought without getting argumentative, and articulate coherently and persuasively both in speech and on paper.

So, wherever we are in life, the truly imperative thing is that each of us needs to make sure we’re in a growth mode. Not to be in one is a living death.

I’ll leave the last word today to Phillips Brooks:

The ideal life is in our blood and never will be still. Sad will be the day for us when we become contented with the thoughts we are thinking and the deeds we are doing—where there is not forever beating at the doors of our souls some desire to do something larger, which we know that we were meant and made to do.