essays on history, myth, ideas, books, film, music…
Those little pithy pearls of wisdom you see on your office calendar: it all started with the monkeys. A popular misconception of the theories of Charles Darwin is that “we are descended from monkeys”. Even though that’s not accurate, it’s certainly true these damn monkeys can do almost anything. As is well known, writing the works of Shakespeare is not a problem for them, all they need is a typewriter (takes a lot of monkeys though).
“see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.
The monkeys would have known that ‘evil’ is just ‘live’ spelt backwards and that evil is only a part of living, of being alive. And that discretion can at times be very wise indeed.
Pop music is the source for quite a few bits of portable wisdom. Quotable lyricists proliferate, but you probably know more about this than I do.
“I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” (Bob Segar, Against the Wind)
Bitter to reflect that the mistakes you make bring you wisdom, but lose you opportunities you’re too afraid to take. What kind of a game is that we’re playing? How fragile we can get has been noted more than once by pop poet Bruce Springsteen.
“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” (Bruce Springsteen, The River)
“Please don’t forgive me, my sins are all I have” (Springsteen, Dead Man Walking)
That wisest of all authors, Anonymous, has commented on the fact that life is a game the rules of which you learn while you are playing. Which puts us in a risky position right from the start.
“To learn from your mistakes, you first have to make them”.
Perhaps the thing I like the most of the quotes I’ve come across and kept a copy is the bitterness, the irony, the fact that the lesson has been hardly learned.
“nothing that is worth knowing can be taught” (Oscar Wilde, Intentions)
Wilde is one of the most quotable of authors, and, more importantly, one of the wisest, and it is hard not to keep quoting. He even previewed his own fate unknowingly.
“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike” (Wilde, An Ideal Husband)
Perhaps cynicism is the safest attitude to take.
“How easy it is for a man to die rich, if he will but be contented to live miserable”. (Henry Fielding, Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon)
“Politicians are the same everywhere. They promise to build a bridge even when there’s no river”. (Nikita Khrushchev)
“Time wounds all heels” (Groucho Marx)
But I haven’t wanted to keep a record of quotable authors. That’s what dictionaries of quotations are for. One of the most intriguing authors (aside from Anonymous) is Unknown. Unknown has been very prolific, and I’ve kept a lot of his or her sayings.
“We are most intolerant of our faults when others practice them”.
That sounds like Oscar Wilde rather than Unknown. But isn’t it true?
“If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t more people happy?”
“I still miss my ex, but my aim is improving”.
Aside from quotes that show Unknown painfully learning through making a mess of things (and surviving), I’ve come across a lot of (his or her)wisdom sayings. These are either profound or foolish (or profound now and foolish later, or vice versa). Not knowing a source leaves them up for debate. Hearing them from the Buddha’s lips is quite different to hearing them from Unknown.
“You are the mirror of your own reflection”.
“A lack of faith shows a want of imagination”.
“Fear of sex breeds both pornography and puritanism”.
“The price of wisdom is the loss of innocence”.
War and causes have led to uncertain gains and certain atrocities throughout history. Unknown has quite a bit to say about this.
“All wars are fought against children”.
“The opposite of everything is equally true”.
Lastly, the self help industry has spawned some quotable wisdom (and a lot of redundant information we already knew but never had to pay for before).
“Today is a gift (that’s why they call it the present)”
“Reflection is the birth of the soul”.
And lastly, the really big revelation we all have to have.
“No-one has ever really laughed who hasn’t laughed at themselves”.
Those monkeys have a lot to answer for (and could they really write the works of Shakespeare? I mean, has anybody really checked?)
Should Unknown recognise any of his or her sayings here, I will be more than pleased to identify him or her by giving an ascription. I have a feeling that Unknown has been really prolific, and that I’ve merely scratched the surface of his or her sayings.
©2011 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.