Marilynne Robinson (on civilization)

May she keep on teaching and writing. Marilynne Robinson, photo from an article in The Guardian newspaper.

[3-minute read]

We hear it all the time. Human beings are naturally aggressive. We have always had wars, and we always will. Some of the more pessimistic among us – and listen, such people are not deranged; there are reasons aplenty to cast a stink-eye on our history  – go so far as to suggest that war is the natural condition of human societies, and that peace is an intermittent and temporary reprieve. This is nonsense.

Among many other reasons, it is foolish to think this way because, first, it is too easy, and second, it is too damned discouraging. Third, and most important, to consider warfare as our default mode is slippery and false because it allows us to excuse and even justify  (to ourselves, to our fellow foreign policy analysts, to our tough-on-crime cronies, to any of our partners-in-expediency) the use of brutal methods to address problems. Meanwhile, we routinely fall into the lazy assumption that human beings have hair-trigger predispositions towards violence or other anti-social qualities, yet most of us wouldn’t say this about the people that we actually know and interact with. (“People are AWFUL! Well, not my people, they’re mostly pretty great but, you know, those people out there…”)     

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Martina Navratilova (on winning)

It being March, me being an irredeemable basketball junkie (and hoops purist, which is a difficult double these days), I’m thinking a lot about winning.


Life is hyper-competitive these days, has been for a long while, and most of the favoured paths to success, or happiness, or just plain fame, take the path of least cooperation. Beating that guy, out-performing those rivals, one-upping the neighbours, even defeating those personal demons: everybody’s urged to be competitive, and if you’re going to compete, then it’s usually better if you win. (Though not always.) Even the English language chimes in — being able to do your job, to have useful skills, is to be competent. Cooperation is often framed as secondary, nice for kids, a good refuge for the untalented. This is one of our biggest philosophical/historical misunderstandings, say I, but let’s not go there for now. Let’s say we’re competing,

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Howdy Hearts Quotes

I might repeat to myself slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound – if I can remember any of the damn things.

That was the divinely caustic Dorothy Parker, she also of “Brevity is the soul of lingerie” and a gazillion other nastily gorgeous things. I, too, have forgotten an absolute army of wise, witty sayings. However, setting up this Version 2.0 of, I had the opportunity (well, because of my rickety old Internet platform, the necessity) of looking at nearly 400 of my posts as I transferred them here. I also found a record of posted quotables. Hurray!

And although I wasn’t terribly reliable about uploading quotations to my He Said, She Said box, there were quite a few goodies, so I’ve decided to repost them, too. You can take a look — they’re a LOT shorter than most of my posts! — just down and to the right. Good stuff.

May I Quote You On That?

He Said/She Said… Did you notice? It’s just down there. On your right.

I’m always looking for the right words. Some people look for the magic bullet – the easy lazy remedy, the simple common-sense answer. Some look for solace and conviction in chemical form, but for me it’s nearly always an incantation. If a problem can’t be solved with words, I’m often not interested in it. (Once upon a time, there was a jumpshot or a perfectly timed diving catch that would solve the problem. But what do I do now?)

I’ve collected quotes forever. Once upon a lucky break, I was suddenly being paid well to write with her Right Honourable Self, and she loved quotations, too. So I scavenged everywhere, tore from newspapers, scribbled in the margins of novels and other good reads, and I cheated: I went to Bartlett’s, to John Robert Columbo, to Cosmo Doogood’s Urban Almanac, to on-line sites like Empyrean. I love to find just the right words. Today, for instance, I laughed out loud in my doctor’s office, delighted at the righteousness of the following description. It’s not a very funny topic, actually. The environmentalist, unorthodox-Christian writer David James Duncan is speaking of reverence for nature and its critical importance, and calls to account those who welcome war and destruction because they think it hastens their own salvation: “The Armageddonist’s rejection of the world-as-gift is [mere human] projection: an obsession with the “End Days” is surrender not to God but to men with exaggerated reverence for their own fragmented understanding of holy writ.” Zing!

There be monsters in the quotable woods, though. I remember Mr. Hill’s comments on a high school essay that I had just larded with some of the best quotes ever. Problem: some of them I hadn’t fully understood, when removed from the context in which they were written, and “this is the evil of Bartlett’s”, quoth Mr. Hill. Who knew a treasure house of words could be evil? And then there was my recent discovery that one of my favourite quotes of Ralph Waldo Emerson – beginning “To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…” and ending “This is to have succeeded” – is “almost certainly not his”, according to a scholarly website that I accidentally consulted. Yes, and “Desiderata” wasn’t found in Baltimore’s Old North Church in 1608, or when-and-wherever it was supposed to have been. Sigh. It was actually written by a guy called Max in the 1960s. (And, to my surprise upon re-reading it recently, I still like it. Good Max!)

All this to say that I have a wee quote box just down there to your right, underneath the “On Second Thought” section, and that YOU, careless reader, have probably never even bothered to look at!! (And a good thing, too, because I haven’t done a thing with the Will Rogers line that my tech guy put there as filler months ago. “Even if you’re on the right track,” it said, “you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Nice choice, Artie!) But now I’ll be putting up quotes every Monday (or so) in the “He Said/She Said…” section, and you’re invited. Heck, I’m going to start with the phony Emerson, ‘cause I like it, too. I wish I knew who actually wrote it. (Something similar, though not as good, was the winning entry of one Bessie Stanley in a 1905 newspaper contest, according to my trusty website on Transcendentalist philosophers. Bessie’s version is below.)

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”  Not bad!