A lead-pencil has a point, an argument may have a point, remarks may be pointed, and a man who wants to borrow five pounds from you only comes to the point when he asks you for the fiver. Lots of things have points: especially weapons. But where is the point to life? Where is the point to love? Where, if it comes to the point, is the point to a bunch of violets? There is no point. Life and love are life and love, a bunch of violets is a bunch of violets, and to drag in the idea of a point is to ruin everything. Live and let live, love and let love, flower and fade, and follow the natural curve, which flows on, pointless.
D. H. LAWRENCE (1885–1930)
There is simply too much to think about. It is hopeless — too many kinds of special preparation are required. In electronics, in economics, in social analysis, in history, in psychology, in international politics, most of us are, given the oceanic proliferating complexity of things, paralyzed by the very suggestion that we assume responsibility for so much. This is what makes packaged opinion so attractive.
SAUL BELLOW, “There Is Simply Too Much to Think About,”
“Why do we demand and go to war for democracy as nations, yet accept with docility that no one has the right to choose their own boss?”
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Asimov has a great article called “What is intelligence, anyway?”
When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that all soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at the base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made a big fuss over me.
All my life I’ve been registering scores like that, so I have the complacent feeling that I’m highly intelligent, and I expect other people think so too.
Actually, though, don’t such scores simply mean that I am very good at answering the type of academic questions that are considered worthy of answers by people who make up the intelligence test – people with intellectual bents similar to mine?
For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these intelligence tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my estimate. I always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent than he was.
Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to him with it, watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and listened to his pronouncements as though they were divine oracles – and he always fixed my car.
Well, then, suppose my auto-repair man devised questions for an intelligence test.
Or suppose a carpenter did, or a farmer, or, indeed, almost anyone but an academician. By every one of those tests, I’d prove myself a moron, and I’d be a moron too.
For my display at school:
“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.”
– Benjamin Franklin
“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery”
– James Joyce
“Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.”
– Oscar Wilde
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
– Albert Einstein
“I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success”
– Jack Welch, Straight from the Gut
“What do you first do when you learn to swim? You make mistakes, do you not? And what happens? You make other mistakes, and when you have made all the mistakes you possibly can without drowning – and some of them many times over – what do you find? That you can swim? Well – life is just the same as learning to swim! Do not be afraid of making mistakes, for there is no other way of learning how to live!”
– Alfred Adler
“You may make mistakes, but you are not a failure until you start blaming someone else”
“Learn from the mistakes of others-you can never live long enough to make them all yourself.”
“The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way.”
– Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
This is beautifully put, I think. An old Chinese teacher explained to Richard Gerver why he taught in such a calm, cheerful way. The answer was:
“Every day, I stand in front of these young people, their faces full of expectation and hope, their energy radiating across the stale air of this room, and as I look across at them, I think to myself, somewhere in this room could be the person who finds the cure for cancer, the solution to world peace, could be the person who writes the next great symphony that moves mankind. There could be a future leader, doctor, nurse, teacher, Olympic champion. I don’s know, but what I do know is that they are out there and it is my job to identify and nurture that talent, not just for their own benefit but for possible the benefit of others. Is there any greater responsibility or opportunity than that? I am blessed, that is why I thank them.”
I’ve put this up on a wall in my classroom with a space where students can let me know how I can become a better teacher. The first suggestion was “Give us more chocolate”. The second was “Give us an outline of the whole year first rather than bit by bit please”. Which is a great idea, and one I’m guilty of not doing enough of.
I always liked the Robertson Davies line that consistency was a virtue for tiny minds. Stumbled across two more quotes in a similar vein and think I might try putting them up as a display in a classroom.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes”
– Walt Whitman.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“A regard for human excellence is the aristocratic ethos. To speak of aristocracy is perhaps a bit eccentric in our time, but consider the paradoxical truth that equality is an aristocratic ideal. It is the ideal of friendship – of those who stand apart from the collective and recognise one another as peers. As professionals, or fellow journeymen perhaps. By contrast, the bourgeois principle is not equality but equivalence – a positing of interchangeability that elides human differences of rank.”