Saturday, July 9, 2011

Quotes That Guide My Life

Everyone, in some form or another, appreciates a good quote. A quote becomes appealing when it condenses down the essentials of the views of someone holds, allowing them to hold in their mind very pregnant ideas in a very economical form. While, as par the norm, people tend to appreciate quotes as they come by them, I've been making an effort for a very long time to decide upon which quotes are most essential to the way I view how life should be lived. At one point I even took to collecting quotes and writing them all over the place to serve as constant reminders and inspiration, but I wrote down so much that appealed to me that the writing became too great to keep track of or check on a regular basis, so from there I struggled to pare down the list to the bare essentials that drive my being. I think I finally reached that point, and would like to share that list in hopes of inspiring you to comment with yours, and perhaps motivate you to decide upon your essential favorites.

So here are my top four favorite quotes in reverse order of personal importance, which I consider to be the driving force behind everything I do. Those with asterisks might be paraphrased, not exact quotes.

4.) * "Do something you would do for free and someone will pay you well for it." - Mary Kay

This has molded my view on my career. Certainly I'm greedy and would like to make a lot of money, even become filthy rich one day, but this quote helps me keep in mind what is the most fulfilling and practical route to riches. To become materialistically wealthy should not be my aim. It shouldn't even really be on my mind. My emphasis should be on becoming the best I can possibly be in the career field I love and have chosen to dedicate myself to for life. The material rewards I reap should not be sought after, but rather be a natural consequence to how well I've done to cultivate my skills and be the best I can be.

The culinary profession isn't a high-paying profession by its nature, but I'm not worried about that. My ultimate aim is still not totally clear at this point, but I'm thinking about taking an ultimately intellectual and entrepreneurial route in my career, for which training as a chef will assist me in that matter. If I want to make a million, or even a billion dollars, then my concern is becoming worth that as a person, not directly pursuing it.

I do well at my job because I love it, even as a mere dish washer . . . not become I'm chasing dollars. The payment is the consequence and reward, not the goal.

3.) "Judge, and prepare to be judged." - Unknown

While growing up, passing moral judgment was inexplicably avoided and done with extreme inaccuracy when practiced on occasion. When giving praise my elders would often detach their compliments from the known facts of reality and give statements that were totally unbelievable and false, and any vices and immorality often went unacknowledged and ignored, leaving people to suffer endlessly in relationships they refused to acknowledge were rotten. I never consciously avoided moral judgment, but my inability to make precise judgments in my youth led to me having terrible relationships with other people all the time, continuing associations that should have been terminated promptly, and having malformed estimates of myself due to bad standards of judgment. I suffered greatly due to not having good thinking methods for judgment.

Once I learned how to pass objective moral judgment, my relationships improved dramatically, as I knew better which people were worth associating with and who should be cut off from contact, and underwent a drastic self-improvement spree once I identified the standards I wanted to strive to and starting holding myself responsible for my habits. I continue my self-improvement endeavors to this day since I hold myself to the same moral standards which I use to judge other people I interact with. My life has become infinitely better because of that.

This quote keeps in mind three things: That it's important to judge others (lest you suffer bad associations), that it's a logical corollary to submit yourself to others' judgment (so that you become comfortable with your public status and make changes where appropriate), and that you, most importantly, judge yourself. Doing this has helped me treat people with objective consistency based on their deserts, feel comfortable on hearing others' views about myself, and evaluate myself when trying to determine where I'm pursuing my ideals or need to make changes.

2.) "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle

This one is important to me more for moral reasons rather than, say, the optimization of talent. Building upon the last quote, another problem in my youth is that people often judged each other on the basis of isolated and rare incidents, often in the face of consistent evidence that flagrantly proved that things were otherwise. For instance, some people would take a consistently angry and malicious person and characterize them as happy and benevolent on the basis of one act or incident that made them feel good, such as observing them smiling once or doing a single good deed, despite the fact that 99 times out of a 100 that same person would act to the contrary. It's like these people were pretending the other 99 times didn't exist. As a result, once again, many bad relationships were continued even though they were generally and consistently bad, all because on seldom occasion things would be "good." You need to judge people on their consistent behavior if you want things to consistently be good, not the other way around.

Furthermore, this quote also emphasizes to me that it's most important to judge a person by their acts, not their intentions or emotions. Have all the good intentions you want: It's not going to qualify you as having a heart made out of gold unless you perform the deeds to match them. I've seen some truly awful persons characterized as practically saints all because they had good intentions on occasion, even if they did nothing in practice to put their intentions in action, and building on the above paragraph this would again be another thing which would be very rare and seldom to a particular person, thereby being an obscene dropping of the context.

In comparing practices with preaching it is the actions that ultimately matter more, if one were to weigh them in isolation, but it totality it is of course how a person's actions match up with their preaching that matters most. In this case I've even seen terrible hypocrites judged as good even as they seldom, even rarely or never practiced their stated ideas, all because they preached the right things. What a detachment from reality!

This quote has helped me be more patient and meticulous in how I judge people, and helps me make sure I'm keeping the entire context of their being and am paying attention to and weighing the right things. Unless a person has done something unforgivably bad, I try to avoid hinging my estimate of someone on the basis of an isolated incident, and use my memory to full advantage to collect and store incidents that I believe give indication of someone's moral status, and use the pieces to form a coherent picture which I'll use to form a moral judgment. But even after forming the judgment I still try to keep it open-ended to continue adding pieces of evidence which will either intensify my estimate of someone (such as by observing repeated virtue by a person I view as good) or cause me to change my estimate if the pieces of evidence start tilting the scales the other way, such as a virtuous person repeatedly indulging in moral failings or a bad person consistently working towards redemption. It keeps my relationships in a semi-fluid state to better enable me to treat people according to their deserts, depending on the totality of the context of their being I have observed.

And, of course, I hold myself to that same standard. It helps keep me straight and avoid making the justification that certain things are an exception to the rule of my being. For instance, if I'm exhausted and take a day off from my efforts to rest, then I'll judge it as a deserved exception to my usual strivings. However, if I chose to rest and laze about for three days in a row, then I'll judge that I'm dangerously close to becoming a lazy person in nature and will make the appropriate corrections.

1.) "A giant is as a giant does." - Rod Serling, from the Twilight Zone episode *Last Night of a Jockey*

Almost as soon as I heard it it became my favorite quote of all time. Anywhere I can post a quote online, like in my e-mail signature, this is always the one I choose, and I read it virtually everyday, never forgetting it. It's very similar to the last Aristotle quote, only I like this one for its emphasis on substance.

Another difficulty in my childhood is how concerned everyone was with appearances, most often in total divorce of substance. For instance, people around me were more concerned with looking happy to other people rather than cultivating an actual life of contentment, and knowing them in private I learned that their smiles were mere muscle flexing, as inwardly they lived a stale and discontent, and even downright miserable existence.

And what reward do they get for focusing so much on appearance, on how they look to others? Nothing. No spiritual contentment, material satisfaction, healthy relationships . . . jack squat. This obsession with appearance was only to ease the discomfort they felt in being seen by other people, and avoiding discomfort and pain is not the same as gaining inner peace and happiness.

Plus, this episode of the Twilight Zone shows how an obsession with appearances can actually ruin oneself. (SPOILERS) In it, a jockey (a horse racer) gets permanently discharged from his beloved profession and has to cope with not being able to engage in it ever again. A spiritual entity within him starts speaking to him and offers him a wish as his last possible resort to rising up and living a good life. The jocky wishes to be big, and the entity makes him into a literal giant. The jocky then goes into a kind of euphoric ramble about how amazed people will be by his size and how he'll be admired. He calls a girl up to ask her out on a date, but she turns him down even as he frantically boasts about how "big" he is. He's irritated until he suddenly gets a call from the jocky club, learning that they've decided to give him one more chance. He's relieved that he gets another chance at his beloved profession, but after the spiritual entity taunts him he quickly realizes that he's too big -- he can't fit into his clothes, sit on a horse, get out the door . . . his concern with altering his physical stature, his appearance, lead to him ruining his life because he thought greatness meant looking great to others, not being great. His concern with appearance over substance made him sacrifice his only chance at a fulfilling life. (/SPOILERS) 

And that's what I've observed with other people in my life too. People concerned more with how they look rather than how they are have given up the values they most wanted to achieve, all for the empty gain of receiving approval from others. The people I've observed that have lived this way have led lives with empty relationships, mediocre careers, undeveloped talents, shallow romances, and so on.

This quote keeps me concentrating on what the actual value of my efforts and practices are in regards to pursuing my goals, rather than how people perceive them and in spite of their disapproval. Deeper still, it keeps me focused on living a life of substance, of being a good person rather than trying to look like one, of cultivating my mind rather than sounding intelligent, of being authentically respectful rather than using fake manners, and more. The quote continues to help even beyond this, such as by helping me judge whether a practice is really beneficial to my life (e.g. a study technique), how deeply I value a particular person, if the entire context of my habits lines up with my ideals, and endlessly on. It's been a way long time since I've last seen this TZ episode, but I do own it on DVD and should watch it again soon, and probably won't ever forget it. I anticipate I'll be holding onto these words for the rest of my life. If I want to be a great person, then the substance of what I do needs to be great. We are what we do. A giant is as a giant does.

* * * * *

These are the quotes that have the strongest influence in my life and in the molding of my being. It took an extremely long time to get to the point I could pare down my list to this, but it helps me in every single facet of my life, from how I treat people, how I exert myself at work, how I utilize my free time, how I judge myself, etc.

However, I'd like to have for a top five. One thing I don't think I keep in mind often enough is how finite my time is here on earth. You and I are probably not going to live forever. Am I living as richly as I could and making the best use of the limited minutes I have alive, however many billions of them? I'd like to have a quote that essentializes how preciously finite life is, but haven't seen any. Could my readers suggest one?

While we're at it, what are your favorite quotes? And I'm not asking for a hodge podge list either: what are the quotes that really mean something to you? That may guide your life as the above four guide mine?

Maybe once I do gather a top five I'll print and laminate them, so that I may read them everyday.      

1 comment:

  1. You had better take care to get what you like or you shall have to like what you get. (Bernard Shaw)

    Tell the truth and shoot well with arrows. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

    "Take what you like," said God, "and pay for it." (Spanish proverb, quoted by Ayn Rand)

    If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. (Rush)


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