Controversial and possibly incendiary topic alert! It’s won’t be that bad. I published a book of quotations about values and wisdom in 2003. It must have had 1,000-1,500 quotes, just one after another, based on the value the quote represented (e.g., truth, justice, wisdom, passion, etc). No one had any problem with the Emersons, MLKs, John F. Ks, or Helen Kellers, but one person did not like my use of a quote by Hitler. He was Jewish, I imagine, and found the book unpalatable. He wrote me back with something along the lines of: “There is no way I could endorse a book that features a quote by Hitler.” So the questions arise: What is the purpose of wisdom? Could Hitler possibly have hit upon a vein of gold in his otherwise dank and unproductive mine of ideas? Was the professor wise, or foolish? How do we know when someone is imparting wisdom, or dropping a load of bull?
Well, interestingly, it might not have been Hitler who said: “What good fortune it is for those in power that the people do not think.” He certainly could have said that; it feels true to me. As this page indicates, it didn’t appear in Mein Kampf, and apparently, not in one of his speeches. So perhaps it is apocryphal. There are certain quotes of his that are apparently authentic, or at least, intriguing, such as:
“The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”
“Success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong.”
“Give me a child when he’s 7 and he’s mine forever.”
“Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction.”
“Words build bridges into unexplored regions.”
That is some noxious shit, but it is worth thinking about. Robert L. Lloyd notes that even the drunk in the alley choking on his vomit teaches one something: not to overindulge – if you pay attention. Indeed, paying attention and thinking critically are two tools that I would much rather have in my holsters in trying to divine if a statement is gold, or mere iron pyrite. Those two skills rank much higher than merely knowing who (allegedly) said a given thing x number of decades (centuries) ago. Wisdom need not only come from old men by a single candle on some mountain in Tibet. In fact, it is said that “Sooner or later, life makes a philosopher out of us all.” Really, you never know where wisdom will be; you’ve heard the proverb about wisdom from the mouths of babes, right? Some sayings are obviously true (they possess the quality of truth) because they have withstood the natural selection process, if you will: “If you plant turnips you will not harvest grapes” Confucius had were wise in the context of ancient China; perhaps in modern industrialized countries, the deference to authority and filial piety are less valid. How about this one:Further, maybe some insights
Don’t draw the Queen of Diamonds, she’ll beat you if she’s able; The Queen of Hearts is always your best bet.”
Sound familiar? It’s from a song, Desperado. Two guys from the Eagles wrote that. It’s poetry, no doubt, but they were probably drinking beer and smoking cigarettes some day in the 70s and penned that superb song. We have to be open to wisdom wherever it comes from. It’s not easy to discern or decode, but it is not only spoken by nice ladies while they drink tea in a tea room. Yes, Einstein and Gandhi and MLK seemed to divulge wisdom nearly every time they spoke in public, but they were not perfect, and b) Can we not learn something about capitalism from Bernie Madoff?; certainly L. Ron Hubbard has some insight as to how religions affect peoples’ thinking; does Jeffrey Dahmer have nothing to share that can be useful for psychiatry, sociology, or criminal justice studies?; surely Nixon must have shed light on power and corruption in all those thousands of audiotaped conversations he had! Here is another interesting thought found in the midst of a song sung by an 80s band (Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians):
Oh, I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean
Philosophy is a walk on the slippery rocks
Religion is a light in the fog
I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean….
Sometimes, an evil man (or, more accurately, a man who does evil acts in public) hits upon wisdom. Though uttered from the mouth of someone such as “Dr. Evil,” the foe in Austin Powers movies, it could possibly be true (i.e., in the vein of wisdom). Even a broken clock is correct twice a day, it is said. Example: Slobodan Milosevic was responsible for 250,000-350,000 deaths that were clearly genocide, but he is on record as saying: “Equality means nothing unless incorporated into the institutions.” That could have come from Karl Marx, no? The point is that it is the words, the point, that matter, not who said it. Who said a particular quotation is only a clue as to its legitimacy – its wisdom. It is merely one of many factors that the recipient has to grapple with to determine what is wisdom and what is pseudo-wisdom. “I believe in one thing only: the power of the human will.” Who said that? Helen Keller? Barack Obama? No, it was Joseph Stalin. Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for writing things that are coarse, dubious, or odd, but has a certain ring to it. Consider this humdinger:
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.
I was interviewing a scholar once on economics and I gave him this quotation to see what he made of it (my stock-in-trade): “This American system of ours, call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you will, gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it.” The professor’s response to my query as to whom he thought extolled the virtues of capitalism in that manner? He replied “I don’t know; any one of a number of great Americans.” Nope.
Here is an interview I conducted with a few experts on wisdom; it’s free, as always. Bottom of the page. Enjoy. Keep thinking for yourself!
Determining what wisdom is takes preparation, practice, and performance. It’s not easy, as the following quotes indicate! (there are so many on www.valuesofthewise.com that I only included those starting with “A”)
Even from a foe a man may wisdom learn.
He who searches for wisdom is wise; he who thinks he has found it is a fool.
The only thing that I am reasonably sure of is that anybody who’s got an ideology has stopped thinking.
What we have learned is like a handful of earth; What we have yet to learn is like the whole world.
As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.
Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.
Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than to polish.
Most of one’s life … is one prolonged effort to prevent oneself thinking.
Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds – justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on.
As a feast to which all the guests contribute is better than a banquet furnished by one man, so the multitude is a better judge of most things than any individual.
Being wise is not the ability to regurgitate thoughts of others but to form your own no matter how erratic they may seem.
Look up more quotes in the free Wisdom Archive, right here on ValuesoftheWise.com