Notes: The living voice, counts for a great deal

"Honor those you quote by practicing their wisdom and then quoting yourself; be not a mirror but a sprouting seed." I was compelled to publish that thought after seeing popular quote after popular quote retweeted and shared on the Internet.

The importance of practicing the wisdom behind popular quotes instead of simply sharing and forgetting them is paramount. I believe the best way we can honor the authors of those quotes is not by sharing their wisdom, but by practicing it.

After I published my thought, my friend Amit shared the following passage from Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, which gelled very well with this train of thinking (the following was written about 2,000 years ago):

But in the case of a grown man who has made incontestable progress it is disgraceful to go hunting after gems of wisdom, and prop himself up with a minute number of the best-known sayings, and be dependent on his memory as well; it is time he was standing on his own feet. He should be delivering himself of such sayings, not memorizing them. It is disgraceful that a man who is old or in sight of old age should have a wisdom deriving solely from his notebook. ‘Zeno said this.’ And what have you said? ‘Cleanthes said that.’ What have you said? How much longer are you going to serve under others’ orders? Assume authority yourself and utter something that may be handed down to posterity.

Produce something from your own resources. This is why I look on people like this as a spiritless lot – the people who are forever acting as interpreters and never as creators, always lurking in someone else’s shadow. They never venture to do for themselves the things they have spent such a long time learning. They exercise their memories on things that are not their own. It is one thing, however, to remember, another to know. To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to your memory, whereas to know, by contrast, is actually to make each item your own, and not to be dependent on some original and be constantly looking to see what the master said. ‘Zeno said this, Cleanthes that.’ Let’s have some difference between you and the books! How much longer are you going to be a pupil? From now on do some teaching as well. Why, after all, should I listen to what I can read for myself? ‘The living voice,’ it may be answered, ‘counts for a great deal.’ Not when it is just acting in a kind of secretarial capacity, making itself an instrument for what others have to say.

Write a Comment