Every life must start and end with honesty. Without honesty, we have nothing. Without honesty, we can't trust ourselves.
"Above all don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill-he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness." – Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Honesty and forthrightness should naturally lead to intellectual humility, our light in a dark world.
"Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn." – Ray Bradbury - Farenheit 451
Self-honesty and intellectual humility lead to growth, and growth is all about accepting the inevitable tragedy that must happen in life. But before we can even begin to accept tragedy and suffering, we must be constantly reminded of the difference between real and imagined pain, even if we can never control it.
"We suffer more often in imagination than in reality." – Seneca
Our parents and friends tell us to rail against the night. Just like separating imagined suffering from real suffering, it's a noble goal.
"Life is a storm, my friend. You may bask in sunlight in one moment and find yourself shattered upon the rocks in the next. What matters is what you do when the storm comes. You must shout into the storm- shout as you did before, 'Do your worst, for I shall do mine!' Then the fates will know you as we do." – The Count Of Monte Cristo (movie)
There can be a sad fatalism growing up, once you realize how it's all working out for us.
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." – William Shakespeare (Macbeth)
It's strange how prose and poetry can change our lives, reconfigure our ideas about life and death. I remember this quote from a book I read many years ago like it was yesterday. Beautiful writing has a life of its own.
“From the earliest age, we must learn to say good-bye to friends and family. We see our parents and siblings off at the station; we visit cousins, attend schools, join the regiment; we marry, or travel abroad. It is part of the human experience that we are constantly gripping a good fellow by the shoulders and wishing him well, taking comfort from the notion that we will hear word of him soon enough. But experience is less likely to teach us how to bid our dearest possessions adieu. And if it were to? We wouldn’t welcome the education. For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity—all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. This armoire, we are prone to recall, is the very one in which we hid as a boy; and it was these silver candelabra that lined our table on Christmas Eve; and it was with this handkerchief that she once dried her tears, et cetera, et cetera. Until we imagine that these carefully preserved possessions might give us genuine solace in the face of a lost companion...” ― Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
Quotes orient us to our lives, quickly and in ways we may only understand later after we've had the appropriate life experience to truly understand them. When I was a kid, people kept telling me that I needed to "apply myself". That made no sense to me aside from thinking it meant that they wanted me to do things I didn't want to do. After all, I was applying myself, wasn't I? I decided what to do and I did it. It took a while to deeply realize that I was just a dumbass fish in a big ocean of other, much smarter fish. Those people were trying to get me to do things I wanted to do.
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." – Calvin Coolidge
You eventually realize that this is true for life, for everybody.
"Everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth" – Mike Tyson
You grow up. You realize that there has to be something in life besides just existing.
"You've sacrificed your entire life to be who you are today. Was it worth it?" – Richard Bach
Once you realize that, it's natural to start thinking of where you want to end up.
"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. " – Ralph Waldo Emerson
You begin to chase your dreams. If you're lucky, you have drive and determination.
"Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway." – Earl Nightingale
Having this dedication means you will not be appreciated by others, not in the way you want.
Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. – Friedrich Nietzsche
"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." – Winston Churchill
It is during this life-long struggle, if you're very lucky, that you realize that the struggle you have is with yourself and your own sense of value and meaning.
"Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her own life. ... Don't aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run — in the long run, I say — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it." Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning
You realize others are on their own journeys, and your values and morals are not theirs. Your common survival means having common respect, especially when your values are so far apart. The worse thing you could ever want in the world is for others to conform to your desires.
"But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother." – George Orwell, 1984
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." – C. S. Lewis
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me." – Martin Niemoller
And at some point, your journey is over.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale Of Two Cities