Waste Not, Want Not

lichtenbergStarting — and finishing — a book of aphorisms is not something I would expect of myself. And yet, under Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s wing, I managed. What’s especially odd is that GCL counts himself a scientist first, whereas I count myself a scientist twenty-third. Clearly, then, there are other dimensions to Lichtenberg’s wit.

As a follow up to my recent post, then, here are some more of my favorite aphorism’s from the German thinker (in italics, if that’s all you want to read) along with my commentary.

  • “I am convinced we do not only love ourselves in others but hate ourselves in others, too.” Consider him or her you call friend. Reconsider the source of your admiration. Is it a facet of you yourself you’re admiring? And, when your friend disappoints you, is it because you yourself have surfaced in your friend?
  • Wine is accredited only with the misdeeds it induces: what is forgotten is the hundreds of good deeds of which it is also the cause. Wine excites to action: to good actions in the good, to bad in the bad.” Hmn… I wonder if Lichtenberg was an oenophile? And if he considered himself “good”? A toast to correct answers!
  • The human tendency to regard little things as important has produced very many great things.” I am a big (little?) fan of “little things” and believe that they are difference makers in writing, in cooking, in working, in most anything you care to bring up. Together, the little things move valleys.
  • He who is enamored of himself will at least have the advantage of being inconvenienced by few rivals.” Cautionary words not only for keepers of waste books, but writers of blogs! Are we that enamored of our own thoughts and words that we think others visit (much less return) to read them? Stats on WordPress are a quick cure for that delusion (and reaffirmation of Lichtenberg’s words).
  • What am I? What shall I do? What can I believe and hope for? Everything in philosophy can be reduced to this…” It’s hard to get past the first question, much less face dragons #2 and 3! I’m on the stretch drive of life and still haven’t solved for x in the equation x = me.
  • Writing is an excellent means of awakening in every man the system slumbering within him; and everyone who has ever written will have discovered that writing always awakens something which, though it lay within us, we failed clearly to recognize before.” If Lichtenberg’s words can be used to mock blogging, so can they be used to tout it. Behold! I write, therefore I am!
  • The Catholics once burned the Jews and failed to reflect that the mother of God was of that nation, and even now do not reflect that they worship a Jewess.” Lichtenberg was fascinated by matters of religion and counted himself an enlightened doubter. Given his druthers between Catholics and Protestants, however, he does his fellow Germans proud. Luther would applaud.
  • Use, use your powers: what now costs you effort will in the end become mechanical.” If I could teach students one aphorism to live by, this would be it. It does get easier! But first, discipline and a work ethic.
  • To me there is no more odious kind of person than those who on every occasion believe they are obliged to be ex officio witty.” Ah, the office wag… the class clown… the drunk wearing the lampshade. God love ’em (because no one else can).
  • You can make a good living from soothsaying but not from truthsaying.” People hear what they want to hear, and they seldom want to hear the truth. Speculation and conspiracy theories, on the other hand? There’s no end to the hunger.
  • The sure conviction that we could if we wanted to is the reason so many good minds are idle.” Is this another way of saying “talk is cheap”? Or maybe, “action speaks louder than words”? Thus do cliches become novel aphorisms.
  • “He who says he hates every kind of flattery, and says it in earnest, certainly does not yet know every kind of flattery…” One admirable trait of Lichtenberg is his ability to criticize even himself. Clearly he has proven his own theory: We are all susceptible to some kinds of flattery, try as we might to remain “pure.”
  • “Is it not strange that men are so keen to fight for religion and so unkeen to live according to its precepts?” At times, irony proves its point more readily than speeches and treatises.
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