Sydney J. Harris
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- In shape, it is perfectly elliptical. In texture, it is smooth and lustrous. In color, it ranges from pale alabaster to warm terra cotta. And in taste, it outstrips all the lush pomegranates that Swinburne was so fond of sinking his lyrical teeth into.
- “Tribute to an Egg” in Majority of One (1957)
- Nothing is as easy to make as a promise this winter to do something next summer; this is how commencement speakers are caught.
- Chicago Daily News (February 20, 1958)
- The public examination of homosexuality in our contemporary life is still so coated with distasteful moral connotations that even a reviewer is bound to wonder uneasily why he was selected to evaluate a book on the subject, and to assert defensively at the outset that he is happily married, the father of four children and the one-time adornment of his college boxing, track and tennis teams.
- On Jess Stearn’s The Sixth Man, Saturday Review (April 22, 1961)
- The beauty of “spacing” children many years apart lies in the fact that parents have time to learn the mistakes that were made with the older ones — which permits them to make exactly the opposite mistakes with the younger ones.
- Leaving the Surface (1968)
- An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.
- Reader’s Digest (May 1979)
- Every morning I take out my bankbook, stare at it, shudder — and turn quickly to my typewriter.
- On incentive as a journalist, quoted by Rosamund Essex Church Times (December 30, 1983)
Strictly Personal (1953)
- The principal difference between love and hate is that love is an irradiation, and hate is a concentration. Love makes everything lovely; hate concentrates itself on the object of its hatred. All the fearful counterfeits of love — possessiveness, lust, vanity, jealousy — are closer to hate: they concentrate on the object, guard it, suck it dry.
- "Love and Its Loveless Counterfeits"
- The difference between faith and superstition is that the first uses reason to go as far as it can, and then makes the jump; the second shuns reason entirely — which is why superstition is not the ally, but the enemy, of true religion.
- "Purely Personal Prejudices"
- The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.
- A person who is going to commit an inhuman act invariably excuses himself to himself by saying, "I'm only human, after all."
- When I hear somebody sigh that "Life is hard," I am always tempted to ask, "Compared to what?"
- Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.
On the Contrary (1964)
- A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.
- Ch. 7
- We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice — that is, until we have stopped saying “It got lost,” and say, “I lost it.”
- Ch. 7
- People who think they’re generous to a fault usually think that’s their only fault.
- Ch. 7
- Everyone admits that "the truth hurts" but no one applies this adage to himself — and as soon as it begins to hurt us, we quickly repudiate it and call it a lie. It is this tendency toward self-deception (more than any active sin) that makes human progress slow and almost imperceptible.
The Best of Sydney J. Harris (1975)
- Usually, if we hate, it is the shadow of the person that we hate, rather than the substance. We may hate a person because he reminds us of someone we feared and disliked when younger; or because we see in him some gross caricature of what we find repugnant in ourself; or because he symbolizes an attitude that seems to threaten us.
- "Hate Is Rarely a Personal Matter"
- Young people know less than we do, but they understand more; their perception has not yet been blunted by compromise, fatigue, rationalization, and the mistaking of mere respectability for morality.
Pieces of Eight (1982)
- There is no such thing as an "atrocity" in warfare that is greater than the atrocity of warfare itself.
- Agnosticism is a perfectly respectable and tenable philosophical position; it is not dogmatic and makes no pronouncements about the ultimate truths of the universe. It remains open to evidence and persuasion; lacking faith, it nevertheless does not deride faith. Atheism, on the other hand, is as unyielding and dogmatic about religious belief as true believers are about heathens. It tries to use reason to demolish a structure that is not built upon reason; because, though rational argument may take us to the edge of belief, we require a "leap of faith" to jump the chasm.
- “Atheists, Like Fundamentalists, are Dogmatic”
- Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.
- “What’s Wrong with Being Proud?”
- Superior people are only those who let it be discovered by others; the need to make it evident forfeits the very virtue they aspire to.
- The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say, "I was wrong."
- Work and play are an artificial pair of opposites, because the best kind of play contains an element of work, and the most productive kind of work must include something of the spirit of play.
- Self-discipline without talent can often achieve astounding results, whereas talent without self-discipline inevitably dooms itself to failure.
- The most worthwhile form of education is the kind that puts the educator inside you, as it were, so that the appetite for learning persists long after the external pressure for grades and degrees has vanished. Otherwise you are not educated; you are merely trained.
- Freud's prescription for personal happiness as consisting of work and love must be taken with the proviso that the work has to be loved, and the love has to be worked at.
- A general practitioner is a doctor who treats what you've got; a specialist is a doctor who finds you've got what he treats.
- We are just beginning to learn that our same old habits, like the exploitation of nonrenewable resources, may make us at one with the auk and the dodo.
Clearing the Ground (1986)
- Character is something you forge for yourself; temperament is something you are born with and can only slightly modify. Some people have easy temperaments and weak characters; others have difficult temperaments and strong characters.
We are all prone to confuse the two in assessing people we associate with. Those with easy temperaments and weak characters are more likable than admirable; those with difficult temperaments and strong characters are more admirable than likable. Of course, the optimum for a person is to possess both an easy temperament and a strong character, but this is a rare combination, and few of us are that lucky. The people who get things done tend to be prickly, and the people we enjoy being with tend to be accepting, and there seems to be no way to get around this. Obviously, there are many combinations of character and temperament, in varying degrees, so that this is only a rough generalization — but I think it is one worth remembering when we make personal judgments.
- “Confusing ‘Character’ with ‘Temperament’”
- The core in the mystery of what we call personality resides in the individual mix between character and temperament. The most successful personalities are those who achieve the best balance between the strict demands of character and the lenient tolerance of temperament. This balance is the supreme test of genuine leadership, separating the savior from the fanatic.
The human Jesus is, to my mind, the ultimate paradigm of such psychic equilibrium. He was absolutely hard on himself and absolutely tender toward others. He maintained the highest criteria of conduct for himself but was not priggish or censorious or self-righteous about those who were weaker and frailer. Most persons of strength cannot accept or tolerate weakness in others. They are blind to the virtues they do not possess themselves and are fiercely judgmental on one scale of values alone. Jesus was unique, even among religious leaders, in combining the utmost of principle with the utmost of compassion for those unable to meet his standards.
We need to understand temperament better than we do and to recognize its symbiotic relationship to character. There are some things people can do to change and some things they cannot do — character can be formed, but temperament is given. And the strong who cannot bend are just as much to be pitied as the weak who cannot stiffen.
- “Confusing ‘Character’ with ‘Temperament’”
- The acceptance of ambiguity implies more than the commonplace understanding that some good things and some bad things happen to us. It means that we know that good and evil are inextricably intermixed in human affairs; that they contain, and sometimes embrace, their opposites; that success may involve failure of a different kind, and failure may be a kind of triumph.
- “Learning to Live with Ambiguity”