How to Use Quotes

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Suggestions on how to use the Quotes


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Sad but true: One may get a brief insight after reading a good quote, but with our usual attention span of only a few seconds, we turn to something else, and there is no lasting impression. Because of this one might well agree with those who disparage quotations, for instance Macaulay (1800-1859, Scotland):

Few of the many wise apothegms which have been uttered from the time of the seven sages of Greece to that of Poor Richard, have prevented a single foolish action.


and, even better (or worse), Emerson (1803-1882, USA):

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.


all of which can be quite discouraging to the guy who has collected all these quotes together! Even though this is how our minds usually work, is there another way to get a more lasting result?

The Blitz effect, and Goldilocks: I would suggest that there is, and it relies on quantity and repetition. The latter is not a repetition of the same quote, but a series of quotes on the same subject. The analogy is the difference between hitting ten nails with one blow each, or a single nail with ten blows: one blow might or might not get each nail in, but ten blows to one nail should do the trick. Here the ten blows are the series of quotes on the same topic from multiple authors. So, for example, on the subject of 'Love', one will get these extracts, any one of which might penetrate a little, but all ten together should pierce the skin and even draw blood:

The soul is not where it lives, but where it loves.
Faults are thick when love is thin.
Love never says it owns something, though it owns everything. Love does not say, This is mine or That is mine, but rather, All that is mine is yours.
Love is the remedy for all ills, and it is the remedy of the soul in the two worlds.
He who is indeed in love never finds a river without a ford.
Love is life: he that loves not, lives not.
But love is the great law/That binds the world together safe and whole.
Love, Love is both wine and cup,/Love is a wine that puts all rivals under the table.
Love's greatest achievement is this, that it can give itself to many, and yet it grows no less.
The dawn of love facilitates the death of selfishness. Being is dying by loving.


as opposed to, say, a single wonderful but lonely:

The final battle is between love and power, and love wins by not engaging in a single blow. Love conquers all because its pulling takes you to the highest height where love can turn a thorn into a flower.


The Search Page: So the suggested way to use the Search page is to select all authors (the default) and a single subject. But for 'Love' this will give about 150 quotes, which is probably too many hits on the nail! So, to reiterate the warning on the Home page, I would also suggest not reading too many quotes at once, especially the shorter aphorisms: multiple hits (the Blitz effect), but also moderation (the Goldilocks technique). Selecting by author—perfectly legitimate—will miss out on this weight, and hence penetration, behind a quantity of quotes on the same subject, so it is not the recommended method.

Authority: Implicit to collections of quotes is to use the weight of authority, that is, the opinions from the 'heavies' of the literary, religious and philosophical traditions, to suggest the quotes' importance: Plato says X, so you should pay attention. Though not the chief method one should rely on for forming one's opinions, what they say does need to be considered, even emphasized, but not to the exclusion of sayings from lesser or unknown people. I find this particularly so for subjects like the 'First-hand accounts' selections (under "Inner Life/Experiences") where all the experiences, of the famous or obscure, are equally relevant because they relate human contacts with the spiritual world which can and do occur to anyone, including us. The whole aim is to get at Truth, and although well-known authors are important, all viewpoints are needed for those of us still trying to find our own entry point. Each person has his own path; everyone else offers some of the choices available; but the final say comes from the reader after pondering what has been said.

Our biases: Perhaps one more thought, on our limitations. Under 'Mind, accepts only what it likes' (under "Inner Life/Mind, Psyche, Soul, Spirit") is the insight that although we think that it is logic, facts and reason that guide our opinions and actions, we are generally wrong in this. In reality, it is our emotions—what we like, leading to what we like to hear—that govern our beliefs and the direction of our lives. Swedenborg says:


"No matter what people are like, no matter in what state of mind…still they do not pay attention to any other than those things which captivate their enjoyment and enthusiasm. The rest are like shadows, cast away, so to speak, far to the sides, so that they see and hear, and do not see and hear them."


The will chooses the understanding, not the understanding the will! It is difficult to hear something new; we need to be open and prepared to let in something opposed to our current beliefs if we want to change. So the repetition and the "weight of authority" above are both intended to help this process along, batter down the walls around our prejudices and fears. The whole process is a little circular, more like hauling oneself up by the bootstraps, ie. fairly impossible, but we do get help from the outside that pushes us along. But this is for another discussion.

"A fine quotation is a diamond on the finger of a man of wit, and a pebble in the hand of a fool."
Abbé Joseph Roux (1834-1905)

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