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The Great Thoughts

"I am not so lost in lexicography as to forget that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven. Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language." Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)


The book The Great Thoughts was a constant companion in high school. It was released in 1985 and cost $12.95. Updated in 1996 which makes me intrigued because the 1985 version has not aged well. I come from an english line that thought starting an essay with a quote was a great way to begin any story. I also fancied myself a bit of a wordy and would exchange letters with other would be writers and include quotes that we found inspirational or remarkable. I don't remember ever thinking about the number of men in the book compared to women. I don't remember reading a lot of books by women.


But today I looked up at my shelf and more than half of my books are by female authors who I love and adore. Mostly non-fiction, research, mental health, friendship, memoir, psychology. Not much has changed for me in the topics that I love. Books on writing, books about relationships, inspirational people, leadership focused. It could be 1989 all over again. But the biggest change is my relationship with experts. I used to believe everything and now I add it to what I already know and make my own informed, layered decisions that inform the next part of my thinking, writing or behaving.


When I look at this book, I am shocked to see that there are 10 full pages dedicated to Freud including at least four quotes that I highlighted in the 90s. Those quotes don't resonate with me anymore. "Love for oneself knows only one barrier--love for others, love for objects." Fine on the surface but what comes in front of that matters to me now more than ever, "The evidence of psychoanalysis shows that almost every intimate emotional relation between two people which lasts for some time--marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children--leaves a sediment of feelings of aversion and hostility, which have first to be eliminated by repression." What? Dude? For real?


Then I get to Rousseau and have this highlighted, "Since we have to combat nature or society, we must choose between making a man or making a citizen--we cannot make both." Hold on. (And if you want to get in the weeds of Freud v. Rousseau--here you go!)


So, love always has an element of tension and to be of service to others requires man to give up himself. I don't know, gentlemen. I don't know. Please know that in this book, Rousseau only gets 2 pages and Vygotsky and Maslow aren't even mentioned.


I don't know why this matters to me today but it does and I used to think that who we quoted didn't matter, there isn't even any discussion in the book, it is literally a book of quotes. You can now go down any rabbit hole about any of these people and what they meant by any of the things they said but we don't actually know. In context, out of context, all dead white men or not, just by being included though in a book called The Great Thoughts one presumes they are at least good.


If you have gotten this far, congratulations because I'm not even sure what I'm writing today, but I know this to be true: If you aren't in the conversation you can't influence the conversation. If you aren't included in the history books, or quote books, we can't even discuss what you read or said. The way that the publishing industry is right now is very limited to whose voices are put out into the world, either people that are guaranteed to make money or those that have proved they can, or those willing to pay to play. I can't imagine that limiting whose voices we hear today or ever is a good idea. Newspapers used to publish individuals letters and ideas. Now we can take up our own slice of the cloud but never guaranteed an audience or even an acknowledgement. We agree, we like, we share what we like and we are sometimes rude when we don't like but there is no nuance, no discovery, no dialog. No taking some words, ingesting them and coming up with your own.


I like the dialog. I like taking a quote and dividing it up and figuring out what is meant. I like separating the art and the artist to see if something can stand the test of time. I like debating the word choice and the venue in which it is shared.


I love the company https://persephonebooks.co.uk/ because they are bringing back voices that we may have missed. I feel like my instagram feed and my pinterest boards are the new home of The Great Thoughts by the writers I love today.


So, I don't know, read, write, talk, share quotes and ideas; by authors that look like you and those that don't. Expand into other genres, authors, mediums. Curate your feed and then turn the channel to hear from others. Highlight AND DATE what you like in books because the future you may think something completely different!


And this goes for the music, too, and if you just can't get past the bass or the style, read the lyrics, engage with the words. Are the authors of today representing the world you live in or do you need to share your perspective?





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