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Archive for the ‘Quotations’ Category

Manners

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Manners have the power to preserve [a] salutary distance between the public and the private by enabling us to recognize the distinctive and legitimate claims that others make on us. The codes of charitable behavior require lessons in wearing the right kinds of masks. Against the contemporary urge to dispense with masks and to “let it all hang out,” as the crude metaphor has it, W. H. Auden insists:

Only animals who are below civilization and the angels who are beyond it can be sincere. Human beings are, necessarily, actors who cannot become something before they have first pretended to be it; and they can be divided, not into the hypocritical and the sincere, but into the sane who know they are acting and the insane who do not.

The ancient Greeks understood this necessity of wearing a face, the requirement to project a certain image of oneself in order to exist as any self at all. We become the things we perform, as the outward life largely shapes the inward, despite modern notions to the contrary. In fact, the Greek word persona means “mask.” The question is never whether we shall wear masks, therefore, but what kind of masks we shall wear.

Auden further elaborates the nature of manners: “To be well–bred means to have respect for the solitude of others, whether they be mere acquaintances or, and this is much more difficult, persons we love; to be ill–bred is to importune attention and intimacy, to come too close, to ask indiscreet questions and make indiscreet revelations, to lecture, to bore.” Good breeding and gracious manners cannot serve, of course, as a surrogate for grace itself. Yet in a culture at least nominally Christian—as O’Connor’s Christ–haunted South most surely was—the two orders of grace should not be wholly alien. There is something profoundly courteous in the call of the gospel to count others better than oneself: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). O’Connor believed that the social manners of the South, despite their many deceptions and hypocrisies, could sometimes serve as a far–off reflection of God’s own incarnate love.

. . .

In a speech given at the outbreak of World War I, John Fletcher Moulton dealt with what O’Connor calls the social discipline that must be rooted in manners by distinguishing between the obligatory and the voluntary spheres of human life. He argued that the domain of “Positive Law” prescribes the things we are required to do and to refrain from doing in order for society to exist at all. Here our masks are effaced, as it were, in the act of becoming public citizens. At its opposite extreme lies the domain of “Absolute Choice”: there we are at liberty to follow the bent of our own wills, without prohibitions or commands of any kind—thus wearing whatever masks we choose. In that realm of utter freedom are born all “spontaneity, originality, and energy.” But between these two rather restricted realms lies the vast uncharted region that Lord Moulton calls “manners.” Here we impose limits on ourselves; here we do what we ought to do even though we are not obliged to do it; here we refuse to turn our liberty into license, honoring instead “the sway of duty, fairness, sympathy, taste.” The task of manners, therefore, is to find the right mask, the projected image that enables uncoerced charity. Hence Moulton’s description of manners as “Obedience to the Unenforceable”:

To my mind the real greatness of a nation, its true civilization, is measured by the extent of this land of Obedience to the Unenforceable. It measures the extent to which the nation trusts its citizens, and its existence and area testify to the way they behave in response to that trust. Mere obedience to Law does not measure the greatness of a Nation. It can easily be obtained by a strong executive, and most easily of all from a timorous people. Nor is the license of behavior which so often accompanies the absence of Law, and which is miscalled Liberty, a proof of greatness. The true test is the extent to which individuals composing the nation can be trusted to obey self–imposed law.

(Ralph Wood, Flannery O’Connor and the Christ–Haunted South, 128–129, 132)

See also: Nowhere

Written by Scott Moonen

October 27, 2018 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Books, Quotations

Interruption

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The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. — C. S. Lewis

HT: Mark Horne

See also: Christ is Lord of our time

Written by Scott Moonen

September 29, 2018 at 3:18 pm

Half full

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There is a certain kind of fascination, a strictly artistic fascination, which arises from a matter being hinted at in such a way as to leave a certain tormenting uncertainty even at the end. It is well sometimes to half understand a poem in the same manner that we half understand the world. One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance. (G. K. Chesterton, Robert Browning, chapter 6)

It is good to delight in the glory of something great even if you have barely begun to understood its greatness. It is good to read out of your league.

HT: John Barach

Written by Scott Moonen

September 1, 2018 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Poetry, Quotations

Rules

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We assume that rules will irremediably inhibit what would otherwise be the boundless and intrinsic creativity of our children, even though the scientific literature clearly indicates, first, that creativity beyond the trivial is shockingly rare and, second, that strict limitations facilitate rather than inhibit creative achievement. Belief in the purely destructive element of rules and structure is frequently conjoined with the idea that children will make good choices about when to sleep and what to eat, if their perfect natures are merely allowed to manifest themselves. These are equally ungrounded assumptions. (Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, Rule 5)

See also: Self-control

Written by Scott Moonen

September 1, 2018 at 11:02 am

Posted in Books, Parenting, Quotations

Real Presence

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[At dinner] the novelist Mary McCarthy, who would later proclaim her emancipation from the church in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, opined that she still found the symbolism of the Eucharist to be useful for her fiction, though of course she didn’t believe a word of its hocus–pocus. The ordinarily quiet and unassertive [Flannery] O’Connor—who rarely spoke to strangers unless first addressed, and then only with a shy hesitance—made a notoriously acid reply: “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” (Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works, 977, quoted in Flannery O’Connor and the Christ–Haunted South, 23)

Written by Scott Moonen

August 16, 2018 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Quotations, Worship

Leadership and maturation

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Peter Leithart shares some wisdom from Jordan Peterson:

I have learned not to steal my clients’ problems from them. I don’t want to be the redeeming hero or the deus ex machina—not in someone else’s story.

This reminds me of Edwin Friedman:

Increasing one’s pain threshold for others helps them mature. . . .

In any partnership, the more anxious you are to see that something is done, the less motivated your partner will be to take the lead. . . .

The children who work through the natural difficulties of growing up with the least amount of difficulty are those whose parents made them least important to their own salvation.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 13, 2018 at 10:06 am

Posted in Parenting, Quotations

Risk

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Douglas Wilson summarizing Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game:

Taleb is arguing that risk is not only a good thing, it is a necessary good thing. It is really a good thing; and we should covet it; we should pursue it; we should embrace it; we should not resent it; we should not try to structure our lives in such a way that we are buffered from the consequences of our choices.

You want to live in such a way that when you make a wise choice, you reap the benefit; when you make a foolish choice, you want the consequences to rain down upon your head.

That is the way of wisdom.

See also: Irrevocable.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 13, 2018 at 8:47 am

Posted in Books, Quotations