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The science fiction writer Isaac Asimov said, “What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind.”
What does that mean?
Beats the heck out of me. I’ve read it over and over and still don’t understand what Asimov was trying to say. But I will agree that it’s a clever use of word construction and sentence structure.
On the same subject, we were just finishing up our run the other day and my running buddy was talking about his son’s cross-country team.
My buddy said he likes cross-country because it’s a sport where you can really prove what you’re capable of doing. There are no defensive players trying to stop you; it’s just you against the course. He also told me he liked the coach who had told the team, “If today you do what others won’t, tomorrow you’ll do what others can’t.”
I nodded, tacitly agreeing that the coach’s words made good sense.
But it got me to thinking – how many sayings do we listen to, accept, and maybe even follow just because they sound good? Are we guiding our lives on words that appeal to us simply because they’re grammatically convenient?
After all, as good as that saying sounds, it doesn’t take talent, physical attributes, or any considerations into mind. It simply says that if you work hard you’ll accomplish things that others won’t.
But the truth is that you might and you might not. Commitment is not the only thing that assures success. We know plenty of hard workers who have not accomplished what they set out to do, regardless of the effort they made.
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog!”
“It’s not how any times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get up!”
“I used to be sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
Huh? What did you just say? Do we really believe this stuff or does it just trip off our tongues so lightly that we buy it without a second thought?
Maybe we shouldn’t be so easily disarmed by these simple sayings. Treacly aphorisms don’t just burrow their way into our brains and hang on the walls in sales directors’ cubicles. They can also change the world.
FDR buoyed a country devastated by the depression when he assured Americans that the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” JFK ushered in at least a decade of public service when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
More recently Barack Obama sold what can arguably be considered the largest consumer product in the world, the presidency of the United States of America, with the uplifting cheer “Yes We Can.” And then Donald Trump took over with the words “Make America Great Again.”
In our over-stimulated, over-caffeinated, over-connected world, well-crafted clichés become the stenographers’ shorthand of clever communicators. And just like checking a new car’s quality by kicking its tires, these sayings often provide a comforting and expedient, if irrelevant, benchmark.
After all, if opposites attract, then why would birds of a feather flock together? If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then why is out of sight, out of mind?
Why? Because the words sound good together, that’s why.
APHORISMS FOR ARCHITECTS by Alfred B. Parker, Architect
1. Choose clients.
2. Design down to no one.
3. If your work is worth anything get paid for it. Once you have accepted an assignment don’t keep an eye on the office budget.
4. Building codes, zoning, regulatory agencies, financing institutions, etc. should contribute to a design. If they hinder the proper realization of a project, fight.
5. Courage is when you do something you are afraid to do. With liability insurance rates on the increase such a quality is required in our profession.
6. A budget is an old friend and should be cherished as such. This does not mean to imply that one cannot, on occasion, differ with a friend.
7. Architects should be more loving.
8. Unfortunately many buildings appear as though the owner’s ‘wife designed them. She usually does the interiors.
9. Seek in the problem for the answers, not in your ego. The “i” in architecture is a small letter.
10. If you can’t be a great artist at least be a good carpenter. . . or a good mason. . . or a good plumber. . . etc.
11. Love humanity, it’s what you belong to, but don’t ignore life. It is larger and wiser than we are.
12. Do not make excuses; emphasize your strengths for our environment needs all the help it can get.
13. Do not adapt too perfectly to your environment. You must be able to change.
14. Live harmoniously but don’t underrate the shocks.
15. If you have large environmental responsibilities move slowly and carefully for at best our hands are far too heavy and nature’s balance is a fragile equilibrium.
16. We should know enough of symbiosis to apply in our daily work. Enough of heterozygosity to bless the variant among us . . . and to look up words we don’t understand.
17. Leave plenty of stones unturned. Earthworms are still our salvation.
Absence makes the heart go yonder.
Where there’s a will, there’s a lawsuit.
Look before you leap, but remember: He who hesitates is lost.
Word-smith that you are, I’m assuming the Asimov comment was hyperbole. It was “Clear as a bell”. For the confused, I mean the sound not the sight. I love old sayings. Sometimes if just to make sense of them is quite like doing a crossword or Sudoku (which I also enjoy).
Great blog today! I’ve a particular affectation for authors who mix them into their literature. Particularly when they mess them up on purpose.
You mentioned absence making the heart go fonder. My wife was visiting her grandfather over a summer in her youth. Talking about her then boyfriend, the old guy said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder, (puffs on pipe), of someone else.
Thanks Richard — good to hear from you — it’s been a long time since we’ve chatted.
Always appreciate your thought-provoking posts, Bruce. Really admire that you’ve also added the video option, well done! I have grappled with this great post’s argument myself. In fact, I have a nearly impossible time memorizing quotes such as these because I trip over the punchline and mess up the setup. Having watched countless speakers fill their presentations with quotes from others, as if they woke up that morning and memorized a motivational calendar and then got a standing ovation, there is no doubt it’s what an audience wants to hear, but rarely, if ever, does it lead to action, outside of many people writing down what was just said, never to be read again. Well placed phrases certainly pay, but doesn’t mean it creates change. Your examples of JFK, FDR, and I’m thinking of King and very few others, whose words have so moved others to actually do something, I know all of the speakers who regurgitate those quotes are doing their best to inspire, and so, as their audience, I just listen, enjoy, and work on my own sayings that will actually encourage some action. Really love this post.
A couple of my favorites, especially one on work: “If work were the answer, a mule would win the Kentucky Derby.”
On sales: “If you’re going to hunt with the big dogs you gotta get off the porch.”
I will be using your “Mule” quote when I’m asked why I don’t charge by the hour, George. Thank you for that!! I appreciate that you took the time to share.