Excellence is mundane. Excellence is accomplished through the doing of actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, habitualized, compounded together, added up over time.
I asked Kahan how he tries to guard against identity protection in his everyday life. The answer, he said, is to try to find disagreement that doesn’t threaten you and your social group — and one way to do that is to consciously seek it out in your group. “I try to find people who I actually think are like me — people I’d like to hang out with — but they don’t believe the things that everyone else like me believes,” he says. “If I find some people I identify with, I don’t find them as threatening when they disagree with me.” It’s good advice, but it requires, as a prerequisite, a desire to expose yourself to uncomfortable evidence — and a confidence that the knowledge won’t hurt you.
A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule… A wise person knows how to improvise… Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing. A wise person is like a jazz musician — using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand. A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims. To serve other people, not to manipulate other people. And finally, perhaps most important, a wise person is made, not born. Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you’re serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise, try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.
The greatest barrier to understanding things is the conviction that you already understand them. People are so convinced that they understand politics. It creates huge barriers to understanding.
Writing is nature’s way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is.
To think, you have to write. If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have ! How many of these books have you read?” and the others - a very small minority - who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.
A clear dividing line between important work and busywork. Before there was email, there were letters. It amazed (and humbled) me to see the amount of time each person allocated simply to answering letters. Many would divide the day into real work (such as composing or painting in the morning) and busywork (answering letters in the afternoon). Others would turn to the busywork when the real work wasn’t going well. But if the amount of correspondence was similar to today’s, these historical geniuses did have one advantage: the post would arrive at regular intervals, not constantly as email does.
Look for problems, not within disciplines, but in the gaps between existing disciplines. The division of knowledge into disciplines is somewhat arbitrary, and people put most of their energy into questions that lie squarely within disciplines, so it shouldn’t be surprising that many interesting things are lurking in the gaps, waiting to be discovered.
Intimacy is not purely physical. It’s the act of connecting with someone so deeply, you feel like you can see into their soul.
Being able to recall a fact does not mean they’ve considered it, examined it, or used it to change their thinking or how they feel about the world. Reading comprehension does not equal reading wisdom. Comprehension is for a test, wisdom is for your life.
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive. The world needs more people who have come alive.
When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.
Mental gluttony, or over-reading, is a dangerous propensity, tending to weakness of digestive power, and in some cases to loss of appetite.
One hour of steady thinking over a subject (a solitary walk is as good an opportunity for the process as any other) is worth two or three of reading only. And just consider another effect of this thorough digestion of the books we read; I mean the arranging and ‘ticketing,’ so to speak, of the subjects in our minds, so that we can readily refer to them when we want them.