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Favorite quotes

New ones added to the top as I run across them.

On communication

Robert Cialdini, in Influence:

  • “Most of us think that the message and the merits of the message are the things that will convince people. That’s usually not the case. Very often, it’s the relationship we have to the messenger. It’s not always about the argument, but about the delivery.”

Robert Persig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

  • Yes and no … this or that … one or zero. On the basis of this elementary two-term discrimination, all human knowledge is built up. The demonstration of this is computer memory which stores all its knowledge in the form of binary information. It contains ones and zeros, that’s all.
  • Because we’re unaccustomed to it, we don’t usually see that there’s a third possible logical term equal to yes and no which is capable of expanding our understanding in an unrecognized direction. We don’t even have a term for it, so I’ll have to use the Japanese mu.
  • Mu means “no thing.” Like “Quality” it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, “No class; not one, not zero, not yes, not no.” It states that the context of the question is such that a yes or no answer is in error and should not be given. “Unask the question” is what it says.
  • Mu becomes appropriate when the context of the question becomes too small for the truth of the answer. When the Zen monk Joshu [= Chao-Chou] was asked whether a dog had a Buddha nature he said “Mu,” meaning that if he answered either way he was answering incorrectly. The Buddha nature cannot be captured by a yes or no question.

George Bernard Shaw:

  • “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”


  • “All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like goods for gold and gold for goods.”

Fernand Braudel:

  • “All thought draws life from contacts and exchanges.”

Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina:

  • Levin had often noticed in arguments between the most intelligent people that after enormous efforts, an enormous number of logical subtleties and words, the arguers would finally come to the awareness that what they had spent so long struggling to prove to each other had been known to them long, long before, from the beginning of the argument, but that they loved different things and therefore did not want to name what they loved, so as not to be challenged. He had often felt that sometimes during an argument you would understand what your opponent loves, and suddenly come to love the same thing yourself, and agree all at once, and then all reasonings would fall away as superfluous; and sometimes it was the other way around: you would finally say what you yourself love, for the sake of which you are inventing your reasonings, and if you happen to say it well and sincerely, the opponent would suddenly agree and stop arguing. That was the very thing he wanted to say.
  • She wrinkled her forehead, trying to understand. But as soon as he began to explain, she understood. “I understand: you must find out what he’s arguing for, what he loves, and then you can…”
  • She had fully divined and expressed his poorly expressed thought. Levin smiled joyfully: so striking did he find the transition from an intricate, verbose argument with his brother and Pestov to this laconic and clear, almost wordless, communication of the most complex thoughts. (via Carinna)

Maya Angelou:

  • “Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.”
  • “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

Erica Baker:

  • “Who is telling me this story? Why are they telling me this story? What do they want me to believe? Why do they want me to believe it? Do I trust them? Why do I trust them? Apply as needed.” (via Facebook)

Eric Hoffer:

  • “The beginning of thought is in disagreement – not only with others but also with ourselves.”


  • “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”

Bruce Wayne, in Batman Begins:

  • “I’m going to show the people of Gotham that the city doesn’t belong to the criminals and the corrupt. People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy. I can’t do this as Bruce Wayne. A man is just flesh and blood and can be ignored or destroyed. But as a symbol… As a symbol, I can be incorruptible, everlasting.”

James Baldwin:

  • “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

Elle Fitzgerald:

  • “Birds do it, bees do it / Even educated fleas do it / Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.”

Krista Tippett:

  • “Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability—a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own best words and questions. Generous listening in fact yields better questions. It’s not true what they taught us in school; there is such a thing as a bad question.”
  • “In American life, we trade mostly in answers—competing answers—and in questions that corner, incite, or entertain. In journalism we have a love affair with the “tough” question, which is often an assumption masked as an inquiry and looking for a fight.”
  • Here’s another quality of generous questions, questions as social art and civic tools: they may not want answers, or not immediately.

On reason

Douglas Adams, in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

  • “The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?”

Alan Watts:

  • “Camus said there is only really one serious philosophical question, which is whether or not to commit suicide. I think there are four or five serious philosophical questions. The first one is: Who started it? The second is: Are we gonna make it? The third is: Where are we gonna put it? The fourth is: Who’s gonna clean up? And the fifth: Is it serious?”

Aristotle, in Metaphysics:

  • “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald:

  • “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

John Stuart Mills:

  • “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”


  • “Everyone thinks of changing the world but nobody thinks of changing himself.”

David Frum:

  • “This is true for liberals, conservatives, libertarians, christians, atheists, agnostics, and everyone in between. “People do not think; they feel. They do not believe what is true; they regard as true that which they wish to believe. A lie that affirms us will gain more credence than a truth that challenges us.”

Daniel Defoe, in The Political History of the Devil:

  • “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believ’d.”

Christopher Bulluck, in The Cobbler of Preston:

  • “’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.”

Patrick Collison:

  • “And they at least inadvertently, if not deliberately, prefer cohesion over correctness, and we really try to identify people who are seeking correctness and who don’t mind being wrong and who are willing to at least contemplate things that seem improbable or surprising if true or really divergent from that which is the generally accepted status quo.“

Charles Darwin:

  • “There are two ways that a human can feel confident. One is knowledge, and the other is ignorance.”

J Michael Straczynski:

  • “Understanding is a three-edged sword. Your side, my side, and the truth.”

On Bullshit:

  • “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.”

David Deutsch:

  • “Explanations are not created by themselves, or derived from information. They have to be imagined by a human, as a guess.”
  • “A thing is real if and only if it figures in our best explanation of something.”


  • “The mere rejection of a belief, of a particular church or a particular religion or other conditioning is not freedom. But to understand the whole process of it, go into it deeply, consciously, that requires a certain alertness of mind, the nonacceptance of all authority. To have self-knowledge, knowledge of myself as a total human being the conscious as well as the unconscious, not just one fragment of myself — I must investigate, proceed to understand the whole nature of myself, find out step by step — but not according to any pattern or any philosophy, not according to any particular leader. Investigation into myself is not possible if I assume anything.”
  • “The man who is ceaselessly questioning, who has no authority, who does not follow any tradition, any book or teacher, becomes a light unto himself.”

John Stuart Mills:

  • “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

John Stuart Mill:

  • “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

On perspective

Terry Pratchett:

  • “Stars aren’t that important. Street lights are important! Why? Because there’s so few of them. And they were made by monkeys.”

Carl Jung:

  • “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

John O’Donahue:

  • “Key things in parenting: difficulty of creating a space where children can actually unfold.”
  • “There’s an uncanny symmetry between how we are inwardly with ourselves and how we conduct ourselves outwardly. There is an evacuation of interiority happening.”
  • “The art of inwardness.”

Blaise Pascal:

  • “In difficult times carry something beautiful in your heart.”


  • “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”


  • “We erect a statue in our own image inside ourselves — idealised, you know, but still recognisable — and then spend our lives engaged in the effort to make ourselves into its likeness.”

John Green, in Looking for Alaska:

  • “Everything that comes together falls apart. Everything. The chair I’m sitting on. It was built, and so it will fall apart. I’m going to fall apart, probably before this chair. And you’re going to fall apart. The cells and organs and systems that make you you—they came together, grew together, and so must fall apart. The Buddha knew one thing science didn’t prove for millennia after his death: Entropy increases. Things fall apart.”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

  • “Our little systems have their day.”

Robert Green, in Laws of Human Nature:

  • “Many of us spend our lives avoiding the thought of death. Instead the inevitability of death should be continually on our minds. Understanding the shortness of life fills us with a sense of purpose and urgency to realize our goals. Training ourselves to confront and accept this reality makes it easier to manage the inevitable setbacks, separations, and crises in life. It gives us a sense of proportion, of what really matters in this brief existence of ours. Most people continually look for ways to separate themselves from others and feel superior. Instead we must see the mortality in everyone, how it equalizes and connects us all. By becoming deeply aware of our mortality, we intensify our experience of every aspect of life.”

Sam Keen:

  • “Notice that the more you become a connoisseur of gratitude, the less you are the victim of resentment, depression, and despair. Gratitude will act as an elixir that will gradually dissolve the hard shell of your ego – your need to possess and control – and transform you into a generous being. The sense of gratitude produces true spiritual alchemy, makes us magnanimous – large souled.”

Joseph Campbell:

  • “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

Elle Luna:

  • “What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? What if our jobs are our careers and our callings?”

Marshal McLuhan:

  • “Once you see the boundaries of your environment, they are no longer the boundaries of your environment.“

Zohar Lazar, Wired editor

  • “In the first issue of WIRED, published 25 years ago this year, founding editor Louis Rossetto declared that ‘in the age of information overload, THE ULTIMATE LUXURY IS MEANING AND CONTEXT.'” (Caps are his. this article)


  • “People are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them.”

Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti

  • “Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.”


  • “We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”

Douglas Hofstadter, in Strange Loop:

  • “And yet when I say ‘strange loop’, I have something else in mind — a less concrete, more elusive notion. What I mean by ‘strange loop’ is — here goes a first stab, anyway — not a physical circuit but an abstract loop in which, in the series of stages that constitute the cycling-around, there is a shift from one level of abstraction (or structure) to another, which feels like an upwards movement in a hierarchy, and yet somehow the successive “upward” shifts turn out to give rise to a closed cycle. That is, despite one’s sense of departing ever further from one’s origin, one winds up, to one’s shock, exactly where one had started out. In short, a strange loop is a paradoxical level-crossing feedback loop.”

Michael Sippey

  • “See who you are, then become what you see.”

William Blake:

  • “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way… As a man is, so he sees.”


  • “The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.”

Jimi Hendrix:

  • “Castles made of sand fall in the sea eventually.”

Flaming Lips:

  • “Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die / And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know / You realize that life goes fast / It’s hard to make the good things last / You realize the sun doesn’t go down / It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.”

Martin Luther King Jr:

  • “Everything we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”
  • “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?””

Alan Watts:

  • “For there is a growing apprehension that existence is a rat-race in a trap: living organisms, including people, are merely tubes which put things in at one end and let them out at the other, which both keeps them doing it and in the long run wears them out. So to keep the farce going, the tubes find ways of making new tubes, which also put things in at one end and let them out at the other. At the input end they even develop ganglia of nerves called brains, with eyes and ears, so that they can more easily scrounge around for things to swallow. As and when they get enough to eat, they use up their surplus energy by wiggling in complicated patterns, making all sorts of noises by blowing air in and out of the input hole, and gathering together in groups to fight with other groups. In time, the tubes grow such an abundance of attached appliances that they are hardly recognizable as mere tubes, and they manage to do this in a staggering variety of forms. There is a vague rule not to eat tubes of your own form, but in general there is serious competition as to who is going to be the top type of tube. All this seems marvelously futile, and yet, when you begin to think about it, it begins to be more marvelous than futile. I’m Indeed, it seems extremely odd.”


  • “It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice. (Similar to the biblical quote about the log in your own eye)”

Bertrand Russell:

  • “Believing seems the most mental thing we do.”

Bain, via Dan Gilbert:

  • “The great master fallacy of the human brain is believing too much.” (Type 1)

Muhammad Ali:

  • “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”

Bob Sutton:

  • “To have the courage to act on your knowledge, but also to have the humility to doubt what we know.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

  • “The optimal solution to being independent and upright while remaining a social animal is: to seek first your own self-respect and, secondarily and conditionally, that of others, provided your external image does not conflict with your own self-respect. Most people get it backwards and seek the admiration of the collective and something called “a good reputation” at the expense of self-worth for, alas, the two are in frequent conflict under modernity.”

René Magritte:

  • “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”
  • “This is not a pipe”
  • “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!”


  • “No man steps in the same river twice. For it is not ever the same river. And also not ever the same man.”

Toulouse-Lautrec, in Moulin Rouge:

  • ”The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Also applies to just to know others and be known in return.

On strategy

Martin Luther King Jr:

  • “It is not enough for people to be angry. Above all, he did not content himself with hurling invectives for emotional release and then to retire into smug, passive satisfaction. The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.” (Martin Luther King Jr. to an audience at Carnegie Hall in February 1968, regarding W. E. B. Du Bois)
  • “Our lives begin and end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Pauli Murray (civil rights activist, mentioned in The Righteous Mind):

  • I intend to destroy segregation by positive and embracing methods… When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall should for the rights of all mankind.”

Tony Robbins:

  • “You never get beyond scarcity, you have to start beyond it.”

Benjamin Franklin:

  • “The Things which hurt, instruct.”

Francis Bacon:

  • “Boldness is ever blind, for it sees not dangers and inconveniences; whence it is bad in council though good in execution. The right use of the bold, therefore, is, that they are never commander in chief, but serve as seconds under the direction of others. For in council it is good to see dangers, and in execution not to see them unless they be very great.”

Robert Wright, in Nonzero:

  • “One chronicler of Eskimo life has observed, ‘the best place for an Eskimo to store his surplus is in someone else’s stomach.'”

Sun Tzu:

  • “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”
  • “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”
  • “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.”
  • “Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: 1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. 2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. 3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. 4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. 5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.”

Napoleon, in Maxim VIII:

  • “A general-in-chief should ask himself frequently in the day, ‘What should I do if the enemy’s army appeared now in my front, or on my right, or my left?’ If he have any difficulty in answering these questions, his position is bad, and he should seek to remedy it.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson:

  • “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Ambrose Bierce:

  • “Cultivate a taste for distasteful truths. And…most important of all, endeavor to see things as they are, not as they ought to be.”

Russell Ackoff, in Systems Thinking:

  • “Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other. I call such situations messes. Managers do not solve problems, they manage messes.”

Tony Robbins:

  • “Don’t get stuck in low energy states.”

Matthew 7:24-27

  • “Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
Added to the Dialogue pile.
March 1, 2018

Buster Benson (@buster) is a writer and builder of things. If you're new here, check the about page or see my entire life on a page.


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