Mary Catherine Bateson

Mary Catherine

American Writer and Cultural Anthropologist, Daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson

Author Quotes

Active wisdom--an entire cohort with something new to offer to the world as years of experience combined with continuing health.

There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can't think without metaphors.

After all, most of us have lived lives based on commitments made without any way of knowing where they would lead. The uncertainty is an essential element in commitment, the acceptance of consequences an essential element in fidelity.

Tradition was passed on to me as a great rich mixture, a bouillabaisse of human imagination and wonder brewed from the richness of individual lives.

As people grow older, some of the ways they have contributed in the past may no longer be possible, but the challenge to society is not only to provide help and care where these are needed but also to offer the opportunity to contribute and care for others.

We never promised we would stay the same, but only we would shape our change from this now single clay.

As we age we have not only to readdress earlier developmental crises but also somehow to find the way to three affirmations that may seem to conflict... We have to affirm our own life. We have to affirm our own death. And we have to affirm love, both given and received.

Goals too clearly defined can become blinders.

Human beings do not eat nutrients, they eat food.

It's all about being in control of myself as an older woman who lives alone, and it's all about how I am going to do what I have to do to be as strong as I can be and be confident that I can do what I need to do as an older person.

Moving is both liberating and debilitating. Undertaken too late, it is a very stressful process, one that sometimes seems to catapult people into frail old age, and undertaken too soon, it may preempt other possibilities.

No matter how happily a woman may be married, it always pleases her to discover that there is a really nice man who wishes she were not.

Physical things are eloquent tokens of ideas, enriched by new meanings through time even when the tokens are no more than evanescent paper representations.

Rarely is it possible to study all of the instructions to a game before beginning to play, or to memorize the manual before turning on the computer. The excitement of improvisation lies not only in the risk of being involved but in the new ideas, as heady as the adrenaline of performance, that seems to come from nowhere.

Since few people arrive at retirement with an understanding that this transition will involve a rethinking of who they are, an interim pattern has emerged, in which travel offers a way of fulfilling deferred daydreams of adventure while the next stage takes shape.

So this little boy was--I became her confidant a little too early, I think. It didn't seem to warp me exactly, but it left me with a little too much knowledge at an early age.

Sorting gets harder as time goes on--it requires a sort of ruthless decisiveness, while indecision results in endless dithering. Five moves, they say, equal a fire. But those who haven't moved may begin to need a fire.

A certain amount of friction is inevitable whenever peoples of different customs and assumptions meet... What is miraculous is how often it is possible to work together to sustain joint performances in spite of disparate codes, evoking different belief systems to affirm that possibility.

The critical question about regret is whether experience led to growth and new learning. Some people seem to keep on making the same mistakes, while others at least make new ones. Regret and remorse can be either paralyzing or inspiring.

A disgruntled reflection on my own life as a sort of desperate improvisation in which I was constantly trying to make something coherent from conflicting elements to fit rapidly changing settings.

The saddest life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is ignominious and his success is disgraceful.

Insight, I believe, refers to the depth of understanding that comes by setting experiences, yours and mine, familiar and exotic, new and old, side by side, learning by letting them speak to one another.

The truth that survives is simply the lie that is pleasantest to believe.

Learning to savor the vertigo of doing without answers or making do with fragmentary ones opens up the pleasures of recognizing and playing with patterns, finding coherence within complexity, sharing within multiplicity.

Improvisation and new learning are not private processes; they are shared with others at every age. We are called to join in a dance whose steps must be learned along the way, so it is important to attend and respond. Even in uncertainty, we are responsible for our steps.

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Mary Catherine
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American Writer and Cultural Anthropologist, Daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson