Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Rollo May, fully Rollo Reese May

American Existential and Humanist Psychologist, Existential Philosopher and Humorist

"Anxiety is essential to the human condition. The confrontation with anxiety can relieve us from boredom, sharpen the sensitivity and assure the presence of tension that is necessary to preserve human existence."

"Depression is the inability to construct a future."

"[The human being] is always a dynamic self-actualizing process, always exploring, molding himself, and moving into the immediate future."

"I need my enemy in my community. He keeps me alert, vital... But beyond what we specifically learn from our enemies, we need them emotionally; our psychic economy cannot get along well without them... Our enemy is as necessary for us as is our friend. Both together are part of authentic community."

"There remains a chasm between truth and reality. And the crucial question which confronts us in psychology and other aspects of the science of man is precisely this chasm between what is abstractly true and what is existentially real for the given living person."

"Courage is not a virtue or value among other personal values like love or fidelity. It is the foundation that underlies and gives reality to all other virtues and personal values. Without courage our love pales into mere dependency. Without courage our fidelity becomes conformism."

"Art is an antidote for violence. It gives the ecstasy, the self-transcendence that could otherwise take the form of drug addiction, terrorism, suicide, or warfare."

"Artistic symbols and myths speak out of the primordial, preconscious realm of the mind which is powerful and chaotic. Both symbol and myth are ways of bringing order and form into this chaos."

"A dynamic struggle goes on within a person between what he or she consciously thinks on the one hand and, on the other, some insight, some perspective that is struggling to be born. The insight is then born with anxiety, guilt, and the joy and gratification that is inseparable from the actualizing of a new idea or vision."

"Along with the loss of the sense of self has gone a loss of our language for communicating deeply personal meanings to each other. This is one important side of the loneliness now experienced by people in the Western world."

"A person can meet anxiety to the extent that his values are stronger than the threat."

"A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence."

"Anxiety occurs because of a threat to the values a person identifies with his existence as a self ... most anxiety comes from a threat to social, emotional and moral values the person identifies with himself. And here we find that a main source of anxiety, particularly in the younger generation, is that they do not have viable values available in the culture on the basis of which they can relate to their world. The anxiety which is inescapable in an age in which values are so radically in transition is a central cause of apathy ... such prolonged anxiety tends to develop into lack of feeling and the experience of depersonalization."

"Art is a substitute for violence. The same impulses that drive persons to violence "

"Anxiety is an even better teacher than reality, for one can temporarily evade reality by avoiding the distasteful situation; but anxiety is a source of education always present because one carries it within."

"Both artists and neurotics speak and live from the subconscious and unconscious depths of their society. The artist does this positively, communicating what he experiences to his fellow men. The neurotic does this negatively."

"Artists are generally soft-spoken persons who are concerned with their inner visions and images. But that is precisely what makes them feared by any coercive society. For they are the bearers of the human being's age old capacity to be insurgent. They love to immerse themselves in chaos in order to put it into form, just as God created form out of chaos in Genesis. Forever unsatisfied with the mundane, the apathetic, the conventional, they always push on to newer worlds."

"Artists love to immerse themselves in chaos in order to put it into form, just as God created form out of chaos in Genesis. Forever unsatisfied with the mundane, the apathetic, the conventional, they always push on to newer worlds."

"Artists do not run away from non-being, but by encountering and wrestling with it, force it to produce being."

"Artists encounter the landscape they propose to paint "

"Care is a state in which something does matter; care is the opposite of apathy. Care is the necessary source of eros, the source of human tenderness."

"Care is a state in which something does matter; it is the source of human tenderness."

"Civilization begins with a rebellion. Prometheus, one of the Titans, steals fire from the gods on Mount Olympus and brings it as a gift to man, marking the birth of human culture. For this rebellion Zeus sentences him to be chained to Mount Caucasus where vultures consume his liver during the day and at night it grows back only to be again eaten away the next day. This is a tale of the agony of the creative individual, whose nightly rest only resuscitates him so that he can endure his agonies the next day."

"Artists knock on silence for an answering music; they pursue meaninglessness until they can force it to mean."

"Certainly the neurotic, anxious child is compulsively concerned with security, for example; and certainly the neurotic adult, and we who study him, read our later formulations back in the unsuspecting mind of the child. But is not the normal child just as truly interested in moving out into the world, exploring, following his curiosity and sense of adventure- going out to learn to shiver and to shake,: as the nursery rhyme puts it? And if you block these needs of the child, you get a traumatic reaction from him just as you do when you take away his security. I, for one, believe we vastly overemphasize the human being"

"Civilization gets its first flower from the rebel."

"Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt but in spite of doubt."

"Courage is the basic virtue for everyone so long as he continues to grow, to move ahead."

"Community can be defined simply as a group in which free conversation can take place. Community is where I can share my innermost thoughts, bring out the depths of my own feelings, and know they will be understood."

"Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair."

"Communication leads to community "

"Creative people, as I see them, are distinguished by the fact that they can live with anxiety, even though a high price may be paid in terms of insecurity, sensitivity, and defenselessness for the gift of the divine madness to borrow the term used by the classical Greeks. They do not run away from non-being, but by encountering and wrestling with it, force it to produce being. They knock on silence for an answering music; they pursue meaninglessness until they can force it to mean."

"Courage is the capacity to meet the anxiety which arises as one achieves freedom. It is the willingness to differentiate, to move from the protecting realms of parental dependence to new levels of freedom and integration."

"Courage is required not only in a person's occasional crucial decision for his own freedom, but in the little hour-to-hour decisions which place the bricks in the structure of his building of himself into a person who acts with freedom and responsibility."

"Creative people... are distinguished by the fact that they can live with anxiety, even though a high price may be paid in terms of insecurity, sensitivity, and defenselessness for the gift of 'divine madness,' to borrow the term used by the classical Greeks."

"Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem."

"Creativity is neither a product of neurosis nor simple talent, but an intense courageous encounter with the gods."

"Creativity is the result of a struggle between vitality and form. As anyone who has tried to write a sonnet or scan poetry, is aware, the form ideally do not take away from the creativity but may add to it."

"Creativity is not merely the innocent spontaneity of our youth and childhood; it must also be married to the passion of the adult human being, which is a passion to live beyond one's death."

"Creativity... requires limits, for the creative act rises out of the struggle of human beings with and against that which limits them."

"Creativity occurs in an act of encounter and is to be understood with this encounter as its center."

"Existential psychotherapy is the movement which, although standing on one side on the scientific analysis owed chiefly to the genius of Freud, also brings back into the picture the understanding of man on the deeper and broader level "

"Finding the center of strength within ourselves is in the long run the best contribution we can make to our fellow men. ... One person with indigenous inner strength exercises a great calming effect on panic among people around him. This is what our society needs "

"Dogmatists of all kinds "

"Every human being must have a point at which he stands against the culture, where he says, this is me and the damned world can go to hell."

"Ecstasy is the accurate term for the intensity of consciousness that occurs in the creative act."

"Forever unsatisfied with the mundane, the apathetic, the conventional, [artists] always push on to newer worlds."

"Freud describes the neurotic personality of the late nineteenth century as one suffering from fragmentation "

"Good art wounds as well as delights. It must, because our defenses against the truth are wound so tightly around us. But as art chips away at our defenses, it also opens us to healing potentialities that transcend intellectual games and ego-preserving strategies."

"Freedom is man's capacity to take a hand in his own development. It is our capacity to mold ourselves."