Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Sydney J. Harris

American Journalist and Syndicated Columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times

"A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past, he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future."

"The good person loves people and uses things, while the bad person loves things and uses people."

"The idea of growth for its own sake is precisely the philosophy of the cancer cell."

"Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."

"A winner knows how much he still has to learn, even when he is considered an expert by others; a loser wants to be considered an expert by others before he has learned enough to know how little he knows."

"A winner rebukes and forgives; a loser is too timid to rebuke and too petty to forgive."

"Agnosticism is a perfectly respectable and tenable philosophical position; it is not dogmatic and makes no pronouncements about the ultimate truths of the universe. It remains open to evidence and persuasion; lacking faith, it nevertheless does not deride faith. Atheism, on the other hand, is as unyielding and dogmatic about religious belief as true believers are about heathens. It tries to use reason to demolish a structure that is not built upon reason; because, though rational argument may take us to the edge of belief, we require a "leap of faith" to jump the chasm."

"An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run."

"As we grow older, we should learn that these are two quite different things. Character is something you forge for yourself; temperament is something you are born with and can only slightly modify. Some people have easy temperaments and weak characters; others have difficult temperaments and strong characters. We are all prone to confuse the two in assessing people we associate with. Those with easy temperaments and weak characters are more likable than admirable; those with difficult temperaments and strong characters are more admirable than likable."

"Almost no one is foolish enough to imagine that he automatically deserves great success in any field of activity; yet almost everyone believes that he automatically deserves success in marriage."

"Any philosophy that can be put in a nutshell belongs there."

"Death can be a lesser evil Last night I met a young man who has just spent two years of his life lying flat on his back in a hospital bed."

"Courage comes in many forms."

"Character is something you forge for yourself; temperament is something you are born with and can only slightly modify."

"Enemies, as well as lovers, come to resemble each other over a period of time."

"Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be."

"Every morning I take out my bankbook, stare at it, shudder — and turn quickly to my typewriter."

"Everyone admits that "the truth hurts" but no one applies this adage to himself -and as soon as it begins to hurt us, we quickly repudiate it and call it a lie. It is this tendency toward self-deception (more than any active sin) that makes human progress slow and almost imperceptible."

"Good teaching must be slow enough so that it is not confusing, and fast enough so that it is not boring."

"Freud's prescription for personal happiness as consisting of work and love must be taken with the proviso that the work has to be loved, and the love has to be worked at."

"Happiness is a direction, not a place."

"If a small thing has the power to make you angry, does that not indicate something about your size?"

"If the devil could be persuaded to write a bible, he would title it, You Only Live Once."

"Intolerance is the most socially acceptable form of egotism, for it permits us to assume superiority without personal boasting."

"Ignorance per se is not nearly as dangerous as ignorance of ignorance."

"In shape, it is perfectly elliptical. In texture, it is smooth and lustrous. In color, it ranges from pale alabaster to warm terra cotta. And in taste, it outstrips all the lush pomegranates that Swinburne was so fond of sinking his lyrical teeth into."

"It's odd, and a little unsettling, to reflect upon the fact that English is the only major language in which I is capitalized; in many other languages You is capitalized and the i is lower case. --"

"It is certain that nothing we have brings us happiness, but only what we are, what we feel about ourselves."

"Knowledge fills a large brain; it merely inflates a small one."

"Love is not a trance but a transformation; ... A love that goes outward can always grow; a love that turns inward soon becomes an emotional parasite, feeding on itself, and inevitably dying for lack of nourishment."

"It's surprising how many persons go through life without ever recognizing that their feelings toward other people are largely determined by their feelings toward themselves, and if you're not comfortable within yourself, you can't be comfortable with others."

"Many a secret that cannot be pried out by curiosity can be drawn out by indifference."

"Man's unique agony as a species consists in his perpetual conflict between the desire to stand out and the need to blend in."

"Men make counterfeit money; in many more cases, money makes counterfeit men."

"Many persons of high intelligence have notoriously poor judgment."

"Middle Age is that perplexing time of life when we hear two voices calling us, one saying, "Why not?" and the other, "Why bother?""

"Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times. Some people are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows."

"Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway"

"More persons have perished by persevering too long at the wrong things than by quitting too soon."

"Most people today fail to recognize that happiness is a fairly recent aspiration of the human race. For most of history, survival was the goal."

"Ninety per cent of the world's woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves - so how can we know anyone else?"

"Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own."

"Never take the advice of someone who has not had your kind of trouble."

"Once we assuage our conscience by calling something a necessary evil, it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil."

"Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better."

"Nothing is as easy to make as a promise this winter to do something next summer; this is how commencement speakers are caught."

"People who think they're generous to a fault usually think that's their only fault."

"Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is."

"People who won't help others in trouble "because they got into trouble through their own fault" would probably not throw a lifeline to a drowning man until they learned whether he fell in through his own fault or not."

"Perseverance is the most overrated of traits, if it is unaccompanied by talent; beating your head against a wall is more likely to produce a concussion in the head than a hole in the wall."