Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Vicki Robin

American Writer and Advocate of "Simple Living"

"Every hour we invest on the job is an hour not invested directly in our children, our mates, our community, our health, our spiritual development, our search for meaning, or our contribution to the larger life."

"Americans used to be 'citizens.' Now we are 'consumers."

"A story of a study of children’s play habits. In yards with fences, they play the whole yard. In those without fences, they play by the back door. Fences don’t just hold you in – they define the safe space to play. If you are not sure where the edge is, you’ll create a no-man’s-land in your mind and stay far away from it."

"A young man wanted to know the difference between Heaven and Hell. The sage led him to two rooms with observation portals, one labeled Heaven and one Hell. Looking in at Hell he saw a banquet table filled with luscious food but the people at the table were emaciated and distressed. Their spoons had long handles to reach the food, but the handles were too long to bring the food to their mouths. Then he looked in on Heaven. Same table full of luscious food. Same long spoons. But the people were healthy and happy and using their long-handled spoons to feed one another."

"Every choice has a time cost as well, leaving us famished for time. And we need time to think, dream, love, grieve, care, grow, tend – everything involved in making the human world more humane. It seems impossible to the American mind that limiting individualism, speed and choice could liberate us, but I concluded in those months of cancer-induced stillness that this is precisely what we need. We are like hyper kids exhausting ourselves, unable to stop and longing for a grown-up to tell us to settle down, wash our hands, eat dinner and go to bed. We need to rest . In AA they have a saying, “HALT: Don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.” Hyper-everything drove us into our consumer addiction. Sobriety is slowing down."

"Even choice – the hallmark of freedom – has morphed into hyper-choice: too many trivial choices and far too few meaningful ones. Endless choosing between competing products leads to confusion and insecurity. Is this the best cereal, the best movie, the best phone plan, the best car, the best TV show, the best house, the best school, the best place to live, the best I can do in the dating scene? We have a staggering, overwhelming number of choices – and they are paralyzing us."

"How is it, then, that we have collectively bamboozled ourselves into believing in material limitlessness? That we could grow our businesses without reference to their field of play – the resources of the earth? That our possessions could grow without reference to the limits of our ability to pay, now or in the future? The same ideology that treated land like an input for industrial agriculture, depleting it of available nutrients and filth had turned me away from caring for my own exquisite territory of body and soul. I came to call the kind of freedom we practice as Americans “hyper-freedom.” Freedom on steroids. We took “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as permission for all of us to seek our own good in a system we thought should get in our face the very least possible."

"Individual rights became hyper-individualism, the right to a lonely and somewhat paranoid effort to best everyone and protect yourself. Of course that’s extreme, but competition without a strong set of laws to keep ruthlessness in check and justice in play can lead to this sense of entitlement on the part of the winners. It can become a war of the rich against the rest, and even a war of all against all. “Try to see it my way,” crooned the Beatles – and that could be the anthem of America. We want to do whatever we want, whenever we want if it’s not against the law – or, truth be told, we’re pretty sure we won’t get caught. We confuse freedom with having things our way. This isn’t just a captains of industry problem – it’s a captains of non-profits and of our own little life ships problem. Because we can reinvent ourselves we do – again and again – and lose our bearings, our sense of belonging. I was guilty of that. Subtly over time I went from that higher call in 1989 to the sort of deluded heights of thinking I was steering the future… from my computer terminal. Terminal. Get it."

"If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough."

"How you spend your money is how you vote on what exists in the world"

"I wondered, “How and when did we make limits wrong and bad and freedom right and good?”"

"It is easier to tell our therapist about our sex life than it is to tell our accountant about our finances."

"Meaning is different from explanation and it certainly isn’t blame (no shame no blame really helps with seeing clearly, no?) I asked, “What is the cancer trying to tell me?” What is the story of this tumor? How does it fit into the narrative of my life?” The cancer seemed sweet to me. Well meaning. It was trying to hold all the undigested feelings and experiences I had raced right past in my headstrong, headlong race to save the world. She (the tumor felt like a little girl) became beloved. I owned her as my creation – not as my fault but as my perfectly crafted, unconscious, possibly deadly solution to the complex equation of my life. In one bundle it took on the world’s toxicity and my own reaction to it."

"Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for."

"Limits liberate. They focus us. They let in what contributes to fulfillment and keep out the clutter. Limits empower. In fact, anyone who has created anything of value – from a marriage to a monument to a path to FI – knows that well."

"My mother always did it, said Grandma. But why? I don’t know—let’s go ask Great-grandma. So off they went to Great-grandma’s. Great-grandma, when you prepared the ham for baking, you always cut off both ends—why did you do that? Well, Great-grandma said, the pan was too small."

"One day a young girl watched her mother prepare a ham for baking. At one point the daughter asked, “Mom, why did you cut off both ends of the ham?” “Well, because my mother always did,” said the mother. “But why?” “I don’t know—let’s go ask Grandma.” So they went to Grandma’s and asked her, “Grandma, when you prepared the ham for baking, you always cut off both ends—why did you do that?”"

"Nature, if we can attribute thought to it, knows that limits are necessary for everything little and big thing to live. The web of life is a web of boundaries between millions of species living in dynamic balance rather than one big amoeba of life. The acuity of the hawk determines the agility of the mouse. Farmers know their crops depend on respecting the requirements of soil, season and seed. The natural constraints of natural systems are liberating limits."

"We live in a financial, economic and money system that to most of us is incomprehensible, out of our control and unfair – yet vital to our survival. Seeing money this way, we are stuck in the scramble to get some of that thing out there into our wallets so we can get what we want and need. In reaction to that, we develop ideas about what money means – prestige, power, bad, good, a tool of the devil, evidence of God’s blessings, helpful, harmful. Our daily transactions with the pieces of paper and metal and plastic in our wallets are distorted by these unconscious – so doubly powerful – emotionally-charged ideas. Plus we live inside a collective delusion that more is always better (more stuff, money, prestige, power, love, etc.) – which drives us to stress, clutter and debt never having questioned that assumption or discovered how much is enough for us. When you understand money as YOUR life energy, the hours of your life you invest to put dollars in your wallet, you translate it into something knowable… and limited: the hours of your life. This transforms spending because you see everything from a cup of coffee to a new car in terms of “does this merit the hours of my life invested to get it” rather than “I want it, I deserve it, everyone else has one, expense be damned I’ll put it on my credit card."

"We know we can do nothing about that. No one dares get between an American and his right to consume."

"We no longer live life. We consume it."