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Cracker Barrel: Purely personal

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For many years I have taken great delight in reading the works of Sydney J. Harris, who enjoyed a long and puckish career as a nationally syndicated columnist sticking burrs under the saddle of American complacency, and who was kind enough to offer me encouragement and advice as a beginning journalist.

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His death many years ago silenced a wonderful voice.

But Harris lives on in the form of his collected columns. He published 11 volumes of these works, and one of the best, Strictly Personal, concludes with several pages of observations under the heading “Purely Personal Observations.”

What follows is a sampling of these insights, offered in respectful memoriam to Mr. Harris and for the ongoing edification of you, dear reader.

* * *

Between the people who are ruled by their hearts, and those who are ruled by their heads, I have not a fingernail of preference: the whole art of life consists of combining the two in suitable proportion; otherwise the heart leads us into stupidity, and the head into villainy.

* * *

Most political arguments are futile because, as Swift said, “It is useless for us to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he has never been reasoned into.”

* * *

The best company consists of those who combine cynicism and good nature; mere cynicism is depressing, and mere good nature is dull.

* * *

My objection to the self-made man is that he is evidently so pleased with his maker.

* * *

Almost all of mankind’s troubles may be attributed to the fact that it is infinitely easier to hate something than to understand it.

* * *

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

* * *

People who clamor to be “free,” which means getting rid of their obligations, forget Goethe’s warning that “everything that frees our spirit without giving us control of ourselves is ruinous.”

* * *

The weakest kind of friend to have is a person who is proud of having no enemies. A person without enemies is a person without principles, without courage, and without any ruling passion except a craving for popularity.

* * *

A child should always be permitted to try to do more than it can, rather than less; the child who is too much protected from its own mistakes and minor catastrophes invariably turns into an adult who refuses to accept the responsibilities for his errors.

* * *

Most of the trouble in the world is caused not by people who are bad or stupid, but by people who desperately need to feel important about themselves.

* * *

When I hear somebody sigh that “Life is hard,” I am always tempted to ask, “Compared to what?”

Copyright 2013 by Craig Nagel

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