Tag Archives: Quotes

Sometimes Fate is Like a Small Sandstorm

 Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

To this quote/metaphor I’d add the following:

Sometimes the storm has nothing to do with you. You’re in the midst of it because you happened to be standing where it ended up. Remember that as the sand stings your skin and do what you can to protect yourself.


What would you add to it?


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Can We Only Know Our Countrymen?

It is very difficult to know people and I don’t think one can ever really know any but one’s own countrymen. For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives’ tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in. It is all these things that have made them what they are, and these are the things that you can’t come to know by hearsay, you can only know them if you have lived them. – W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge, 1943

Due to Canada Day and Independence Day* today’s post will be shorter than usual.  I’d like to discuss this quote with all of you, though. My response will be in the comment section.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with W. Somerset Maugham?

Are you the culture you grew up in, the food you ate, the stories you were told as a child?

If you agree with W. Somerset Maugham how do you reconcile that belief with life in a pluralistic society?

*As a dual citizen I get two celebrations in the same week! 😉


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Non-Theistic Morality

“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
—  Steven Weinberg

Last week I blogged about a sermon series about the problem of pain and how Bruxy Cavey approaches this question. During his second podcast Bruxy briefly mentioned his beliefs about the origin of human morality. In short, he believes that it comes from God and that there cannot be a just system of morality without God behind it. He says:

Atheists cannot explain their own morality.

While he absolutely agrees that atheists can be just as moral or good as Christians he doesn’t think that this sense of right and wrong can come from a non-theistic worldview:

they [atheists] are far more moral than their worldview accounts for

because he believes that there must be a higher power that arbitrates between various human groups for the greatest good. While I respect Bruxy Cavey immensely as a speaker and as a fellow human being I vehemently disagree with this premise.

For one, religion doesn’t make people more moral or good. The rules – whatever they may be – are broken just as often by the people who believe in them as they are by those who don’t follow that particular religion (or none at all.)

Sometimes, in fact, the act of following the rules actually seems to make good people into much less admirable versions of themselves. I’ve known more than one individual who was a wonderful friend and human being in every way other than his or her religious beliefs. When the topic of God came up it was like a switch had been flipped in that individual’s brain and they lost much of the good that I saw in them the rest of the time. Rather than seeing the rest of us as friends or fellow human beings we became  unrepentant sinners, unbelievers, potential converts or, worse, social projects.

Bruxy and I also have a fundamental disagreement about where our desire to do and be good comes from.

I believe it comes from our generations upon generations of experiences as an extremely social species. With the exception of the rare hermit or mystic we do not do well in a life of solitude. We need one another and so we have learned ways of getting along in difficult situations and of strengthening our bonds with one another.

In short, I believe we (tend to) share similar beliefs about what is fundamentally a good or bad thing to do to someone else because cooperation and altruism are some of our oldest social tools. We could not have survived and become what we are today without them.

In a roundabout way this leads me to today’s question:

What Does Non-Theistic Morality Look Like?

That is, how do people who don’t believe in God decide what is right and wrong? How do we determine what it means to live a good life?

I believe much of it boils down to harm. Do my actions hurt me or someone else, intentionally or unintentionally? If they do I probably shouldn’t be doing them in most situations.

This is a deceptively simple “rule.”  Many aspects of modern business and product marketing  would not pass it because of all of the suffering that is caused when:

  • People are consumers before anything else
  • Workers (especially the working poor) are treated like machines
  • Money is used to define our worth as human beings

My ethical beliefs and morals don’t come with a long list of rules. Almost everything that I puzzle over can be reduced to the question of harm.

I also believe in being and doing good for goodness’ sake! That is, I (try to) lead an ethical life not for any sort of eternal or extrinsic reward but because it’s the right thing to do. Of course I hope that other people will treat me with kindness and respect in return but no one is keeping score here. I’d continue to be as loving, forgiving and kind as possible even if one or several or many people around me were none of these things. (If it continued, though, I’d find a new social group. 😉 )


What criteria do you use to decide what the most ethical or moral choices are for your life? Why are you good?


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Sane Personal Development

Becoming a better person is something of great interest to me but focusing so intently on improvement isn’t necessarily the best way to approach personal development.

“There are things about ourselves that we need to get rid of; there are things we need to change. But at the same time, we do not need to become too desperate, too ruthless, too combative. Along the way to usefulness and happiness, many of those things will change themselves, and the others can be worked on as we go. The first thing we need to do is recognize and trust our own Inner Nature, and not lose sight of it. For within the Ugly Duckling is the Swan, inside the Bouncy Tigger is the Rescuer who knows the Way, and in each of us is something Special that we need to keep.” – from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

This is by far my favourite quote of all time. I tend to be too hard on myself when I make a mistake or do or say something that I later regret. It isn’t that I want to be perfect so much as I hate the idea of hurting other people even unintentionally.

Conscientiousness can be a wondeful character trait. Like anything, though, it can be taken too far. Reading this quote – indeed, the entire book – was like coming home after a long afternoon outdoors in the middle of January, peeling off several layers of cold, damp, wool clothing, inhaling a big gulp of warm air and suddenly realizing how heavy your arms and legs felt wrapped in all of those layers.

This has been one of my most important lessons of 2010. I’ve by no means finished learning to take everything a little less seriously but I am growing better at noticing when I’m being too hard on myself. It turns out that grace isn’t just something one has for other people! 😉


What was the most important thing that you learned in 2010? How do you go about making healthier decisions or growing emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually?


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Cultivating Gratitude

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. – Aldous Huxley

“It’s all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it’s not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?” – Anne Shirley

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians!

Celebrating this holiday in October was a bit of an adjustment for me when I first moved up here. Growing up in the US I had always just assumed that everyone observed it at the end of November with us and so at first it was sort of strange to have Thanksgiving a few weeks before Halloween.

Traditionally this has been a time to reflect on everything in life for which we are grateful. I loved being with my maternal grandparents at Thanksgiving as a child and young adult. Not only was the table laden with all sorts of good things to eat, my grandfather was always almost painfully grateful to be surrounded by happy, healthy family members each year. He grew up in rural Ohio during the Great Depression and World War II. As a young boy he was in an awful accident when a wagon he was riding in collided with a train. Many of the other children on that hay ride died that day. One family buried all four of their children.

I don’t think we will ever truly know what deep impressions those experiences left in him, any more than I could step into your shoes or you could try on someone else’s life experiences for a time.

It makes me wonder how we can be grateful for what we cannot imagine happening. I’ve always had a roof over my head, a loving family, a warm place to sleep, a belly full of food, and medical care when ill. Intellectually I know that a day could come when I don’t have access to some or all of these things but it’s hard to imagine a life without any of it.

Gratitude seems to me to be a process of realizing that not everyone has these things and that we could easily be one of those people if it hasn’t happened already. It isn’t an easy task and definitely cannot take the place of actual life experiences, but it does stretch one’s mind and help us (or at least me!) not to slump into assuming everything good in life will always be there.

Once again I will end this post with a few questions. What are you taking for granted today? For what are you grateful?


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