A while ago, I was discussing my short story One Man’s Dream with Bob Inferapels.  I made the comment that the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream concept was inspired by a quote from Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (Chuang Zu).  A short, loose translation of the quote is this: “Last night I dreamed I was a butterfly.  Now I do not know if I am a man who dreams he is a butterfly or a butterfly who dreams he is a man.

Understandably, Bob’s response to this was “What kind of sh*t are you into?”  And buried behind that question was the unspoken one – “… and how did a farm kid from Iowa get to the point where he is pondering quotes from Chinese philosophers?

I’m actually not a student of philosophy, per se.  I own hundreds of books, including substantial collections of crime and baseball related volumes, but just a single philosophy book.  That sole book is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which I finally purchased after seeing it mentioned in a sports article for the millionth time.

While I don’t necessarily study philosophy, I do stop to ponder interesting quotes that present themselves to me.  In the case of  Zhuangzi, I wonder what exactly is “reality.”  Our perception of reality is based largely on our memories and the accounts given to us by others – but how accurate are these accounts?  We see cases where people repress memories and other situations where stimuli can cause people to create completely false memories.  And how much does our own personal lens distort our view of everyday events?  What, exactly, makes an event a piece of genuine reality?

Another of my favorites is from Nietzsche’s The Abyss – “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”  This quote is actually the inspiration for the title of FBI profiler Robert K Ressler’s book Whoever Fights Monsters.  In Ressler’s situation, he was dealing with many serial killers who were the embodiment or pure evil.  If was important for those who tracked the killers to not be consumed by the evil themselves.

Most of us, of course, will never have the opportunity to track down serial killers.  Most of us will, however, encounter people who engage in the spreading of hatred in its many forms.  If you hate those that spread the hatred, you are yourself adding to the hatred in the world.  In other words, my advice is to hate the bigotry, not the bigot – as difficult as this may be in many cases.

One of my very favorite quotes lacks the deepness of the others –  “Luck is the residue of design.”  It is commonly attributed to baseball pioneer Branch Rickey, but actually originated from writer John Milton.  Rickey, not surprisingly, recognized a great quote when he saw one, and started using it.  The gist of this quote is easy to determine – “good luck” doesn’t happen randomly, but is often a results of years of preparation.  In other words, many cases of “overnight success” were really due to a decade of hard work.

The next time you see a quote – be it in a book, magazine article, or even someone’s email signature – stop to consider it.  That doesn’t necessarily mean to blindly follow what the quote espouses, of course.  In the words of Aristotle,  “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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