Monday, May 19, 2008

The Best of Sydney J. Harris

Years ago my favorite newspaper columnist was Sydney Harris, whose columns always seemed to be full of thoughtful insights, artfully expressed. Here are some passages from his book with the above title.

"Experience can be a very bad techer, indeed, or no teacher at all. It is like the silly phrase, 'Practice makes perfect." In most cases, practice merely confirms us in our errors, and the longer we do something the wrong way--that is, without enlightenment and instruction--the more fixed we become in our folly." --p. 56

"People do not so much listen to what we say as to how we say it; the expression of a statement carries a much stronger charge than its content; two men can make the same observation, and one will be accepted, the other met with suspicion or disbelief.

The world listens to the secret language of our emotions, and not to the bald denotations of the words themselves. And mastering that secret language calls for a true ear as much as for a true heart." --p. 94

"Two University of Wisconsin students were indicted on obscenity charges for peforming in a nude version of 'Peter Pan'. I didn't see the performance, but I have seen naked bodies, and they are lovely or laughable or uninteresting or droll, but none has ever impressed me as obscene, in any sense of the word. An *act* can be obscene, an *attitude* can be obscene, but a body per se cannot be. It is only a dirty mind that can see dirt in a clean body; to the (unconsciously) impure, all things are impure. The plain common-sense fact is that a naked body is about as unlustful and unexciting in itself as a plucked chicken." --p. 105

"Most homicides are not professional jobs, in felonious pursuits, but are committed by relatives, friends or neighbors, in the home or nearby. They are sparked by liquor, by lust, by jealousy, or greed, or a burning sense of injustice. And most are committed by people with no previous record of violence.

It is these who will be restrained by stricter gun laws, who will find it much harder to go home, pick up a gun and shoot an adversary. The liquor will pass, the lust will die, reflection will replace passion if the instrument of death is not so readily available.

No one suggests that tougher gun control will reduce organized crime or will inhibit the crooks. But the majority of fatal shootings in a metropolis are more emotional than criminal in intent, more impulsive than premeditated. And if the gun isn't there, the impulse to shoot cannot be so hastily gratified." --p. 132

"Professional sports don't interest me, because I think the phrase is a contradiction in terms. An activity ceases to be a sport the moment it becomes professional." --p. 140

"Any society has much less to fear from crime--organized or unorganized--than from a usurpation of power by its own law-enforcement agencies. Protecting even the worst criminals from unfair treatment is a small price to pay for avoiding the greater danger of police transgressions against the civil liberties of all." --p. 169

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree - Mr Harris was a genius.

His article about successful people, truly successful was also amazing.

As was how love and hate are not opposites...