Quotation: Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

“I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or on house burned or one vessel wrecked… we need never read another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher, all news as it is called, is gossip….”

from Walden, 1854

5 responses to “Quotation: Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

  1. Interesting in context. I need to think about that one.

    • Yes, me too and I’ve been thinking about for many years. For each tragedy reported in the news there are individual souls suffering. And yet we have to acknowledge that souls are suffering all around us and the news only reports the suffering that is interesting or exceptional and can thereby sell soft drinks and the like. I always think about this when some terrible thing happens like in Denver. How many other nameless people in the world died tragically that day at the hands of a madman? Certainly those twelve in the movie theater where not the only ones.

      So if I am “acquainted with the principle” of suffering who benefits by my brief awareness of this particular instance? Surely the tragedy of today will become eclipsed by and then suffused with the tragedy of tomorrow? So as time goes on and one narrative of suffering is laid upon the next how important is my knowledge the details? These are not rhetorical questions — I just don’t know. I do know that if this knowledge leads to action that is entirely different set of concerns and questions. But none of us are superheros and we must ultimately choose what type of news knowledge we act on — if any.

      All this reminds me of another much older bit of wisdom attributed to Bion of Borysthenes (c. 325 – c. 250 BCE):

      “Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.”

  2. That Bion of Borysthenes quote is excellent, and I am sure I will steal it before too long.

  3. I am reminded of this quote by Annie Dillard. “C S Lewis once noted, interestingly, salvifically, that the sum of human suffering is a purely mental accretion, the contemplation of which is futile because no one ever suffered it. That was a load of my mind. I had found it easier to contemplate the square root of minus one.”

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