The Thought for the Day/Saul Bellow

He had real intelligence…a working, persistent mind…
Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) was a Canadian/American writer, born in Quebec to Russian emigres, and the family moved to Chicago when Saul was nine. In 1976 he won both the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and we discovered Bellow by chance when a book of his we saw at a library sale in a rather small town seemed interesting. We were right. Ravelstein is a very wealthy and prominent man, and the story is told from the point of view of a long-time friend who admires Ravelstein but doesn’t always like him.

Intelligence isn’t the ability to use big words few understand or the ability rattle off mindless facts or impressive figures. It is not retaining knowledge force-fed you by an ancient text or an enlightened master or a famous school. Intelligence is nothing more than the ability to learn, something all of us have.

Sure, some learning is in a formal setting, but most of what we know comes from outside a classroom, from how and if we heed the lessons life is teaching us. We learn every day when we put our experiences to work for us, withdrawing every possible lesson –  both good and bad – from what nature and circumstance put in front of us. It’s using these lessons to build a foundation for knowing ourselves, from living the life we were meant to live, instead of merely conforming to what others expect from us.

…a working, persistent mind…

Our minds are like parachutes: they don’t do us any good closed. And it doesn’t matter what we choose to learn, either. All of us were issued assorted and different talents at birth and what interests me might well, probably will, bore you to tears. 

What matters is that we put our minds to work for us and for this we need diligence and persistence. We must follow our hearts to what interests us and we must be prepared to learn the lessons that are presented to us. We must do this every day, too: we can’t accept life’s lessons one day and ignore them the next. Every day we must put the work required into knowing what we want to know and what we should know. When we do this, we will know ourselves, life’s great prize.

Quotes are from Gaylon’s personal quote book, begun in 1988 in a hotel room in Berkeley, California.

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