There Are Two Educations

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThere are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.

Although this quotation is often attributed to John Adams (1735-1826) — and it certainly sounds like something he would have said —  it was actually written by James Truslow Adams (1878-1949), an American historian and writer, in the essay “To Be or to Do: A Note on American Education,” appearing in the publication, Forum (June 1929). Adams (no relation to the second President of the United States) is best known for coining the term “American Dream” in The Epic of America (1931). Adams defined the American Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” Adams was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for History for the first volume of a three-volume history of New England.

Read related post: The Paradox of the American Dream


There’s a Word for That: Tergiversate

atkins-bookshelf-wordsThe more you watch the news out of Washington, D.C. these days, the more likely that you have seen politicians do it on live television. No — it’s not all the lying or logrolling, it’s the slimy evasiveness, which leads us to the word in the spotlight: tergiversate. Tergiversate (pronounced “tur JIV ur sate”) is defined as making conflicting or evasive statements. The secondary meaning is to change one’s loyalties. The word is derived from the Latin word tergiversat, meaning “with one’s back turned” and from the Latin verb tergiversari derived from tergum (meaning “back”) and vertere (meaning “to turn.”). Tergiversating, however, is not a very effective smoke screen. As we have witnessed on news shows and stories in newspapers, politicians who tergiversate, hoping to end the discussion of a particular subject, achieve the exact opposite: invite further scrutiny and investigation. Recall the famous observation from the German philosopher Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel: “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”


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There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
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There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
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Can You Fall in Love in 36 Questions?

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomAh, love and the search for the ideal soul mate. The pursuit of love isn’t easy. Just watch The Bachelor (or The Bachelorette). Ironically, the show that is supposed to be all about love, is the show that people love to hate. Let’s not sugarcoat it, the show is a veritable car wreck — each week it screeches across the pavement, hops over fences, rips up lawns and flower beds, and crashes into the living room of more than 7.5 million Americans, delivering its payload of histrionics and collective mischief. All of which explains the existence of the so-called “Bachelor Nation” — a legion of fans that laughs, jeers, and gags through each episode, anticipating the next one, like a tourist dehydrated from chronic Montezuma’s revenge eagerly awaiting his next drink of bacteria-laced brown water from yet another restaurant.

Although poets wax um… poetically about how love is free — the pursuit of love certainly isn’t free. Consider this: Americans spend more than $760 million per year on matchmaking and the average American spends $1,596 on dating every year. This includes personal grooming, matchmaking services, and of course the obligatory wining and dining. But what if you could find your soulmate for the cost of a cup of coffee (or tea)? That’s right — a few dollars for some life-changing conversation over coffee at a local establishment. For once, this is when the concept of “talk is cheap” is actually a good thing.

Talk is not only cheap (as in free), it can change your life and definitely lead to intimacy (as in “closeness” not the other thing you though of), and paving the way for profound, unconditional love. Meet psychologist Arthur Aron. In 1997, Aron and his colleagues, published a fascinating study, “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings” in the Personality and Social Psychologist Bulletin (Vol 23, No. 4, 1997). They wanted to know if you could help people develop “temporary feelings of closeness” in a lab setting simply through conversation. In their experiment, two complete strangers (cross-sex and same sex pairs, matched so they agreed about important attitudinal issues and expectations of likeability based on initial questionnaires) would enter a lab and sit face to face for 45 minutes to answer 36 questions. The participants were presented three sets of increasingly personal questions focused on self-disclosure and relationship-building. This study was built on the foundation of previous studies in the previous decade by psychologists; Aron elaborates: “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure.”

So, what did the researchers find? Quite remarkably, they found that about one-third of the participants felt as connected to their partner in the lab — in just 36 questions — as they did one of their closest, deepest, most involved relationships outside the study; Aron writes “That is, immediately after about 45 minutes of interaction, this relationship is rated as closer than the closest relationship in the lives of 30% of similar students.” That’s quite an achievement when it has taken thousands of hours of conversations over many years to reach the same level of intimacy with a significant other. Those must be some amazingly insightful and profoundly probing questions that get right to the heart of the matter (if you’ll excuse the pun). In fact, two participants did fall in love and married just six months later. The questions have also inspired a delightful series on YouTube that explores two strangers trying to find love.

To help cupid’s arrow pierce the heart of your future soul mate, here are the questions you should print out and carry with you on your next date. And don’t dilly-dally. Recall that famous line from the famous romantic-comedy, When Harry Met Sally: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with a person, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

Set I
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set II
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

17. What is your most treasured memory?

18. What is your most terrible memory?

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

20. What does friendship mean to you?

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “

26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “

27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:

What are the Words and Definitions of 2018 Spelling Bee?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOn May 31, 2018, Karthnik Nemmani, a 14-year-old from McKinney, Texas, won the 91th Scripps National Spelling Bee against a worthy opponent, Naysa Modi, a 12-year-old from Frisco, Texas. Modi stumbled on the spelling of the German word bewusstseinslage (defined by Merriam-Webster as “a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components.”) In order to win, Nemmani had to correctly spell the last two words: haecceitas (defined as “the status of being an individual or a particular nature”) and the winning word, “koinonia,” (pronounced “key nuh NEE uh” and defined as “the Christian fellowship or body of believers”). For his spelling brilliance, Memmani won more than $40,000 in cash, a $2,500 savings bond, a trophy, an encyclopedia set, and, of course, bragging rights to being the best speller in America — not to mention the ability to ignore annoying spellcheckers on his favorite apps. While most contestants spell words in their heads, one speller, Erin Howard, from Huntsville Alabama, resorted to a technique not seen at previous spelling bees: air typing (i.e. typing out a word with her fingers on an imaginary keyboard). Kids these days…

A review of the words used in the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee shows that the judges don’t mess around when it comes to finding truly difficult and obscure words. In fact, most of them fall into the category of “I didn’t even know that there was a word for that!” A review of the winning words form the inaugural Spelling Bee in 1925 to now shows a steady evolution from simple words, like “albumen” or “fracas,” to amazingly difficult words like “feuilleton” and “scherenschnitte.” So why have the words become so difficult? Since ESPN started broadcasting the Spelling Bee 25 years ago, the competition has attracted dramatically more children, and more significantly, children who possess truly remarkable spelling skills. This year the event featured a record-breaking 516 contestants (compared to 291 in 2017), ranging in age from 8 to 15 years old. As you can see from the list below, most of these words are ridiculously arcane — and some are so archaic, they can only be found in unabridged or specialized dictionaries. In order to spell a word correctly, contestants can ask clues about the word, such as what part of speech it is, language of origin, and alternate pronunciation.

Here is a list of some of the more difficult words of the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee, including their definitions:

ascyphous: having no cup-shaped parts

cabalassou: a giant armadillo

carmagnole: a lively song from the first French Revolution

cento: a literary work made up of parts from other works

Clausewitz: Prussian general and military strategist

dereistic: thinking without the rules of logic

diploe: bony tissue between the external and internal layers of skull

draegerman: a miner trained in underground emergency and rescue work

escamotage: slight of hand, trickery, or juggling

fourrier: a harbinger or forerunner

funest: portending evil or death

glossodynia: a pain in the tongue

heautophany: manifestation of self

ispaghul: dietary fibre derived from the seed husks of Plantago orata and used as thickener in food industry

millefleurs: a pattern of plants and small flowers

orrisroot: the fragrant rootstock of a specific European iris

paillasson: coarsely woven straw used for hats

paucispiral: a spiral with a few turns

perduellion: subversion or treason

philonium: an ancient remedy

plumetis: a fine dress fabric of cotton, wool, or rayon that is woven with raised dots or figures on a plain background producing an embroidered effect

Praxitelean: work by or similar to that of Ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles

serac: a pinnacle, narrow ridge, or block of ice among the crevasses of a glacier

triturate: to grind or crush

tychopotamic: thriving in still waters (eg, ponds)

uraeus: figure of the sacred serpent, an emblem of sovereignty, as depicted on the headdress of ancient Egyptian deities and rulers.

vinhatico: a type of leguminous timber tree from South America

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:

The Parable of the Farmer and His Fate

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomThere is an age-old Chinese parable about a farmer and his fate. It goes something like this: there once lived an old farmer who had diligently tended to his crops for many years. He relied on his trusty, hard-working horse to plow the fields. But one day, the horse broke through the fence and ran away. Upon hearing this news, the farmer’s neighbors rushed over to the farmer to voice their concern. “What bad luck this is,” they said, “You will not have your horse during the critical planting season.” The farmer listened intently, nodding his head as if in agreement, smiling slightly. Then he spoke softly, “Bad luck, good luck — who really knows?”

A few days later the horse, accompanied by two wild horses, returned to the farmer’s stable. The farmer immediately realized that he could train these two new horses to help him plow his field more efficiently. Soon after, the neighbors heard about this and visited the farmer. “You are now blessed with three strong horses,” they said in unison, “What great luck this is!” But the laconic farmer simply replied, “Good luck, bad luck — who really knows?”

The farmer gave one of the untamed horses to his son. While riding the horse, the son was thrown off and broke his leg. The farmer’s neighbors came around again and expressed their worry, “It is a shame that your son will not be able to help you during planting season. This is such bad luck!” The farmer smiled faintly, and said “Bad luck, good luck — who really knows?”

A few days later, the Chinese emperor’s army rode ominously into town under gray clouds. The general’s order was to draft the eldest son from every family into the army. One of the soldiers took one look at the farmer’s son’s broken leg and motioned to have him left behind. The army marched out of town while tearful residents waved goodbye to their sons, knowing that they may not see them again. Later in the day, the neighbors gathered at the farmer’s house. “You are the only family that did not have their son drafted into the army,” they said. “This is such good luck!” The farmer, who was busy with his chores, looked up and said, “Good luck, bad luck — who really knows?”

This timeless Chinese parable teaches us that luck can be paradoxical — bad luck can be very good luck (and vice-versa). Another lesson is that fate — whether considered “good luck” or “bad luck” — is a matter of perspective. This is one of the greatest lessons that Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, teaches us: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” [Emphasis added] from Man’s Search for Meaning published in 1946.

The parable also reminds us of the famous proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” that originated in the late 1800s. That is to say, one should never feel down and hopeless because challenging times lead to happier, better days ahead. The proverb also introduces a very important metaphor about life — every situation in life is transitory; gray clouds that create dark days will eventually pass, allowing the sun’s radiant light to shine through. Or expressed another way, no matter how dark the night, each dawn ushers in a new day full of hope and new opportunities.

At another level, the parable teaches about a very important life lesson: acceptance. Rather than creating drama around a situation that is either “good luck” or “bad luck” it is best to follow the Taoist tradition of detachment and acceptance. It is important not to celebrate the good luck or scorn the bad luck too excessively. Moreover, it is critical to simply accept life as it is, rather than expending energy to consider what could have been or should have been. Only then one can fully consider the question that my Jesuit mentors often posed: “what is the next, best step?”

There is an absolutely brilliant discussion of fate and misfortunate, through the lens of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, by an erudite, insightful young (as in high school aged) scholar titled: The Consolation of Adversity’s Sweet Milk, Philosophy. If you are passionate about literature and/or philosophy, you will definitely find it fascinating and thought-provoking; moreover it will inspire you to pick up and read (or re-read) two timeless classics.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl


Confessions of a Book Scout: Old Bookstores Have Been the Hunting Grounds of My Life

alex atkins bookshelf books“What is a book scout?” you ask. A self-confessed “book scout,” David Meyer author of “Memoirs of a Book Snake,” explains it this way: “Book scouting has been a pursuit of mine since my high school days. The term ‘scout’ is used in the antiquarian book trade to describe a person who buys old books to sell to old book sellers. [Meyer is being facetious here, books don’t necessarily need to be old; neither do the book sellers.] A dealer, operating a store or office with business hours, can’t obtain all his stock by buying at auction or estate sales or from people offering to sell accumulations of old books. Often the best books, the choice and rare titles which make up a good bookseller’s stock, are found in out-of-the-way places where a bookdealer hasn’t had the time to search.” And as any dedicated book collector will readily admit, the hunt for the elusive Holy Grail or the “unknown unknown” (the book you didn’t even know existed) is half the fun.

If you are a book lover you will definitely find a kindred soul in Meyer as he describes his passion for seeking out literary treasures: “Old bookshops have been the hunting grounds of my life. Also antique shops, Salvation Army, Goodwill and other second-hand resale shops, sometimes attics and basements, and just plain junk shops. No respectable dealer in antiquarian books would admit to visiting such places, but that’s where the book scouts, true treasure hunters that they are, usually go. It’s not the place that matters, its what you find there… The treasures that I have rescued are simply survivors in the sea of old books that washes back and forth across this country — through towns, cities, basements and attics, bookstores, garage sales and junk shops — books deserving of better fates.” Amen, brother.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: Memoirs of a Book Snake by David Meyer

Books Are Like Seeds — They Lie Dormant for Centuries

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. This room [in the New York Public Library] is full of magic… More recently, books, especially paperbacks, have been printed in massive and inexpensive editions. For the price of a modest meal you can ponder the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the origin of species, the interpretation of dreams, the nature of things. Books are like seeds. They can lie dormant for centuries and then flower in the most unpromising soil.”

Excerpt from American astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan’s thirteen-part television series, Cosmos: A Personal Journey, Episode 11 entitled “The Persistence of Memory.” The science-themed documentary, featuring music by Greek composer Vangelis, was broadcast on PBS in 1980. The mini-series, which won a Peabody Award and two Emmies, was watched by more than 500 million people in over 60 countries. 

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