Quote for the Day

by Will on November 1, 2010

From Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy, page 110:

She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly–the thought of the world’s concern at her situation–was founded on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself. To all humankind besides Tess was only a passing thought. Even to friends she was no more than a frequently passing thought. If she made herself miserable the livelong night and day it was only this much to them–“Ah, she makes herself unhappy.” If she tried to be cheerful, to dismiss all care, to take pleasure in the daylight, the flowers, the baby, she could only be this idea to them–“Ah, she bears it very well.” Moreover, alone in a desert island would she have been wretched at what had happened to her? Not greatly. If she could have been but just created, to discover herself as a spouseless mother, with no experience of life except as the parent of a nameless child, would the position have caused her to despair? No, she would have taken it calmly, and found pleasure therein. Most of the misery had been generated by her conventional aspect, and not by her innate sensations.

In other words: you’re not such a big deal. The world isn’t waiting with baited breath to see what your every next move will be. If you do something good, people will notice and have a moment of admiration, but then will quickly retreat back into their own heads and forget about it. If you do something bad, people will readily understand and relate, because they’ve done bad things and know how easy it is to be misled or fall victim to temptation. And once again, they’ll remark it for a moment and get on with their business. Spending a bunch of time beating yourself up and feeling ashamed about some “humiliation” is just as much a waste of time as sitting around thinking about what a great person you are. Both are useless exercises that distract you from what you could instead be doing, seeking and creating more happiness for yourself and others.

I read this passage when I was just 18, and immediately recognized it as both quite wise and quite uncommon. Though I have not always abided by its wisdom, it has never loosed from my mind.

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