MY COMMONPLACE BOOK: (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)
The life of a thinking man is a series of retractions.
William Godwin (1756-1836)
Journalist, novelist , philosopher
You have learned something, and that always feels, at first, as if you had lost something.
From Major Barbara
by George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
These quotations complement each other, both of them stressing the flexibility essential to real thinking. The person who takes a position that he holds firmly for the rest of his life may be sensible and consistent in his thinking, but, then again, he may just be stuck. I think it was Emerson who gave us, “a petty consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”
One problem in abandoning a position when you have seen beyond it (as Shaw’s clever villain Undershaft points out—Shaw always gives the bad guys the best lines) is that the shift shakes the very ground you stand on. But, as Godwin reminds us, retracting, changing your mind, may be the opposite of addled thinking; in fact, it may be the true sign of clear thinking—strenuous, often uncomfortable, humiliating, and sometimes soaked in grief.
This mixture of grief and loss is often the price of learning, of growth—the essential, ongoing process of being human.
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