The quote is this:
Small people talk about other people. Average people talk about material things. Great people talk about ideas.
I ran across this the other day. I’d never seen it before, but I fell in love with it.
I forgot where I saw this quote so I had to Google what I could remember of it, which led me to Yahoo’s Q&A pages where I found something even more interesting: “the commencement address Dennis Prager gave to the 1997 graduating class of Pepperdine University” copied in full.
Prager lists seven statements everybody should take to heart and carry for the rest of their lives. He elaborates on each one, but I’ll list them first on their own.
One: The Greatest Struggle Is with Yourself
Two: Trust Your Common Sense
Three: Race is Unimportant
Four: Don’t Leave Your Values at Home
Five: Beware of Bad Ideas (I add: this gets ignored by him and his audience in a moment)
Six: Behavior Matters More than Intentions
and the kicker:
Seven: Religion is the True Counterculture
From point one:
Please understand: In this society, my greatest challenge is Dennis, your greatest challenge is you. And if you can make you better, you will make this society better. Please don’t buy the rhetoric that the external is the problem. In a free and affluent country like this, we are the problem.
From point two (and the first clue where this is headed):
Mark Twain was right when he said, “Common sense isn’t common.” Nevertheless, please use this great gift of God, your common sense, when, outside of the natural sciences, you hear the words, “studies show,” and you find that the studies show the opposite of what common sense suggests.
It looks like he actually contradicts Mark Twain here, who is far more right than he is. It looks to me like he’s saying we should ignore scientific findings that don’t mesh with whatever dumb shit people pass off as common sense. Yesno? I quote another piece from that part:
The greatest of the “studies” is the study of life, not some abstract study. Keep studying it, and trust your common sense.
Which isn’t really that common after all. Twain’s unexpurgated autobiography is soon to be printed, after a hundred years waiting in the wings, by the way. It might be worth a read just judging by the quotes Newsweek let out already (H/T Friendly Atheist).
From point three:
Be guided by an idea of a Jew who went through a Nazi death camp. He miraculously survived, though his wife and his parents were gassed.
After the Holocaust, he was asked, “Do you hate all Germans?”
And he said, “No, I don’t.”
“Because,” he said, “there are only two races, the decent and the indecent.”
He later goes on to say God is colour blind, and:
God knows the character of a human heart. Period.
Well, I, and other atheist bloggers, will be quick to note just what kind of characteristics god apparently approves of, and most of those aren’t characteristics of people I’d want to be around. The Telegraph printed a handy list of the ten worst bible verses, so that saves me hunting for other examples.
The hardest of the Ten Commandments is not the commandment against adultery, nor the one against murder, nor the one against theft. It is the commandment against having false gods. Among most of those in my profession, the gods of Nielsen and Arbitron are worshipped far more than God.
So far as I know, those are methods of rating TV and radio for popularity, not quality. He’s still on the air, so I guess he’s popular in some circles. I’ve never even heard of him, sorry to say. His shit looks like excellent blog fodder and I’ve totally missed out on
ridiculing writing about it.
I’ll give you a quick way to measure if an idea is good. Ask two questions: Does this make people kinder? Does this hold people morally accountable? Nazism could not answer that it makes people kinder. Communism could not answer that it holds people morally accountable; all you had to do was hasten the revolution.
I don’t know of an improvement over Leviticus 19:18. “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.” No new idea has supplanted that one.
For those unfamiliar, Leviticus is also the fun happy place all those anti-gay people quote mine: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” 18:22. For those unfamiliar, the whole book was written as a set of rules for Levites, AKA priests long dead. (I laugh at this line in the linked document: “When God recorded and preserved the book of Leviticus…”)
And if you check out those verses I linked to, you’ll find evidence that God often wants neighbours to be killed – man, woman, child, ox and donkey.
That you mean to do good or that you are sincere doesn’t mean a thing to the other six billion people on earth. The only thing that matters to all of us is how you act. God cares about your heart, but the rest of humanity cares about your behavior. Saying “I want good to be done” but not doing any good; crying for the poor, but not giving charity or hiring a poor person — none of your good intentions mean a thing.
And on the other side, having selfish intentions and doing good is okay. It’s better to have good intentions, but if good comes out of what’s selfish, that is what counts. The good that is done, not intended, is what matters.
Meaning? Capitalism is A-OK and communism was born of the devil. Communism killed so many people, after all. Capitalism just made a few people really, really rich and then created masses of poor sods who can’t get jobs. That’s good all right. Yeppers. What a great benefit to the country that is. Capitalism may have been “the engine of democracy” according to Prager, but considering the fact that millions of Americans don’t even bother to vote, that engine might be running on fumes.
Finally to point seven:
The temptation to do what everybody else does is enormous, yet it is a guarantor of unhappiness, not just a guarantor of doing the wrong thing. Be true to your faith. It will ultimately work. And it’s perhaps even more powerful that I, being of a different faith than you — I am a religious Jew — am saying this to Christians. It’s more powerful because I obviously have no theological ax to grind.
Yeah, obviously. Pretentious much? Fuck. His religion doesn’t make him an expert on humanity. His religion doesn’t make him a philosopher, a sociologist, a scientist, a political analyst, an economist, a historian, or a better person than anyone in that audience that day or anyone reading this now. It doesn’t. It shaped who he is, and maybe had something to do with where he wound up (as in turning down better jobs so he wouldn’t work on Saturdays), but it lends as much credence to his opinions as would an announcement to everyone that his love of rutabagas made all the difference.
Aside from point seven and parts of point two, his advice is basically sound.
Do the right thing, the good thing. If you’re doing it to please someone else, fine. Not every good deed has to be done for selfless reasons. The point is to do good, and do right as much as we are able.
What we value as people should be things worth supporting as a whole community and society – rights to education, freedom of expression, quality of life, equality while living, regardless of sexual preference, age or skin tone. Be respectful and as generous as we are able. Whatever fantastic traits we can think of, those are the values that need to be hung onto, whatever the cost to our livelihood. If we truly want to be living moral and ethical lives, then there are limits we have to place on ourselves and what we are willing to do. And we shouldn’t feel compelled to cave when external pressures aim to belittle that commitment.
Be aware and wary of ideas as they are presented. Be skeptical. Ask questions. Ask many questions. Don’t be content to assume that letters behind a name make a person a complete authority on everything. And don’t assume a pretty face can make up for no letters behind a name either. Recall the quote that started all this. Great people talk about the ideas because the ideas are important and need talking about. How else can great people care for those who don’t care about this?