Continuing this idea that good books provide perspective that can be used to challenge existing beliefs and grow as a person, one might inquire as to what constitutes a good book.

Last month I offered some insight related to this when I wrote that the first step to becoming cultured is to start reading great books, and I provided a list of some of the most wonderful books.

And last September I gave a list of some of the most important books about building character.

Today, I offer a couple more suggestions:

The Golden Verses are a chief inspiration for Benjamin Franklin’s moral development.

They are significant for me as well. I encourage you to try to work them out for yourself.

If it is best to seek perspective from literature, why don’t we all do it?

Perhaps one reason is that it’s hard to have an open mind. This is because if you do, you see something of a paradox: the more you know, the less you know.

Perspective challenges existing conviction; it raises doubt, which can be dreadful. It’s scary to not know.

Often we crave certainty. There’s a comfort in predictability or knowing. It makes life constant and provides us a sense of identity.

Though what we don’t realize until we try to know is that doubt is powerful because it is the birthplace of intellectual and personal progress.

Instead of allowing doubt to consume you, you can learn to reconcile it through faith.

Faith that there is truth, even if truth is unknowing, which it isn’t.

And the more you see it isn’t, the more you find your grounding – because you have found your truth. Then you can speak the truth which you’ve found. Then you change the world.

E.E. Cummings said, “To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any humanRalph Waldo Emerson being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

This is a common theme throughout history; the greatest thinkers have praised originality.

This is a concept worth continuing a discussion about because the dangers of conformity are as alive as ever.

Perhaps one of the greatest manifestos on individualism is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance. Indeed, in perfect union with Cummings’s philosophy is Emerson’s quote that:

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Here are a few other remarkable statements from that essay:

  • To believe our own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost…
  • Insist on yourself; never imitate.
  • Where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare?  Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton?  Every great man is a unique.

For more quotes and their meanings, see this link


A young black activist
Tragically massacred
Majority white
Captured in hazardous prejudice
We’re all savages
Angered by different establishments
Our might
Trampled by lovers of avarice
We’re all brothers and sisters and mothers and uncles and cousins
But suffering is something that don’t get no loving
So tell me, my friend, who do we our trust in
Media telling us winning at every expense is an action of substance
It’s actually rubbish
The pageantry mastery is selfish and ugly
Money is something that always feels wanting
It’s puzzling we’re running and bustling to get some more coverage
Infirmities swarming
Motives maliciously lurking
The furnace is churning the logs of injustice
We wonder
How we can stand to let these things be
Together we grow our communities
We’re parts of a tree, the veins of a leaf
We must stand up for peace
…Not rest easy in silence

Note: This opens with a discussion of race that suggests that I am referring to an idea that a majority of people who are white are prejudice. This is not my intention. It’s meant to provoke a consideration of race in America in a broad sense. It’s a commentary on the division in America we’re all experiencing and how that division is often carried to the extreme.

We’re all fighting each other on ideologies and sometimes feel compelled to win at all costs. Meanwhile, there are many greedy people who are profiting at the expense of many people’s well-being. My hopes are evolving and compel me to more definitely ask for a reflection on the need for empathy and consideration of other points of view. Anger, fear, and ignorance are frequently the cause of much dysfunction and hurt. I would like to promote ideas that call forth unity and a vision of more whole communities.

Will is a force that can be used to construct if one is not guided by blind desire.

Thoughts lead to words. Words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character. These are powerful statements from Margaret Thatcher, which are further carried by James Allen in As a Man Thinketh.

Men and women, he writes, are makers of themselves – “by virtue of the thoughts which they choose and encourage; that mind is the master-weaver, both of the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance, and that, as they may have hitherto woven in ignorance and pain they may now weave in enlightenment and happiness.”

Figuring out how to be and behaving as a good person is hard. You can try to follow the dictates of your conscience, to make the decisions you wish to, and to be confident about them. But it’s still a struggle.

You can try to treat strangers with friendliness; verbally thank those who conduct thankless jobs; be honest with yourself and others; convey empathy and thoughtfulness about another’s perspective or feelings; cultivate mutual respect and understanding; recycle when you can; count your blessings; and take time for people who you care about, the few folks who really care about you, the rare to find, genuine carers.

Notably, it’s difficult in part to be good because these are the rare ones. A community establishes cultural norms, and if there were more it would set a new standard. They shouldn’t be rare. It is an injustice.

One morally useful religious quote is Ecclesiastes 1:18: For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. 

There are so many major problems facing the world, and people mostly seem to be concerned with themselves, how they compare or how well-liked they are; or sports; or some movie or show; or their own small problems.

There needs to be so much more urgency. Its lacking might be caused by the spirit of capitalism, poor education, a lack of community, or something else – people seem so content with vanity and insincerity. The world needs to offer greater acknowledgment of the struggle billions face. People say this a lot, but it still isn’t said enough. It must be stated daily. Goodness must be championed.

Over a billion human beings don’t have clean drinking water. People are living on cents a day. Minorities in America face intense discrimination. Rich people are hoarding their money and strive for it greedily to maintain their power and status. Women and people in poverty are directly and indirectly denied educations. We are experiencing a massive extinction of species. People are refusing to try to listen to different perspectives.

There are no teams. There is only us, getting together to try to figure things out, and we’re doing a really bad job at it.

Yes, it’s hard to be a good person. It’s uncomfortable to place expectations on yourself and to admit when you might need to change your actions or your ideas. The proverb, it is stated in Plato’s Republic, “holds that hard is the good.”

You must try. We are failing the next generation.

Marcus Tullius Cicero was one of the greatest leaders of the Roman Republic. Over the course of his career, he became, among other things, an orator, lawyer, and politician. Also, for centuries, he was considered one of the greatest philosophers. One of his best-known works is On Duties. 

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Written in the form of a letter to his son Marcus, then in his late teens and studying philosophy in Athens (though, we can gather from the letters, not studying it all that seriously), but intended from the start to reach a wider audience. Cicero addresses the topic of duty (including both the final purpose of life, which defines our duties, and the way in which duties should be performed), and says that he will follow the Stoics in this area, but only as his judgment requires. More explicitly, the letter discusses how to determine what is honorable, and which of two honorable things is more honorable; how to determine what is expedient and how to judge between two expedient things; and what to do when the honorable and the expedient seem to conflict.

The book is as wonderful as it is dense and aphoristic. But my favorite and most personally influential line in the work describes his conception of the greatest thing to be praised.

He writes in Book One,  Section 88 that:

Furthermore, we should not listen to those who think we should be deeply angry with our opponents, and consider that that is what a great-spirited and courageous man does. For there is nothing more to be praised, nothing more worthy of a great and splendid man than to be easily appeased and forgiving. Among free peoples who possess equality before the law we must cultivate an affable temper and what is called loftiness of spirit.

Notably, this has been translated differently as followed:

Neither must we listen to those who think that one should indulge in violent anger against one’s political enemies and imagine that such is the attitude of a great-spirited, brave man. For nothing is more commendable, nothing more becoming in a pre-eminently great man than courtesy and forbearance. Indeed, in a free people, where all enjoy equal rights before the law, we must school ourselves to affability and what is called “mental poise”;/a for if we are irritated when people intrude upon us at unseasonable hours or make unreasonable requests, we shall develop a sour, churlish temper, prejudicial to ourselves and offensive to others. And yet gentleness of spirit and forbearance are to be commended only with the understanding that strictness may be exercised for the good of the state; for without that, the government cannot be well administered.

His remarks may apply to your personal life and may be summed in the following manner:

A great person is kind, gentle, easily forgiving, affable, and calm.  


In “Economy”, Henry David Thoreau’s opening chapter to Walden, the esteemed author says of fashion trends,

We worship not the Graces, nor the Parcæ, but Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.

In this statement, he captures what marketers know today: that people crave contemporary status.

They want to fit in.

Someone decided that Paris was the icon of trendy, so they who surrender to common acceptance – who need external validation – shift their tastes to be in accordance not with individual self-expression as they should but with what “high society” has decided for them.

He goes on, scoffing at historical trends,

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new. We are amused at beholding the costume of Henry VIII., or Queen Elizabeth, as much as if it was that of the King and Queen of the Cannibal Islands. All costume off a man is pitiful or grotesque. It is only the serious eye peering from and the sincere life passed within it, which restrain laughter and consecrate the costume of any people. Let Harlequin be taken with a fit of the colic and his trappings will have to serve that mood too. When the soldier is hit by a cannon ball rags are as becoming as purple.

Brene Brown in her book Dare to Lead talks about how her pre-speech routine is the simple repetition of three words: people, people, people.

Because we are all just people.

The only thing that matters is character.

Underneath the tailored suit of the c-level executive is a person who, if they are like most, feels like a fraud.

Clothes are symbols, but when cultural norms breakdown such as in times of war, we realize they are merely cloth – the magic has vanished from Aladdin’s carpet.

In closing, he casts a light on the fickleness of the fashionable. A modern example of this is the rise in chokers.

Just think, one day parachute pants or the mullet might make a comeback.

The childish and savage taste of men and women for new patterns keeps how many shaking and squinting through kaleidoscopes that they may discover the particular figure which this generation requires today. The manufacturers have learned that this taste is merely whimsical. Of two patterns which differ only by a few threads more or less of a particular color, the one will be sold readily, the other lie on the shelf, though it frequently happens that after the lapse of a season the latter becomes the most fashionable.

His points might be extrapolated to highlight the nuanced flux in design that drives capitalism, and therewith, the constant need to consume the novel.

They express important and serious lessons about Western values and the frequent senselessness of cultural norms and patterns, which have become exasperated as marketing has advanced as a field and evil geniuses have grown smarter at manipulating self-perception.

Think also for a minute how this relates to modern technology. So many wait hours for the latest and greatest, indulging selfishly in something unnecessary at the detriment of another’s well-being, the people who have to work with suicide nets to keep pace with American depravity.

Out of sight, out of mind. 

Just be good people, and please, don’t succumb to fashion trends.