Notes & Quotes: Living a Life that Matters by Harold S. Kushner

The following are my favorite quotes from Harold S. Kushner's Living a Life that Matters.

  1. God understands that when we give in to temptation it is a temporary lapse and does not reflect our true character.
  2. Much of our lives, much of our energy will be devoted to closing the gap between the longings of our soul and the scoldings of our conscience, between our too-often conflicting needs for the assurance of knowing that we are good and the satisfaction of being told that we are important. 
  3. It hurts to be defeated by conscience, to feel compelled to take the more demanding high road, to resist temptation, to apologize. But I suspect it hurts more to keep winning out over conscience. Too often, we compromise our integrity, we do something we really don't believe in doing, to reach some important goal, only to find one of two frustrating things happening: Either we gain the prize and realize it wasn't worth gaining, or we end up with neither the prize nor our integrity.
  4. Without a modicum of selfishness and aggression, the world could not go on. It is a part of us, a problematic but essential part of us. 
  5. Like the man or woman who lifts weights at the gym to become stronger, a process know as "resistance training," we strengthen our moral fiber by the exercise of resisting temptation.
  6. Good people will do good things, lots of them, because they are good people. They will do bad things because they are human. In the daily, if not hourly, wrestling matches that set the tone of our lives, sometimes the angel wins and sometimes the angel loses. With luck, we will not be overwhelmed by guilt when the egotistical impulse defeats the angel, and we will understand that the victory is temporary, not permanent, when the angel wins. We will understand that, to be human, we need them both. But we will never stop asking ourselves, What kind of person do I want to be?
  7. Perhaps the instinctive desire for revenge is less about hurting the person who has hurt us and more about restoring the power balance to what it was before the crime. We don't really want to hurt our assailant so much as we want to reclaim from him the power, the sense of being in control of our lives, that he stole from us. 
  8. Someone once compared getting into an argument with a boorish neighbor to wrestling in the mud with a pig: You will both get filthy, but the pig will enjoy it.
  9. For the person of integrity, life may not be easy but it is simple: Figure out what is right and do it. All other considerations come in second.
  10. If the words you speak are hard for you to utter and hard for others to hear, if you get no pleasure from speaking them but you feel you must, then you can believe that they come from God. On the other hand, if your words make you popular and win you easy applause, or if people don't like hearing them but you get a certain pleasure from speaking them ("I'm only telling you this for your own good"), then you may have reason to suspect that those are your own thoughts disguising themselves as the Word of God.
  11. Love, expressed primarily but not exclusively in marriage and parenthood, is the most accessible way we have of being supremely important in another person's life. It not only gratifies our sex drive and reproductive impulse. It meets our need to matter, or, as one person put it, "to be somebody's somebody."
  12. Psychologist-author Carol Gilligan has pointed out that young girls tend to latch on to best friends, as if they were rehearsing for marriage, whereas boys play competitive games with their friends, as if they were rehearsing for the business world.
  13. When we worry that our lives are passing in a parade of trivialities and insignificant events, we yearn to do things that matter and feel like failures because we haven't, I have always found that an effective cure for that feeling of insignificance is simply to find someone who needs our help and reach out to that person.
  14. Every life touches many other lives, and rare is the person who knows how much of a difference he or she has made.
  15. I believe that ordinary people joining forces can do things that heroes acting alone can't do. 
  16. The small choices and decisions we make a hundred times a day add up to determining the kind of world we live in.