Note: These are the author’s interpretation of quotes said in a context completely separate from today. Even the most timeless phrases must always be viewed, at some point, through the lens of context.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Words like prejudice and bigotry are thrown around a lot more generously nowadays than when Mark Twain was alive. Under the definition from which he was operating, anyone can be susceptible to these things and everyone must stay vigilant so not to fall into the same pitfalls many of our ancestors have fallen into.
As Twain insinuates, travel is important to a healthy soul. This could mean traveling to the deep south to get a first-hand understanding of what you thought “racist rednecks” are really like. This could mean travelling to an Islamic country (there are plenty of safe ones) and getting a grasp one what those “backwards Muslims” are really like. Of course, confirmation bias will be at work, but one must operate with an open mind.
What you will often find is that there are serious problems within every culture, though they vary from place to place and are often not a problem in other cultures. You also find that there are sweeping, surprising commonalities between countries and cultures that just boil down to human nature. You find that with understanding might come a little bit of empathy, even if you still do disagree with some fundamental ways of life.
At the end of the day, you find out that the world is just a bit more complex than many would have you believe, and to disregard those complexities would be to disregard the truth.
“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”
This is the most obvious on the list in 2018. The Flat Earth Society would not have the type of steam it has today if it weren’t for the internet connecting people who would otherwise take a step back and think twice about their ridiculous ideas. Social media has become the “right kind of advertising” for many ideas that would otherwise die out in obscurity.
This is why when some think of Republicans, they think of hillbilly rednecks who are inherently racist with no grasp on life beyond their neck of the woods. Therefore, when others think of Democrats, they think of purple-haired college students who would shatter at the touch of the real world. If you go out into the world and have honest conversations with the average liberal or the average republican, you’ll find that they are just like everyone else — they have their opinions, rooted in some reasonable (though perhaps disagreeable) ideas of their own. And most of them are fairly easy to get along with, so long as you’re not coming to them looking for a fight.
But of course, the exceptions, which you may come across in the real world, have the loudest voices. Rather, they have the loudest “kind of advertising.”
The only difference in 2018, is that we do the advertising on social media ourselves. So, as advertisers, what are you putting out there?
“There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist.”
We live in a world where people love to play the blame game — older generations constantly shirk responsibility by blaming newer generations for ruining everything. People divide themselves into groups, so they can point the finger and blame another group for everything that goes wrong. Young people tend to feel the constant need to be the underdog, despite whatever the truth may be, so they can place blame on the big, bad maniacal overlords.
And when you are constantly placing the blame elsewhere, eventually you begin to believe your own propaganda. You start to think that the world really is out of your control entirely, and that there is nothing that you or anyone else can do about it. And if everything is out of your control, then you can sit back with a smug look on your face and chuckle as you call yourself a pessimist. People who call themselves “realists” often do the exact same thing.
And it’s when these ideals infect the youth — the people who are supposed to be the embodiment of vigor and dreams, that it really takes a toll on the society. Still, we have older generations berating the youth for already somehow ruining everything, younger generations berating each other, and the result is the death of ideals and the birth of pessimism and inaction. Many seem to love to encourage pessimism over optimism in the youth, instead of handing them dreams to aspire to.
I don’t know how many self-depreciating millennials talk about their own generation like it’s a lost cause (and of course they’re a magical exception who was born in the wrong time). The same goes for older generation who are constantly telling millennials that they are the worst generation to date who will never amount to anything. Never mind the men and women I served, fought and bled beside in combat, all of whom were millennials.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
This one might be a little tricky. In the today’s United States, we have found ourselves in a social civil war with each side blaming the other for all the country’s problems. However, one must realize that in order to see the problem accurately, it cannot be boiled down that simply.
First of all, Twain’s words make more sense when you realize that, in today’s United States, Republicans and Democrats are both in the majority. The problems within both parties exacerbate themselves when each side sees themselves (and tells each other) that they are the minority who has been wronged by the other.
And so, if you are an ardent Republican or Democrat in today’s America, I’m not saying that you are right, and another thing is wrong, I’m just saying what Twain said: “it is time to pause and reflect.” However, this isn’t limited to the minority/majority situation in politics, it applies to any context of life. This phrase holds true with race, religion, part of the country in which you live, and any type of difference one human being might find in themselves from another.
Don’t get it confused — if you tell some people nowadays to pause and reflect upon your Muslim neighbor, they will cry liberal and hide in their echo chambers, talking about a snowflake they ran into that day. If you tell some other people to pause and reflect upon a Trump voter in, say, downtown San Francisco, they might cry “bigot” and retreat into the same (but opposite) echo chambers.
Pause. Reflect. Move forward and make things better. Twain is trying to get people to ask questions — the answers don’t always have to be shoved down your throat, they are there for you to discover.
And of course, my personal favorite, though perhaps a bit contradictory to his previous statements:
“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.”
Luke Ryan is a SOFREP journalist in Tampa, FL. He is a former Team Leader from 3rd Ranger Battalion, having served four deployments to Afghanistan. He grew up overseas, the son of foreign aid workers, and lived in Pakistan for nine years and Thailand for five.
He has a degree in English Literature and loves to write on his own as well, working on several personal projects.