A few days ago, I made a passing comment about the contrast between having a soulmate and the aphorism that, “You come into the world alone and you go out of the world alone.” Although the aphorism seems self-explanatory, I decided to explore it on the internet to learn its story. During that exploration, I was surprised to learn that aphorism had an unquestioned author – Emily Carr – and that it was a significant abridgement of Carr’s original statement:
- “I wonder will death be much lonelier than life. Life’s an awfully lonesome affair. You can live close against other people yet your lives never touch. You come into the world alone and you go out of the world alone yet it seems to me you are more alone while living than even coming and going.”
All this time, I’ve considered the aphorism to refer to the loneliness of death while actually it is referring to the loneliness of life.
A similar misconstruction has occurred with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s aphorism, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” This aphorism also seems self-explanatory – i.e., dumb people struggle to avoid inconsistency. But the actual aphorism is much longer:
- “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradicts everything you said today.”
Instead of scolding minds for faulty logic or memory, Emerson is encouraging people to do more than calculate.
The popular abridgment of these aphorisms reminds me of a previous job I had that involved digesting a huge amount of information in a short time. The most productive employees at this job learned to “top sheet,” which is a term for relying on only the tip of the iceberg in making a decision. In life, however, top sheeting is not the best way to get to where we want to go.