In my house we have a door that is a collage of quotes. My personal favorite is:
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” By Helen Keller.
Who doesn’t want their life to be a daring adventure? And the quote is so go for broke, all or nothing. Either it is or it isn’t. I’ve mentioned before, perspective is everything. Mondays suck because you’ve decided so. I strongly believe you choose the reality you live in.
When I looked up the quote this is what I found:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
This totally changes the quote for me. Before it was a bold statement akin to childlike wonder and trust, now I’m thinking it quite fatalistic. Without any context for the quote it is hard to know what the actual intended meaning is.
And that really is my point. In our modern age people chop up content and make it what they want. I am just as guilty as the next person, but it does make me stop and think about what I read and what I say. I think in the case of this quote it is particularly interesting because no one wants to hear that life is uncertain and we have no control so we edit that part out and focus on the daring adventure bit.
Having said that, the book is out of print so I can’t get any context. Even if I want to understand what the author meant in the fullest, I can’t. This is all I get. I can take into consideration the author herself and the life she lived as a guide to understanding but it would still be just conjecture.
Does not having access to the context free me from the obligation of the author’s intent? As someone who tapes random quotes to a door in her house I say yes. As a writer and a student, I have to say no. I am all for taking meaning as you need it, but context is important for true understanding.
All I want to advocate is more thoughtfulness in the way we use words, especially someone else's.