Aphorisms, Schema, and teaching our Children

A sister of mine who has many minor children wants to create a copy book for her children.

She is looking for aphorisms that will shape her children into wise men and women. She is looking to shape her children’s schema, the way they perceive and remember the reality of their lives. If you’re not sure what an aphorism is, here’s an awesome quote I found on the internet:

An aphorism is a short pithy statement that states a truth and smacks you with a reality punch… A good aphorism is only the tip of the iceberg and underneath its logic is a ton of philosophical meaning. It is the big truth in capsulated form and its power is in its ability to be retained in our consciousness and the affect it has on our thinking. 1

This jogged my memory. Months before Bruce Nielson recruited me to blog here at M*, I had come across the “Great BCC Aphorism Contest.” Not being familiar with BCC, I decided to toss off a few aphorisms, original to me that day, for example:

  • Death is a blessing that should never be sought or given.
  • One who fears God in life will not fear God in death.
  • What one says about Nauvoo says more about them than it says about Nauvoo.
  • The saint who cherishes their spouse, though imperfect, will be blessed in eternity.
  • No one believes they are wrong, no matter what the evidence may show.
  • The blackest wrong can become a source of healing in God’s hands.
  • The blind men all touched the same elephant, and we all worship the same God.
  • When I was young, I was certain. Now old, I cherish grace and hold to hope.
  • There is no excuse for abuse.
  • Each moment is precious, a gift that will never be given again.
  • Mankind would knowingly embrace destruction if it were convenient and comely.
  • No secret is so silent that God knows it not.
  • One who demands respect will never have it.
  • One who flees obedience to the highest law will be forced to comply with a lower law.
  • When I feed another, my soul is filled.
  • No possession is so precious that we can take it back to heaven.
  • Error is error, no matter how cherished.
  • Live as though you love those in future centuries, and they will love you.
  • A weed unheeded gives seed to tomorrow’s ruin.
  • The perfect man embraces all and rejects none.
  • God will vindicate every speaker of truth and honor every lover of freedom.
  • Sin is no less wrong if it is too new to have been condemned from the pulpit.

When I reviewed the aphorisms others were submitting, I realized my aphorisms did not express doubt and sarcasm. In short, I was the thing that was not like the others. I never could tell who supposedly won that contest.

The Radical Grace post where I found the description of aphorisms had another image, stating:

The birth of an aphorism is a process of reception and a procession of perception

In other words, your aphorisms arise from your schema, the fundamental essence of how you view the universe.

So I challenge you to to come up with aphorisms you think a rising generation should have in their hearts and souls if they would become wise and good citizens of tomorrow’s world. It’s OK to re-quote aphorisms from others or the scriptures.


  1. The Jesus Style of Communication – Aphorisms and Parables at Radical Grace, available online at http://donmilam.com/2013/02/the-jesus-style-of-communication-aphorisms-and-parables-2/, retrieved 3 July 2014.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

38 thoughts on “Aphorisms, Schema, and teaching our Children

  1. “Revelation for the Church comes from the prophets to you, not from you to the prophets.”

  2. Wow, you are really good at these Meg! I’m wracking my brain and can’t come up with any. I can only think of something I mentioned in my comments, but it’s not really an aphorism:

    “the natural man is an enemy to God, not the natural woman.”

  3. This reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Rudyard Kipling, “Gods of the Copybook Headings”.

  4. “Only honest questions get honest answers.”

    “Don’t assume that the other guy hasn’t walked a mile in your shoes.”

    “It’s all fun and games until someone gets excommunicated.”

  5. For the copy book, i’d recommend the scripture mastery scriptures, 25 each from OT, NT, BoM, DC/PoGP.

    For other aphorisms, why reinvent the wheel? We already have the Proverbs of Solomon. Though I find the NIV translation to render them more understandable than the KJV. And if you really want to hide the source of a proverb from someone who would otherwise mock it, use the 1960’s edition of the Jerusalem Bible.

  6. “It is the beginning of strength to realize the Savior would have died even if only for you. It is the beginning of wisdom to realize the Savior would have died even if only for your enemy.”

  7. Want an aphorism fest? One only need to read Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s sermons to get a chock full of them. I’d say he was/is the king of aphorisms past, present, and future.

  8. Not mine, and actually an epigram, but I thought it would go well with the others:

    By Maud Chegwidden

    An Epigram

    A poet spilt his soul in song
    And died for lack of food.
    The critics, who had sneered so long,
    Then saw his work was good.

    The nation raised a monument
    And graved his praise thereon.
    Thus he, whose life was vainly spent
    For bread, received a stone!


    Also not mine, but it is an aphorism:
    “I know nothing!”
    Socrates, as quoted by Sgt Schultz

  9. A meta-aphorism from one of my favorite novels:

    ” Fable has strong shoulders that can carry far more truth than fact can.” Abbot, Village of Ku-Fu, Bridge of Birds, Barry Hughart

  10. A few I remember from my mission in Korea.

    * Where three walk together, one will be my teacher. (we can learn from anyone)
    * A monk cannot shave his own head. (even the greatest of us needs the help of others.
    * to begin is to be half done.
    * a frog in a well (master of all he surveys…which isn’t much)
    * eat the pepper and cry (it’s gonna stink, but it must be done; shed the tears and move on)
    * Even if the sky falls, there’s a way to escape. (if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger, if you let it)
    * You’ll hate the prettiest song if you sing it too often
    * In a whale fight, the shrimp get squashed.
    * great talent takes time to ripen
    * tap even a stone bridge before crossing. (two interpretations: “prove all things, hold fast that which is good” and “I sent you two boats and a helicopter; what more did you need?”
    * Feed the naked, clothe the hungry (be sure the service you’re offering is what’s actually needed)

  11. Although I’m not too good at coming up with them, I thoroughly enjoy hearing and reading aphorisms. Keep them coming.

  12. Here’s a couple I thought up:

    -He who fears God need never fear man.
    -The oldest is given the birthright as an apology.
    – The gossiper betrays the confidant.

    Here are a few aphorisms that I love. I found them in the book Cultural Amnesia by Clive James.

    There are only two things that can destroy a healthy man: love trouble, ambition and financial catastrophe. And that is already three things, and there are a lot more. – Peter Altenberg

    Tyrants conduct monologues above a million solitudes. – Albert Camus

    If it wasn’t for me, I’d do brilliantly. – Chamfort

    You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of the others. – Katherine Whitehorne

    The secret of success is the capacity to survive failure. – Noel Coward

  13. Elder Neal A. Maxwell Aphorisms:
    “The laughter of the world is merely loneliness pathetically trying to reassure itself.”

    “We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.”

    “God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability.”

    “If, in the end, you have not chosen Jesus Christ it will not matter what you have chosen.”

    “Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus!”

    “Let us have integrity and not write checks with our tongues which our conduct cannot cash.”

    “No love is ever wasted. Its worth does not lie in reciprocity. ”

    “God’s extraordinary work is most often done by ordinary people in the seeming obscurity of a home and family.”

    “We cannot improve the world if we are conformed to the world.”

    “Empathy during agony is a portion of divinity.”

    “If the kingdom of God is not first, it doesn’t matter what’s second.”

    “Perfect love is perfectly patient.”

    “Coming unto the Lord is not a negotiation, but a surrender.”

    “Never give up what you want most for what you want today.”

    “Even if work were not an economic necessity, it is a spiritual necessity.”

    “When we rejoice in beautiful scenery, great art, and great music, it is but the flexing of instincts acquired in another place and another time.”

    “Faith, hope, and charity…must be carefully and constantly nurtured, whereas despair, like dandelions, needs so little encouragement to sprout and spread. Despair comes so naturally to the natural man!”

    “The acceptance of the reality that we are in the Lord’s loving hands is only a recognition that we have never really been anywhere else.”

    “Discouragement is not the absence of adequacy but the absence of courage.”

    “We are so busy constantly checking our own temperatures, we fail to notice the burning fevers of others.”

    “Ultimate hope and daily grumpiness are not reconcilable.”

    “Truly we work and live on a streetful of splendid people, whom we are to love and serve even if they are uninterested in us!”

    “In the economy of Heaven, God does not send thunder if a still, small voice is enough, or a prophet if a priest can do the job.”

    “What we insistently desire, over time, is what we become.”

    “Beware not to get caught up in the thick of thin things.”

    “Patience stoutly resists pulling up the daisies to see how the roots are doing.”

    “When in situations of stress we wonder if there is any more in us to give, we can be comforted to know that God, who knows our capacity perfectly, placed us here to succeed.”

    “God, as a loving Father, will stretch our souls at times….The soul is like a violin string: it makes music only when it is stretched.”

    “If it’s fair, it isn’t a trial.”

    “We can be walking witnesses and standing sermons to which objective onlookers can say a quiet amen.”

    “We may never become accustomed to untrue and unjust criticism of us but we ought not to be immobilized by it.”

    “God’s grace will cover us like a cloak–enough to provide for survival but too thin to keep out all the cold.”

  14. I could not resist sharing a few more of Elder Maxwell’s brilliant aphorisms:
    “When we feel so alone, we cannot presume to teach him who, at the apogee of his agony, trod “the winepress alone” anything about feeling forsaken.”

    “In order for men to partake of the fruit of felicity, they must plant the seeds thereof.”

    “Alas, in our age, some arrogantly believe that if they cannot comprehend something, then God cannot comprehend it, either.”

    “As parenting declines, the need for policing increases.”

    “There will always be a shortage of police if there is a shortage of effective parents! Likewise, there will not be enough prisons if there are not enough good homes.”

    “If we entertain temptations, soon they begin entertaining us!”

    “Letting off steam always produces more heat than light.”

    “While we must always begin from where we are, we need not stay where we are.”

    “A persistent preoccupation with “freedom of speech” to the neglect of other freedoms can diminish the shelter available for religion and other precious freedoms.”

    “The people of Sodom and Gomorrah had absolute free speech, but did they have anything worth saying?”

    “He knows that having put his hand to the plow he must not look back, because when we are looking back, we are also holding back.”

    “Camelot began to give way to the world the moment Lancelot and Guinevere gave way to their appetites.”

    “When man has reached the periphery of the spiderweb of his own reason and logic, he can find the ropes of revelation upon which he can climb upward forever and ever.”

    “We had better want the consequences of what we believe or disbelieve, because the consequences will come!”

    ‘A society which permits anything will eventually lose everything!’

    ‘Take away a consciousness of eternity and see how differently time is spent.’

    ‘Take away an acknowledgement of divine design in the structure of life and then watch the mindless scurrying to redesign human systems to make life pain-free and pleasure-filled.”

    “Take away regard for the divinity in one’s neighbor, and watch the drop in our regard for his property.”

    “Take away basic moral standards and observe how quickly tolerance changes into permissiveness.”

    “Take away the sacred sense of belonging to a family or community, and observe how quickly citizens cease to care for big cities.”

    “A value-free society eventually imprisons its inhabitants.”

    “In a value-free society, the bottom line is clear—the costs are prohibitive!”

    “We face no hindering traffic jams on the road of repentance–it is a toll road, not a freeway, and applying Christ’s Atonement will speed us along.”

  15. Here are some my sister found in Proverbs:

    Where love is, there God is also

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge

    Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

    Be not wise in thine own eyes Ponder the path of thy feet

    Whom the Lord loveth he correcteth

    Whoso findeth God findeth life

    He that walketh uprightly walketh surely

    The labour of the righteous tendeth to life

    He that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him

  16. Probably not pithy enough to be real aphorisms, but here are a few short quotes that have influenced my life and beliefs. I guess the real challenge would be to try to distill these down into real aphorisms.

    “We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour…He is Man, the most terrible of the beasts.”
    – G. K. Chesterton, “Heretics”

    “A man…has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel.”
    – G. K. Chesterton, “Heretics”

    “Allas, why pleynen folk so in commune
    On purveiaunce of God, or of Fortune,
    That yeveth hem ful ofte in many a gyse
    Wel bettre than they kan hemself devyse?”
    – Geofrey Chaucer, “The Knight’s Tale”

    “The whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!”
    – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Notes from the Underground”

    “Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense.”
    – Thomas Jefferson

    “Education is not the means of showing people how to get what they want. Education is an exercise by means of which enough men, it is hoped, will learn to want what is worth having.”
    – Ronald Reagan

    “Anything is better than a breach of friendship– a real friend will say what you’d rather not hear.” – The Elder Edda

  17. Wonderful comments, all! I love the quotes from Elder Maxwell.

    I particularly enjoyed the quote from Bridge of Birds – I truly enjoyed the time my husband read that book to me…

  18. And here are some more from my sister (finding scriptures or existing aphorisms that matched some of the ones I made up):

    Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

    The righteous hath hope in his death.

    In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence

    Rejoice with the wife of thy youth… be thou ravished always with her love.

    Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die

    When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

    Fools mock, but they shall mourn

    He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated

    Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.

    There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

    As he thinketh in his heart, so is he

    To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress

    God is no respecter of persons

    But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal

    Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom

  19. Here’s another one of my favorites:

    “You take a man half-bad and a woman half-bad and put their two good halves together and you got one human all good to share between.”
    – Ray Bradbury, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

  20. A few dozen more can be found at GoodReads.

    Some of my favorites:

    “The slope contains many wonders not found at the summit.”
    ― Marty Rubin

    “The only way to fight nostalgia is to listen to somebody else’s nostalgia”
    ― Pete Hamill, Tabloid City

    “A man who wears a fragrant flower on his collar spreads a perfume wherever he goes. (141)”
    ― Prem Prakash

    “There is music you never hear unless you play it yourself.”
    ― Marty Rubin

    “Never trust a computer you can’t throw out a window”
    ― Steve Wozniak

  21. My sister’s kids like this one in particular:

    Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.

  22. What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

    More seriously:

    “I never met a man with dishonest calluses.”
    –My mother

    “Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.”
    -Oscar Wilde

    “There are no happy endings, because nothing ever ends.” -Schmendrik (The Last Unicorn).

    “If you fail to put the kingdom of God first, in the end, it will not matter what you have chosen first.”
    – Neal A. Maxwell

    “There is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace. The little things are infinitely the most important.”
    -Sherlock Holmes

    “If your priorities don’t include deadlits, you need to reevaluate your priorities.”
    –Mark Rippetoe

  23. “Romantic love is a trick that your DNA plays on you in order to replicate itself.” — Tir, on the TV series Andromeda.

  24. I just finished reading Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith. So I’m thinking of the aphorisms that informed the two world views of that trial:

    The highest law is the consensus of sensible men. (Thomas Sharp et al.) Or as Calvin A. Warren concluded in defense of the conspirators, “If these men are guilty, then are every man, woman, and child in the county guilty…” Interesting how the majority of county inhabitants, the Mormons, were thus reduced to not being included as amongst the set of “every man, woman, and child in the county.”

    The highest law is the law of God. (Brigham Young et al.) This is why the Mormons declined to participate in the trial against the conspirators. Their first priority was to complete the temple and obtain the ordinances they could only obtain in the temple.

  25. Re: Bridge of Birds I’ve never read another book that demands so insistently to be READ to some one else. I dream of Jackie Chan doing the audiobook.

    For a collection of good aphorisms I highly recommend that you look for the book Murphy’s Law. (http://www.amazon.com/Murphys-Law-26th-Anniversary-Edition/dp/0399529306/)

    One of the most useful laws collected therein is Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity.

  26. This is one of the most pithy aphorisms I’ve ever read:
    For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. — Moses 1:39

    When the people fear their government, there is tyranny;
    when the government fears the people, there is liberty.
    — Thomas Jefferson

  27. Apologies if these are repeats, or are not strictly speaking, aphorisms:

    “The gospel is not dumbed down because some of us are stupid, but because some of us are smart.”

    “There is no formula for Christian life – extremes are corrupt, and the middle ground is slippery. ”

    “Without higher consciousness the universe is nothing but worms in an infinite gut.”

    “Very few people that leave the good old folkways can keep from getting all mixed up in the mind. We can make raids and excursions into the wild, but it has to be from well kept strongholds. ”

    “The road leading to the promised land “flowing with milk and honey” of necessity runs by way of Mount Sinai, flowing with “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.””

    “A person or a society has not learned its lesson when it denies there is any lesson to learn.”

    “An apparatchik may be defined as a person who doesn’t mind how long a meeting goes on unless he has another meeting to attend.”

    “When Free Will looks in the mirror, it sees the pitiless face of Justice.”

    “The present is the living sum of all the past.”

    “Behold! we are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”

    “Old books are sovereign antidotes to the idiocies of the age, both the idiocies of style and those of content. ”

    “The greater the circle of our light, the greater the perimeter of our ignorance.”

    “Nothing is more tyrannical than the demand to be taken seriously.”

    “An aphorism that states its reasons is no aphorism at all. An aphorism is the tip of an iceberg of thought.”

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