Between the Silences: A Collection of David Sztybel's Aphorisms

Sayings and maxims that David has written over the years.

Background for this Article

Various sayings, maxims and aphorisms that took residence with David over the years.

This collection is presented in the following five parts:

  1. The Ideal
  2. Pursuit of Knowledge
  3. Communication
  4. Humanity
  5. Society

The Ideal

To choose the lesser is to be the lesser.

Relaxing is just being oneself, and not straining to be that which one is not.

The more one struggles, the more of a struggle there is.

It is a grave limitation not to recognize and to work within one's limitations.

Patience alone allows one mastery of one's time, and gentleness alone enables one to abide peacefully in one's space.

If we only think of not screwing up, then we will think about the screwing up, and not success. And we will go where the thoughts will lead us.

Do not force things before their time; do not hesitate when you know the time has come.

Somewhere between "too little, too late" and "too much, too soon," there is timeliness.

Just as concrete is made up of things that are, themselves, very unlike concrete--water, loose sand, bits of stone--so a productive life will contain parts that are, themselves, very unlike a productive life.

In almost every instance, it is easier intelligently to work with someone rather than against.

In countering an adversary, people often look to strengths and weaknesses on both sides. However, there are also aspects which are neither especially strong nor weak. It would be a mistake to count these as deficiencies, underestimating them, or as outstanding strengths, which bring one to overcompensate in one's response. A moderate or merely sufficient approach is apt in such cases.

People speak of the enviableness of being popular, but of all people who agree with oneself, it is oneself that matters most.

Before you follow the way of the crowd, be sure that this path is also your own.

Integrity, they say, is widely admired. But to have it one must first be willing to be ill-regarded.

Although one can be relatively expert in the study of ethics, or aspects of it, no one can give it "authority" for oneself except one's own conscience. Otherwise, authority is mere say-so, which falls on different sides in disarray.

A completely open heart is at the crux of the guide, not necessarily the guided.

There is a difference between having an "open mind," and having a stubbornly vacuous "empty mind."

A fool deceives himself or herself at least as much as he or she is deceived by others.

In order to be fully honest with others, you must first be honest with yourself.

Dishonest people not only have problems relating to others, and vice versa, but also, profound difficulties in relating to themselves.

Everyone excels or is incomparable to everyone else in just being oneself.

Self-realization may involve much renunciation of self.

Lacking integrity or consistency is lacking wholeness of person.

The beginning of others undermining your self-confidence is your own self-doubt. Without excessive self-doubt, it cannot happen.

Self-esteem, just like one's esteem of others, must, at least in part, be earned.

One cannot redeem the past, but only differently deem the future.

One who keeps his or her mind open towards the future may find that the future is open towards oneself.

At least people do not procrastinate about practicing procrastination.

People who behave awfully often hurt themselves more than others because they cut themselves away from those who are worth associating with, whereas the latter people are frequently only faced with someone who may not be worth associating with.

One cannot be subjugated to another without first subjugating oneself to one's own wrongful act of will--or lack of it.

People sometimes think of their lives as unchallenging. That, however, is only because they do not challenge themselves to do great things, and to do mundane things in between as well and as expeditiously as possible. Even rest is a challenge to abstain from activity towards great things.

Searching is a meaningful activity, although many think they are "nowhere" while doing it. They are, rather, at a unique vantage point, ideally, without the entanglements of a certain path.

You can't do it all, only all you can do--which will have to be enough for you, if not all.

Rather than despair at a setback, try hoping differently.

If you can read or understand this, then take heart that yours is one of the better lots, for this is not yet the worst.

One's own attitude can be a punisher or a deliverer.

Defeatists assume we cannot change things and so do not try. Sometimes all we can change in a situation is our response to it, and that, sometimes, is enough to change the world.

It is not necessarily the case that the more beautiful the ideal vision, the more awful gap between it and reality. After all, the lesser visions illuminate no bridges between the real and the ideal, or do not substantially point the way at all.

One ought to live, or to be cut down, in full pursuit of life's higher purposes, not to use life as a mere means to some lower purpose.

Liberation could only appear as simply glorious if we focus on the liberators, and not the oppressed.

Pursuit of Knowledge

It would be all too easy to become impatient for philosophical wisdom, which can be most frustrating to pursue. Yet this is a case where patience is most needed.

Most people think that the greatest mystery must be the answer to one of the questions of humanity. But more likely, the greatest mystery is an answer to a question that we do not even know how to ask.

If there is a key to existence, it must be so far beyond us as to appear no less mysterious than the universe itself.

While some people might not be able to resist a good mystery, the reverse is very often not the case.

Life, like anything else, only has meaning in context.

The truth is sometimes hard. But one way or another, people often make it even harder.

Most people think they are "right" most of the time. Imagine that.

A person's "true feelings" may be what they would feel if only they understood the truth.

What better way to combat prejudice than through an inquiry which puts aside all prejudices from the start, and will not readmit such belief without justification?

A cynic will say that philosophers only seek to prove views that they already hold. Can we ignore our honest opinions? Rather, a philosopher might seek to test all views, including those he or she already tends to believe.

Those who are willing to assert without justification are also apt to deny without sufficient basis. Indeed, a denial is just another form of assertion.

If the most famed thinkers assumed as little as possible in their theories, there would be very few well-known thinkers.

Philosophy is not a lot of crap. At its best, it illustrates the art of putting crap just where it belongs.

Philosophy can be very tricky, but perhaps we would get tricked even more without it.

One skilled in martial arts may well be less violent than those unskilled in the use of physical force. The more art, including philosophy, the less violence. So it is with argument in general. One skilled in this will do less violence to others' positions.

There is a rationality to irrationality, an intelligibility to the possibilities of ignorance, and delusions which manifest themselves just alongside the lucid and the rational.

The principles of change themselves are unchangeable.

We are agents continually acted upon.

Everything that contains something is itself contained.

Those who are obsessed with something will, paradoxically, see others as more limited. Those who are not obsessed will see those engaged in obsessive activity as more limited. What is a hated encumbrance to one is what another seeks to set him or her free.

People think they are "free" in this society when they have property to walk around on, things to accumulate and to service. They do not realize that the greatest freedom is in a mind that is not enslaved to things.

Material wealth may be either with you, or not with you, but never can it truly be a part of you.

Human enlightenment must be great knowledge--but never omniscience.

Nothing becomes more apparent in the theory of knowledge than the fact that humans are finite knowers.

To believe, absolutely, without sufficient evidence is one kind of vanity. Absolutely to disbelieve what all the evidence suggests is also a kind of conceit. Neither to believe nor disbelieve, where the data are unresolved, to wonder--that is humility. All belief short of absolute certainty may be mixed with wonder.

Pure experience is the closest we can ever get to nothingness, while still remaining ourselves.

It is the intangible that can touch us most deeply.

How could we presume to know any Creator when we barely know what is referred to as the created?

People often speak of "their" theories. In spite of such pride, the better a theory is, or the closer it is to the truth, the more it is no one's in particular, but just what is the case.

Entirely agreeing with another's philosophy would amount to exactly aligning a whole system of complexly interrelated refinements. This challenge occurs in light of the fact that the most basic premises themselves, which are more basic than the refinements, are themselves only crudely grasped by so many people, or scarcely understood at all. It is presumptuous to aim fundamentally to enlighten another if one can merely hope for enlightenment oneself. One can hope, further, that the truth may enlighten us all. The aim of establishing a philosophical consensus by debating with others, then, is an aim with precarious chances of success. One is not primarily responsible for dealing with others' stumbling-blocks to enlightenment, but rather with one's own. One cannot even seek to "unblock" another unless one has done so oneself.

Theories can be refuted, so theoreticians should not count on their truth for self-validation. Living a good or virtuous life, however, including by putting in honest effort at understanding, can never be refuted.

The art of competently taking risks essentially involves, at some level, not knowing what one is doing as a rational activity.

IQ tests measure precisely what they seem to measure: speed and accuracy in answering certain culturally delimited questions. As for intelligence, that is another matter. Acts of great intelligence--even genius--can be slow, deliberate, faltering, and creative.

Intelligence puts knowledge to use. Wisdom puts intelligence to use.


Don't think nonsense, don't speak nonsense, don't write nonsense, don't do nonsense, don't heed nonsense--except for fun.

What is said must embody a respect for what remains unsaid.

You may not always be talking, but you should always be listening.

Drink deeply of the silences as well as the sounds.

Starting communication with people wherever they happen to be at is about as close as one can get to making concessions to what is popular, per se, while retaining one's integrity.

Words imply things that are, themselves, not fully expressible.

Mere snideness of tone smells just like an outright ad hominem attack, only there is no body to prove the crime.

Sarcastic people speak as though they think that they have superior credibility. Perhaps they do not realize that others will doubt their sincerity in making positive statements in general.

Before concluding that "actions speak more eloquently than words," one must also understand that speaking, too, is a form of action.

Even stupid statements are profound, revealing our fantastic finitude against the majesty of the infinite.

Discourse is said, ideally, to focus on issues, not speakers. It is a truisim that in assessing the issues, one ought to attend primarily to the issues. However, there remains a prominent ad hominem aspect to discourse, insofar as the speaker or writer is, without fail, evaluated as to clarity, reasonableness, compassion, humour, and any other capacity which one might be held accountable to exercise.

We must not aim to impress in terms of the creation of false impressions. However, we do wish to communicate things which must be impressed upon others.


One can have no greater house than an open mind, no vehicle more splendid than the imagination, no funds more inexhaustible than inspiration, no investment more wise than living artfully, and no luxuries more refined than true appreciation of life.

A person's being of great intelligence is no guarantee of their being adaptive towards positive change. As easily, such a trait could enable more resourcefulness and tenacity in resisting positive changes--for any number of reasons.

There is never a river with one shoreline. There is never a person with only one side.

Rather than being either misanthropes or the opposite, let us, rather, be nonanthropes, those who refuse to make evaluative overgeneralizations about human beings.

Before one walks gracefully, one must expect, at first, to stumble--perhaps even to fall.

We must expand ourselves--and also limit ourselves--mainly because we are limited.

Sleeping-time can sometimes be more constructive than waking-time.

Some collapses from fatigue are much more admirable than others' great bursts of activity. This may be due to the former's inoffensiveness, restorative virtue, or deservedness. More than that, rests are often beautiful pauses in the music of a life, and absences of sounds define music fully as much as sound.

We are moral animals. To have pride in that capacity is inappropriate, since we are not responsible for having it in the first place, and often do not take responsibility for it in the second place.

Some speak as though "humanity" is synonymous with "moral greatness," and to gain in humanity is to gain in moral greatness. Yet if we encountered a morally distinguished nonhuman, would such a being be lacking in humanity?

The term for our species, homo sapiens, literally means "man the wise." Yet we are not born with actual wisdom, it would seem, nor have the wisest among us attained full wisdom. As for the rest of us? Let is just be said that we are not an entire species of wise beings.

Sometimes a joke is not nearly so funny as the fact that someone would laugh at it.

Napoleon Bonaparte noted that from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step. The reverse is also true, in some cases, if one but abstains from contemptuous regard.

Pride makes us think that we have things that we do not, that we are things that we are not, and that we can achieve things that we cannot.

One should not boast that one is more than one is, nor belittle oneself that one is less than one is.

Excessive pride is about as common as claims to humility.

One of the awful sureties about your insecurities is that while you may have difficulty escaping them, it remains that they can easily escape you.

Some people go to the extreme of jealously resenting the very existence of beautiful people, especially if one is unattached. But a world in which one is unattached to the beautiful because there are none would be so much worse.

In the physicalism of our age, beauty is equated with physical beauty, or is dismissed as an illusion altogether. It is real in beings' experience of the world, but is only part of a person's appearance that may or may not be judged beautiful. Rather than fixate purely on the physical, there is also character, how a person moves, how someone speaks, thinks, how one feels, chooses, creates, relates, perceives, focuses, and so on. One appears to do or be all of these things, and all may be part of one's beauty--or not. While "love at first sight" may be a myth, love at first appearance of a person as a whole may be one of the most wonderful realities conceivable.

If clothing, make-up, and hairstyling make a statement, then it is not a very articulate or informative one.

The 100th monkey (1) Most people do not think for themselves, but allow others to think for them. Thus, they conform to one or another established way of thinking, and are critical only with reference to this way of thinking. While some free thought is possible, particularly when contradictions arise in their lives and become acute, it generally does not occur. So free thought must be forced to occur, in many cases, either by natural developments or artificial arrangements. Only those who are mentally engaged and critical of the foundations will shift to a new paradigm, and the masses will follow only once the admired "thinking people" become dominated by the new vision. At this point, the intellectuals become the new set of people for the masses to imitate. Perhaps this point, at which new ideas become established and respected amongst intellectuals, and people massively begin to imitate, is the point at which "the hundredth monkey" is reached.

For some, hope is too much to hope for. Inching through life, clinging to the actual, including all virtually "actual" or safe possibilities, they despair of living, although perhaps not yet of dying.

Optimism and pessimism, as stances to hold by observers of reality, are simplistic assessments of our existence. For the fact remains that we can move, and move the world, full of hope, even in the midst of despair...

If you totally lose hope, then you truly do become a "hopeless case."

There are two ways of smothering a flame: giving it too much to burn, or too little.

Death is the final proof of our vulnerability.

Our spirit lives with us, but does not die with us.

To be closely entrapped in human hovels often compares unfavourably to being bound by nothing but faraway horizons and open skies.


There is a certain strain of anti-culture in which to be self-interested is to do one's duty, and to take advantage of another is heroic.

"Enlightened egoism," perfectly realized, is enlightened psychopathy.

"Self-sacrificing" people often expect the same from others, so those others can sacrifice for the "sacrificers."

Overnice people make themselves obvious by grinning obsequiously, as though to assure others that they will pretend to share their interests, once they find out what they are.

Some supposed "deadbeats" are really "livebeats"--only it is harder to find a pulse.

If you do not watch out for your impertinences, then others will.

Your income tax bracket is not relevant to whether or not you are a classy person.

If philosophers are not so "wanted" in a given market economy, it may be a part of an indication that they are all the more needed.

Low levels of education in philosophy not only make it harder for a society to produce good philosophy, but even if it arises, it is that much harder for it to be appropriately consumed.

Bureaucracy is a game of musical paper-trays.

Loneliness is like success, in that it tends to build on itself.

If, as Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, "Hell is other people," does that mean Heaven is being alone for an eternity?

If one cannot happily fit in, one could try being a happy misfit.

The most "elevated" of cultures is open to all walks of life--including the nonhuman.

In this culture, especially with regard--or lack of regard--to nonhuman animals, it is often easier to get away with murder than it is to save lives.

Some people think they are "tough" in being abusive to certain classes of conscious beings. They are right, but they are tough because callused, and that in the wrong places.

Art accepts and promotes messy trash, and architecture celebrates the plain, boring, and the ugly, on the nihilistic premise that objectively, it is all the same in value, whichever way it happens to be. If that were true, it should not be possibly deliberately to select garbage in order to make one's "statement."

Shall children wish to be adults, adults wish to be children, and adolescents wish to be both or neither? Let everyone wish to be oneself.

Sex is associated with so many products and services, that sex itself may be said to be unwittingly advertised, itself, more than any other thing, hyping it more than ever happens in nature.

There are countlessly many things worse than being single, and being coupled helps to form a significant percentage of those scenarios.

One of the reasons why love and friendship can be so enduring is that it takes a lifetime for people to get to know each other. One of the reasons why love and friendship can be so short-lived is that it takes a moment to ignore another.

When people are loved, then no matter how heavy they may be, they are no burden.

What is softer and lighter than a feather, yet as tough and irresistible as a mighty weapon? Love.

To understand warfare only as a game, such as a living form of chess, is itself a war crime.

When people enroll in the military to get in shape, they are really enlisting to get shaped.

At least in principle, peace can last, but war cannot.

Calm resonates outward, even as violence. Therefore, the nonviolent person or animal will, it is to be hoped, have a calming effect on others.

What device is there that can turn carbon dioxide into life-giving oxygen? What process can produce, from the salt-rich seas, lakes and streams of fresh water? What apparatus can create a vegetable, a fruit, or an animal from the elements and energies? What human invention can make the elements and energies themselves? What human artifice an match the continuous energy of a quasar? Like art, science skirts about nature, but is never and can never be a substitute for nature. The most we can do through science and art is better to understand nature in relation to ourselves, and ourselves in relation to nature--which includes ourselves.

The ideal of creating a "perfect home" is an illusion. The Earth is our home, and it is all too imperfect, whatever walls one might erect to blind oneself to this reality.

The Earth's natural elasticity can only be pushed so far before it snaps back--or does not come back at all.

Books can shake the world, even causing tremors in the lives of the Great Unread.

What a genius can create, a fool can sometimes destroy. Happily, the converse is also true.

Those who are ahead of their time generally lag behind their contemporaries in general contentment.

Humankind, in general, is given the necessary means--the ends are up to us.

Will the people always disappoint because they are incapable of greatness, as a rule? Who appointed the masses to such a path in the first place, or anyone as the judge of true greatness in the last place?

The power of the imagination permits people to miss things they have never had and, in many cases, never could have.

Let each one of the governed be a political party unto oneself.

We must be patient in seeking to generate a new society, for that does indeed require generations. But without cultivating even the seeds, mere though they may be, nothing can grow but progressive decay.

We can make the world a brighter place by helping to illuminate the world views within it.

An ethical absolutist should not aim for world dominance, but merely hope that the truth, whatever that may happen to be, will gain world prominence, that people may choose accordingly.

The highest power is empowering others.


  1. Anthropological lore has it that monkeys learned to wash their food from each other on an island, and once the hundredth monkey learned, suddenly every one of them could do it. Some take this as a hopeful sign for progressive social change. Things seem uphill now, but maybe progressive ideas will suddenly and massively catch on at some point?