What saying or event from the past has had such a profound influence on you that it currently affects your actions and way of life?

Thanks for the question. Well, in terms of “sayings,” there are many — things that were said by my friends when I was young, things I read in books over the years, things a teacher or mentor shared, things I heard at rallies and speeches, things a poet or musician crafted…so many. I think it is the totality of these influential pronouncements over time that led me to appreciate the power of language itself — to capture sentiment, to peel back the onion of insight, to generate sudden “ahas,” and do forth. And that appreciation has certainly stuck with me. It is a large part of what shaped my own desire to write essays and books, create music and songs, and for a few years to act on stage. Even in the midst of a casual conversation, I am fascinated with capturing the essence of an idea, experience or emotion in words…obsessed even. So the recognition of the beauty and power of language certainly persists, even into the briefest exchanges. And of course it is very likely why I participate in Quora.

In terms of influential events, well, those are equally plentiful, and what I have often written about — including how they have shaped my self-concept and ways of being. My book Memory : Self is focused mainly on this interplay.

But is there just one of each that I could point to as more profoundly influential than all the others? I suspect it would be different pairing on different days, depending on my mood — and certainly the emphasis has changed at different times in my life — so I’ll just share what bubbles up right now:

1) When I was twelve or thirteen years old, my dad, a clinical psychologist, explained the bell curve of human intelligence to me. He showed how most people hover within a few points of the mean IQ of 100. I was astonished. 100? Really? And only a slim percentage ranged 120 or above? I was stunned. How was that possible?! At that moment I began to realize one reason why so many really, really bad decisions get made both collectively and individually in human society: human being just aren’t that bright, on-the-whole. That’s not to say we can’t learn how to make wise decisions, or have profound insights into our condition, or even come up with some very clever ideas about how to solve complex problems. The history of human civilization is proof that, at least sometimes, humans can get things right. However, that history — including the very recent history of the past few years — also evidences that people can be really profound idiots. So having a way to frame this, to understand it in a statistical sense, has been very helpful. And of course that same bell curve applies to all sorts of other metrics, too…So, thanks Dad!

2) I think my own (albeit gradual and reluctant) spiritual awakening has informed my life in persisting and transformative ways.

3) Anyone who has had an abusive childhood knows that negative self-talk and downward emotional spirals can persist even with lots of therapy, lots of positive accomplishments, and lots of healthy relationships well into adult life. At age 52 I am still dealing with that childbhood trauma…and “managing” my own interior responses to that trauma as they are triggered (or just spontaneously well up) in the present. So…there’s that.

4) In terms of life events, what has always surprised and comforted me is the kindness I have seen in people — towards each other and towards me. I think having witnessed such kindness helps me have hope, even my darkest moments.

5) Marcus Aurelius said something that has stuck with me ever since I first read it, and it has been quite helpful in maintaining perspective: “People exist for one another. Teach them then, or bear with them.”

My 2 cents.