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Human Beings

  • I am not a bibliophile but a humanophile: I look for rare human beings.

    • Natalie Clifford Barney,
    • "Scatterings" (1910), in Anna Livia, ed., A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney ()
  • I'm fond of human beings, but only one at a time.

    • Natalie Clifford Barney,
    • "Scatterings" (1910), in Anna Livia, ed., A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney ()
  • The idea is that inside every human being, however unprepossessing, there is a glorious, talented, and overwhelmingly attractive personality. Nonsense. Inside each of us is a mess of unruly, primitive impulses, and these can sometimes, under the strenuous self-discipline and dedication of art, result in notable creativity.


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  • To be human is to be in a story.

  • The best thing about being God would be making the heads.

  • Human nature is largely something that has to be overcome.

  • When man, Apollo man, rockets into space, it isn't in order to find his brother, I'm quite sure of that. It's to confirm that he hasn't any brothers ...

  • Animals we are, and animals we remain, and the path to our regeneration and happiness, if there be such a path, lies through our animal nature.

  • We plant a tree that won't be big enough to climb until we're too old to climb trees, we write constitutions to protect the rights of people who won't be born for another hundred years and may not be worth the trouble anyway, and we try to take care of our sick, though we all suffer from a disease for which there is no cure and no hope for one. We will not last and we know we will not — and still we write, carve, build, paint and plant to last. We are, it seems to me, very, very brave.

  • People don't alter. They may with enormous difficulty modify themselves, but they never really change.

  • ... we are so little, so ignorant, so feeble an infant race crawling on a planet between immensities we haven't even begun to understand, that really we have no grounds for either congratulation or despair.

    • Winifred Holtby,
    • "Episode in West Kensington" (1932), Pavements at Anderby ()
  • The human animal varies from class to class, culture to culture. In one way we are consistent: We are irrational.

  • ... there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before ...

  • But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.

  • We are not always even what we are most.

  • No matter how individual we humans are, we are a composite of everything we are aware of. We are a mirror of our times.

  • I liked human beings, but I did not love human nature.

  • ... man alone can enslave man.

  • Humanity can be roughly divided into three sorts of people — those who find comfort in literature, those who find comfort in personal adornment, and those who find comfort in food ...

  • If the whole human race lay in one grave, the epitaph on its headstone might well be: 'It seemed a good idea at the time.'

    • Rebecca West,
    • in Victoria Glendinning, "Talk With Rebecca West," The New York Times Book Review ()
  • I am sometimes led to think that human nature is a very perverse thing, and much more given to evil than to good.

    • Abigail Adams,
    • to her daughter (1791), Letters of Mrs. Adams ()
  • ... it is very hard to know of most men and to know it in many women in the middle of their living what there is in them, what there is as a bottom to them, what there is mixed up inside them. Slowly, more and more, one gets to know them as repeating comes out in them. In the middle of their living they are always repeating, everybody always is repeating in all of their whole living but in the middle of the living of most men and many women it is hard to be sure about them just what it is they are repeating, they are in their living saying many things then and it is hard to know it about them then what it is in them they are repeating that later in their living will show itself to be the whole of them to any one who wants to watch them.

  • The kind of loving women and men have in them and the ways it comes out from them makes for them the bottom nature in them, gives to them their kind of thinking, makes the character they have all their living in them, makes them then their kind of women and men and there are always many millions made of each kind of them.

  • After all human beings are like that. When they are alone they want to be with others and when they are with others they want to be alone ...

  • I am getting sick of people. I am falling in love with things. They hold their tongues ...

  • ... what is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine?

  • Poor human nature, what horrible crimes have been committed in thy name!

  • No circumstance in the natural world is more inexplicable than the diversity of form and color in the human race.

  • Human behavior is timeless.

  • That man is a creature who needs order yet yearns for change is the creative contradiction at the heart of the laws which structure his conformity and define his deviancy.

  • Remember / the bread you meet each day / is still rising / Don't scare the dough.

  • Human nature is a mystic duality, half animal, half angel; a worm, a God; and the contrast and strife between the two natures is never so marked as in the gifted.

  • Brown people and black people and red people swarmed through our great halls, until those who were white looked simply faded-out human beings beside them. Indeed, I came to see that white is not a color in skin any more than in textiles, and if it had not quality, it had no value even for humanity. I saw that color in skin had a certain advantage in strength and warmth as a means of beauty.

  • Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.

  • People cannot be molded like clay.

  • Human beings are more alike than unalike. Whether in Paris, Texas, or Paris, France, we all want to have good jobs where we are needed and respected and paid just a little more than we deserve. We want healthy children, safe streets, to be loved and have the unmitigated gall to accept love. If we are religious, we want a place to perpetuate God. If not, we want a good lecture every once in a while. And everyone wants someplace to party on Saturday nights.

  • Human nature is potentially aggressive and destructive and potentially orderly and constructive.

  • ... our humanity rests upon a series of learned behaviors, woven together into patterns that are infinitely fragile and never directly inherited.

  • Laughter is man's most distinctive emotional expression. Man shares the capacity for love and hate, anger and fear, loyalty and grief, with other living creatures. But humor, which has an intellectual as well as an emotional element, belongs to man.

  • ... man's most human characteristic is not his ability to learn, which he shares with many other species, but his ability to teach and store what others have developed and taught him.

  • Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

    • Margaret Mead,
    • "Mead's Maxim," in John Peers, ed., 1,001 Logical Laws ()
  • Choice is a signature of our species.

  • We like to gloat about being at the top of the food chain, but the truth is that we jumped line. Other animals are faster, tougher, stronger, better armored. What we are is mindier. Our brains indulge in a form of mischief that, for lack of a better word, we call thought. We're among the rarest of the rare not because of our numbers, but because of the unlikeliness of our being here at all, the pace of our evolution, our powerful grip on the whole planet, and the precariousness of our future. We are evolutionary whiz kids who are better able to transform the world than to understand it. Other animals cannot evolve fast enough to cope with us. It is possible that we may also become extinct, and if we do, we will not be the only species that sabotaged itself, merely the only one that could have prevented it.

  • The human organism has only so much energy at its disposal. If you divert a great deal of it into any one channel, you can expect the others to collapse or atrophy. If you squander your vital energies on your emotional life, as you have been doing, plan to be physically and mentally bankrupt, as it were.

  • People have only one way to be.

  • Contradictions in human character are one of its most consistent notes ...

  • The human species is forever in a state of change, forever becoming.

  • ... we are not human beings learning to be spiritual; we are spiritual beings learning to be human.

  • ... humans are by nature unnatural. We do not yet walk 'naturally' on our hind legs, for example: such ills as fallen arches, lower back pain, and hernias testify that the body has not adapted itself completely to the upright posture. Yet this unnatural posture ... is precisely what has made possible the development of important aspects of our 'nature': the hand and the brain, and the complex system of skills, language, and social arrangements which were both effects and causes of hand and brain.

  • Physical weather certainly is beyond our control. ... But human weather — the psychological climate of the world — is not beyond our control. The human race is its own rain and its own sun. It creates its own cyclones and anti-cyclones. The ridges of high pressure which we sometimes enjoy, the troughs of low pressure which we so often endure, are of our own making and nobody else's.

    • Jan Struther,
    • "The Weather of the World," A Pocketful of Pebbles ()
  • The individual — stupendous and beautiful paradox — is at once infinitesimal dust and the cause of all things.

  • Nature never repeats herself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.

    • Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
    • "The Solitude of Self," speech to the U.S. House Judiciary committee & farewell speech to the National American Woman Suffrage Association ()
  • Civilization may progress, human nature will remain the same throughout all ages.

  • In a city you thought of all life as human life. You had to live in the heart of the woods to realize that humanity was a slight ripple on the surface of a flood of life that seeped into every vacant crack, flowed into every biological vacuum the moment it occurred.

  • Humans can learn to like anything, that's why we are such a successful species. You can drop humans anywhere and they'll thrive — only the rat does as well.

    • Jeannette Desor,
    • in Ellen Ruppel Shell, "Chemists Whip Up a Tasty Mess of Artificial Flavors," Smithsonian ()
  • ... behind every door, a nut like oneself.

  • The human community is evolving. ... We can survive anything you care to mention. We are supremely equipped to survive, to adapt and even in the long run to start thinking.

  • Maybe the tragedy of the human race was that we had forgotten we were each Divine.

  • [Elephants] are less agile and physically less adaptable than ourselves — Nature having developed their bodies in one direction and their brains in another, while human beings, on the other hand, drew from Mr. Darwin's lottery of evolution both the winning ticket and the stub to match it. This, I suppose, is why we are so wonderful and can make movies and electric razors and wireless sets — and guns with which to shoot the elephant, the hare, clay pigeons, and each other.

  • It is almost as hard for us to sense our own species quality as it is to sense our species smell.

  • I discuss humanity and not races.

  • [When her prospective father-in-law announced his son was marrying 'out of the race':] There is only one race, the human race.

  • God, what pathetic creatures had inherited the earth, to walk a little while with their eyes upon the stars and turn their gaze too soon upon the ground that held their feet!

  • Isn't it strange some people make / You feel so tired inside, / Your thoughts begin to shrivel up / Likes leaves all brown and dried? / But when you're with some other ones, / It's stranger still to find / Your thoughts as thick as fireflies / All shiny in your mind!

  • People are always more and less than what we understand them to be.

  • ... we have not crawled so very far / up our individual grass-blade / toward our individual star.

  • Everybody is a story.

  • For some strange reason, we believe that anyone who lived before we were born was in some peculiar way a different kind of human being from any we have come in contact with in our own lifetime. This concept must be changed; we must realize in our bones that almost everything in time and history has changed except the human being.

    • Uta Hagen,
    • with Haskel Frankel, Respect for Acting ()
  • We might likewise say that humans are the neurotics of the animal world, in that they are the only animals who must choose to be instead of just instinctively being.

  • Humanity finds itself in the midst of the world. In the midst of all other creatures humanity is the most significant and yet the most dependent upon the others.

    • Hildegard of Bingen,
    • Scivias (1150), in Gabriele Uhlein, ed., Meditations With Hildegard of Bingen ()
  • People make institutions, not vice versa.

  • Laugh at humanity, eating, drinking, wenching its way through life, and, when its belly was full and its appetite sated, bawling laments for its bondage to the flesh. A comic ox, humanity, that, once stuffed with fodder, rolled its eyes to heaven to exclaim, 'Is this then all of life?' and contemplated a vacuous existence through sleep-heavy lids.

  • ... though the outside of human life changes much, the inside changes little, and the lesson-book we cannot graduate from is human experience.

  • Everyone has in him something precious that is in no one else.

    • Ruth Thomas,
    • "Negro in the School Conflicts Due to Racial Imbalance," in The Clearing House ()
  • If you are a human being, you might as well face it. You are going to rub a lot of people the wrong way.

  • 'I'm not just anybody.' 'No, indeed. Nobody is.'

  • Being human means losing everything we love best in the world. But would you ask to be anything else?

  • It's a hard time to be human. We know too much and too little.

  • Two things have always surprised me: the intelligence of animals and the bestiality of human beings.