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Mary Catherine Bateson

  • When parents die, all of the partings of the past are reevoked with the realization that this time they will not return ...

  • The timing of death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it.

  • Worlds can be found by a child and an adult bending down and looking together under the grass stems or at the skittering crabs in a tidal pool.

  • The Christian tradition was passed on to me as a great rich mixture, a bouillabaisse of human imagination and wonder brewed from the richness of individual lives ...

  • Monotony and repetition are characteristic of many parts of life, but these do not become sources of conscious discomfort until novelty and entertainment are built up as positive experiences.

  • Fear is not a good teacher. The lessons of fear are quickly forgotten.

    • Mary Catherine Bateson,
    • in Bill Moyers, A World of Ideas ()
  • There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can't think without metaphors.

    • Mary Catherine Bateson,
    • in Bill Moyers, A World of Ideas ()
  • Jazz exemplifies artistic activity that is at once individual and communal, performance that is both repetitive and innovative, each participant sometimes providing background support and sometimes flying free.

  • Improvisation can be either a last resort or an established way of evoking creativity.

  • In many ways, constancy is an illusion ... Of any stopping place in life, it is good to ask whether it will be a good place from which to go on as well as a good place to remain.

  • Goals too clearly defined can become blinkers.

  • Fluidity and discontinuity are central to the reality in which we live.

  • Human beings tend to regard the conventions of their own societies as natural, often as sacred.

  • Most higher education is devoted to affirming the traditions and origins of an existing elite and transmitting them to new members.

  • Sharing is sometimes more demanding than giving.

  • The capacity to combine commitment with skepticism is essential to democracy.

  • I had repeatedly accepted inappropriate burdens, stepping in to do what needed to be done. In retrospect, I think I carried them well, but the cost was that I was chronically overloaded, weary, and short of time for politicking, smoothing ruffled feathers, and simply resting.

  • Often continuity is visible only in retrospect.

  • Every loss recapitulates earlier losses, but every affirmation of identity echoes earlier moments of clarity.

  • Solutions to problems often depend upon how they're defined.

Mary Catherine Bateson, U.S. cultural anthropologist, writer


MCB is the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.