Updated: Nov 22, 2021
When I reflect on my journey, a handful of quotes spring to mind that leapt off the page as I read them, becoming embedded in me, creating those tipping points in my journey of self-awareness, empathy, and learning, a reminder of the words of Franz Kafka:
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
I list eight:
The unexamined life is not worth living
I have understood the importance of curiosity since age 16, when, sitting under a tree at school, I translated Socrates’ ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστον βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ as ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.
Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
In my formative years, I lived in an all-white, all-male boarding school and a social milieu that whispered anti-Semitism, often loudly. Hearing these words for the first time performed by my high school English teacher, prompted me to start questioning my attitudes to other people with ‘hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions’ like mine. It was shortly after this, that I read James Baldwin’s Another Country.
James Baldwin’s Another Country’s character Rufus:
You bastard, you motherfucking bastard. Ain’t I your baby, too? 
From within the walls of my boarding school, I observed the US civil rights movement and read, for example, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King’s The Letter from Birmingham Jail, and his speeches. In Australia, I observed the Freedom Ride that saw a group of university students travel through country towns in NSW to draw public attention to the poor state of Aboriginal people’s health, education, and housing. Aboriginal people were often barred from community clubs and swimming pools.
Yet it was Rufus’ words, spoken just before he jumped to his death, that became deeply embedded in me, in the surrounds of my school of Christian faith.
It is not enough for me to read that the sand on the seashore is soft. My bare feet must feel it. I have no use for knowledge that has not been preceded by a sensation.
Reading these words from Andre Gide’s Fruits of the Earth in my teens embedded in me the importance of travel, to walk not only the fields, beaches, rivers, valleys, and hills, but also through the villages, towns, and cities, letting our senses be our camera, experiencing the people, the nooks and crannies, the parks, the architecture (I have learnt to look up), and the out of the way art galleries and theatres. Does it matter if I do not reach my destination?
From your armchair you rule the world.
It took me a while to understand the depth of these words that I read in my teens, written by Kafka in a letter to his father. They must have impacted my unknown and bubbled to my known as I came to notice how I played out the patriarchal ways of being that I absorbed from my growing up. Years later, Margi Brown Ash and I understood the symbolism of the armchair when we used a round outdoor table as our indoor dining table. Being round allowed no-one an armchair, a position at the head of the table. We could practise the art of conversation where no-one had a physical position of power.
Education, the great mumbo-jumbo and fraud of the age, purports to equip us to live.
I read Malcolm Muggeridge’s Jesus Rediscovered in my 20s. Like Kafka’s words, they must have impacted my unknown and bubbled to my known when I became a parent of four children seeking schools that did equip our children to live. One of those was a Montessori school.
Montessori learning philosophy:
Help me help myself
Reading these words gave clarity to my aspirations as a parent and leader, not to tell, but to allow curiosity and creativity to blossom.
Parents do not reproduce, but create. In fact, we also discover.
I wear these words on my shoulder to keep at bay my controlling instincts and remind myself of how much we can learn from our children.
I would love to hear what quotes have impacted your journey? You can contact me through my website.
Footnotes: 1. Letter from Franz Kafka to Oskar Pollak (27 Jan 1904), Richard Winston (Translator), Clara Winston (Translator), Letters to Friends, Family and Editors, Schocken Books, 1977, p. 16. See https://wist.info/kafka-franz/22920/, accessed 21 November 2021.
2. James Baldwin, Another Country, The Dial Press, New York, 1962. Quote at the end of Chapter 1.
3. André Gide, The Fruits of the Earth, Vintage, 2002, at p. 14
4. I transcribed this quote to my diary at age 24. I have lost the source. In Google Books, I found a 2008 translation of Dear Father by Hannah and Richard Stokes, using ‘in your armchair’ instead of ‘from your armchair.’ I prefer ‘from.’ See https://www.google.com/books/edition/Dearest_Father/f6KfDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=In+your+armchair+you+rule+the+world&pg=PT16&printsec=frontcover, viewed 1 June 2021.
5. Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered, Family Library New York, 1974.
6. Andrew Solomon, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Vintage Books, 2014, p. 697.