My friend Beston Jack Abrams refers to himself as the “ancient aphorist,” because he turned 90 last month and is still reading, writing and thinking about aphorisms. He recently published Volumes I–IX of his collected works, Abramisms: Lines of The Ancient Aphorist. But Jack’s nickname is even more appropriate for another reason. He is an accomplished practitioner of the oldest form of aphorism in existence—the moral saying.
The very earliest aphorisms ever recorded, in Egypt and China more than 5,000 years ago, are concise life lessons passed on from parent to child. Many of the greatest moral aphorists were also preachers, writers and speakers able to compress a profound sermon into a simple sentence. So I was not surprised to read in the afterword to Jack’s most recent book that early in his schooling, an aptitude test (allegedly, Jack says) discovered he had the mental profile frequently found in clergymen. Jack may think he missed his true calling to spread the Word, instead pursuing a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, but I think he just found an unexpected pulpit—the aphorism.
Jack, like all the best moralists, doesn’t moralize. And he’s never preachy. In his writing, he seeks to follow the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olum, which he describes as “a concept that each of us is obliged to contribute to alleviating as best we can the difficulties of our world.” Jack’s contributions are incisive, insightful analyses of human nature, unfailingly delivered with deep empathy and mischievous humor …
Happiness thrives on a diet of reduced expectations.
Maturity arrives when we do not feel diminished by what we do not know.
Among my investments listening is the least costly and the most profitable.
Defeat is not permanent unless we refuse to accept it.
Unintended consequences are inevitable.
Science gives us facts; fiction gives us truths.
Unless you can sometimes laugh at yourself, I cannot take you seriously.
Humility is merited more often than it is demonstrated.
In his nine decades on the planet, Jack has lived a lot of history. His more politically-inclined aphorisms are wise and timely reminders that the same perils repeatedly present themselves—and to avoid repeating the same mistakes, we need to return to the same solutions …
A peaceful life requires a tolerance for contradictions and foreigners.
Complete arrogance is the result of incomplete data.
There is no alchemy that changes opinions into facts; the search continues for an alchemy that allows facts to alter opinions.
In comparing the corrupt with the incompetent, choose the former; at least they know what they’re doing.
Fortresses are still fashionable: every day we build them around our prejudices.
Nothing causes greater adherence to an opinion than opposition to it.
If we don’t accept reality today, it will not disappear but will return tomorrow as myth and legend.
The past should be valued as a source of light rather than a place of residence.
I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Jack only once in person, in 2007 at a talk I gave in Philadelphia. But since that time, I’ve been privileged to consider myself Jack’s correspondent, aphoristic confidante and friend. However ‘ancient’ an aphorist he may be, Jack is living proof of the enduring vitality of the form—and the lasting vivacity and value of his own aphorisms.
It only remains for me to give Jack the last word:
“With words we pursue and sometimes capture reality. On with the chase.”