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Published: Wed Jul 1 2009
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, El Fracoso de los Texeles / The Failure of the Church Women (detail), 2004, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.

Impulses we attempt to strangle only develop stronger muscles.

There is only one way to live against one’s own nature: unhappily.

History does not repeat itself; human nature does.

The small spirit is quick to misperceive an insult; the large spirit is
slow to receive a compliment.

However jeweled the mind, we also think through its defects.

Time heals old wounds only because there are new wounds to attend to.

A good listener helps us overhear ourselves.

Marrying for looks is like buying books for their pictures—a good
idea, if one cannot read.

Opposites attract; similarities last.

The most consummate actors are too accomplished in life to risk
exposure on film.

We are born with one umbilical cord but die with many.

Artificial people, like artificial flowers, last longer.

Secretly the complex covet the lot of the simple, which is why they
can be cruel.

To oscillate between feeling subhuman and superhuman is to be

Vegetarianism: the virtue of the misanthropic.

Morality: permitting others to behave only as we behave, when we

Envious of natural disasters, men create their own.

What we consider our soul’s secret is the unconfirmed rumor on the
tongues of strangers.

There is no such thing as other people, only our unrealized possibilities.

Respect for our elders is another form of respect for life.

The regrettable thing about insecurity is how dearly everyone else
must pay for it.

When people say they don’t look their age, it usually means they
don’t act it.

The personal made universal is art’s truth.

The dream, and nightmare, of all artists is that their creations should
come to life.

Tattoo: graffiti on a masterpiece.

Astrology: a pseudo-science that postulates that the world does not
revolve around us—the universe does.

Strange fate to sense oneself destined for public life and to settle for
a private one.

Ambiguity: the bastard child of Creativity and Cowardice.

Two good reasons to read: to better understand oneself or to forget
oneself altogether.

Different faiths are different dialects of the same Language.

Spirituality occurs at the boiling point of religion, where dogma

Miracles are proud creatures; they will not reveal themselves to those
who do not believe.

Intuition: generous deposits made to our account by an unknown

To speak of spiritual intimations is a kind of kiss-and-tell.

Goodness is not the absence of evil.

For the inconsolable, there is Nature.

What is considered eccentric in this world is commonplace in

Hope: the refusal to accept things as they are.

War: the side effect of nationalism.

Every person is an example for someone else; only a few are examples
for all.

Moral indignation is for Ideal Beings, not human beings.

Without the generosity of the poor, the rich would surely perish.

To give birth to God, the self must die in the delivery room.

Pleasure, not joy, may be snatched from life’s clenched fists.

To live and die for an ideal, not one or the other.

Not all suicides take their lives.

In life, as in love, graceful leave-taking is the epitome of gratitude.

Fables endure but truths are revised.

To be self-taught is not to have taught oneself but to have learned
from oneself.

The application of wisdom is no less difficult than its acquisition.

We are no more related to our past selves than we are to our future

An affinity exists between extremes; they are closer to one another
than to moderation.

The over-examined life is no more worth living than the unexamined.

Death’s most deceptive mask? Life.

Those who see signs everywhere should have their eyes examined.

Ideals: maps that omit practical details—like mountain ranges.

The power of ideals is such that they may be transmitted even by
those who do not live by them.

The idealist misses Life as she confesses in plain view.

The shoreline is where opinions should be etched.

Time cannot be trusted to keep a secret.

Self-image: self-deception.

All must pass, if we do not first.

Whoever speaks definitively speaks prematurely.

Man may be a social animal but Thought is a solitary creature.

Excuses: the first refuge of the failure.

Indirect communication permits us to be reckless with the truth,
confessing more than we would ordinarily dare.

Only after we have mastered a thing are we beyond it; this is true of
bodies, emotions, even words.

Things are at their most comfortable before they collapse—be they
armchairs or relationships.

It can be just as difficult to catch a whiff of our own anguish as it is
to detect our bad breath.

Eye contact: how souls catch fire.

Yahia Lababidi began writing aphorisms as a teenager in Egypt more than twenty years ago. Today, Lababidi is an internationally published aphorist, poet, and essayist, with work appearing in such publications as World Literature Today, Cimarron Review, AGNI, Rain Taxi, and Philosophy Now. He is the author of two collections of aphorisms, Where Epics Fail (Unbound, forthcoming 2017), featured on PBS NewsHour, and Signposts to Elsewhere (Jane Street Press, 2008), selected as a Book of the Year by The Independent (U.K.); three poetry collections, Balancing Acts: New & Selected Poems (1993–2015) (Press 53), Barely There (Wipf and Stock Publishers), and Fever Dreams (Crisis Chronicles Press); and an essay collection, Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Belly Dancing. Another of his projects is a series of ecstatic literary dialogues in collaboration with Alex Stein, The Artist as Mystic: Conversations with Yahia Lababidi. Lababidi’s work has appeared in several anthologies, including the bestselling Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing and Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists. His writing has been translated into Arabic, Slovak, Dutch, Swedish, Turkish, Spanish, Hebrew, German, and Italian, and he was chosen as a juror for the 2012 Neustadt Prize for International Literature. Lababidi is included in the first anthology of contemporary American aphorists, Short Flights: Thirty-Two Modern Writers Share Aphorisms of Insight, Inspiration, and Wit (Schaffner Press). (updated 2/2016)

Read Alex Stein‘s “The Prayer of Attention: A Conversation with Yahia Lababidi,” an AGNI Online interview excerpted in Harper’s Magazine’s “Links” for April 21, 2010.

A second interview appears in AGNI 74, Alex Stein‘s “The Exquisites: A Conversation with Yahia Lababidi.”

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