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Joshua Wolf Shenk quotes (showing 1-30 of 77)

“Lincoln's story confounds those who see depression as a collection of symptoms to be eliminated. But it resonates with those who see suffering as a potential catalyst of emotional growth. "What man actually needs," the psychiatrist Victor Frankl argued,"is not a tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling of a worthwhile goal." Many believe that psychological health comes with the relief of distress. But Frankl proposed that all people-- and particularly those under some emotional weight-- need a purpose that will both draw on their talents and transcend their lives. For Lincoln, this sense of purpose was indeed the key that unlocked the gates of a mental prison. This doesn't mean his suffering went away. In fact, as his life became richer and more satisfying, his melancholy exerted a stronger pull. He now responded to that pull by tying it to his newly defined sense of purpose. From a place of trouble, he looked for meaning. He looked at imperfection and sought redemption.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“Why is it that all men who have become outstanding in philosophy, statesmanship, poetry or the arts are melancholic,”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“A person with a melancholy temperament had been fated with both an awful burden and what Byron called “a fearful gift.” The burden was a sadness and despair that could tip into a state of disease. But the gift was a capacity for depth, wisdom—even genius.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“The inclination to exchange thoughts with one another is probably an original impulse of our nature. If I be in pain I wish to let you know it, and to ask your sympathy and assistance; and my pleasurable emotions also, I wish to communicate to, and share with you. —ABRAHAM LINCOLN, February 11, 1859”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“Whatever greatness Lincoln achieved cannot be explained as a triumph over personal suffering. Rather, it must be accounted for as an outgrowth of the same system that produced that suffering. This is not a story of transformation but one of integration. Lincoln didn’t do great work because he solved the problem of his melancholy. The problem of his melancholy was all the more fuel for the fire of his great work.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“In his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, the psychiatrist Victor Frankl described the essence of what has come to be known as an existential approach to the human condition with this metaphor: “If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch,” he wrote, “they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together.” It is similarly true, he said, that therapy aimed at fostering mental health often should lay increased weight on a patient, creating what he described as “a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward the meaning of one’s own life.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“They saw him as he was, a full man whose griefs and solaces and talents ran together.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“As Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“I close. We are not we must not be aliens or enemies but fellow countrymen and brethren. Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly they must not I am sure they will not be broken. The mystic chords of memory which proceeding from so many battle fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.   Lincoln”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“How true it is that ‘God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,’ or in other words, that He renders the worst of human conditions tolerable, while He permits the best, to be nothing better than tolerable.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“That solitude promotes insight as well as change,” Storr continues, “has been recognized by the great religious leaders”—including the Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed—“who have usually retreated from the world before returning to it to share what has been revealed to them.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“Lincoln was raised in the thick of Old School Calvinism. In Kentucky and Indiana, his parents belonged to a fire-breathing sect called Separate Baptism, in which congregants heard—in the tradition of Jonathan Edward’s famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”—that they were bound for eternal hellfire, and nothing they could do or say or think would change their fate. Preachers did allow that a chosen few were ordained for grace and would be saved, but these fortunate ones had been selected by God before time began. As one Baptist preacher in Lincoln’s Kentucky explained it, “Long before the morning stars sang together . . . the Almighty looked down upon the ages yet unborn, as it were, in review before him, and selected one here and another there to enjoy eternal life and left the rest to the blackness of darkness forever.” Such Baptist ministers were so intense that it has been said that they “out-Calvined Calvin.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“High-level creative exchange depends on both hierarchical and fluid power relationships.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs
“He arrived tentatively at his own idea, that melancholy arose from natural, sometimes beneficent forces. Talking about it in plain human terms was his first step toward claiming his own ground as a person who, through no fault of his own, needed help.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“In the fourth century, John Cassian described a condition among his fellow monks that he called “acedia”: a “weariness or distress of heart . . . akin to dejection” that took “possession” of unhappy souls and left them lazy, sluggish, restless, and solitary. Later, acedia became widely translated as sloth, one of the seven deadly sins, and blended with melancholy in the popular mind. Both required, at the very least, confession and penitence.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“The American tradition of separation of church and state grew directly from the freethinking of the Founders. After political independence, they considered independence of thought and belief a logical next step.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“It is a signal feature of depression that, in times of trouble, sensible ideas, memories of good times, and optimism for the future all recede into blackness.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal. We now practically read it, ‘all men are created equal, except negroes. When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics. When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.” In”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“One crucial distinction between major depression and chronic depression is that, in the latter, one largely ceases to howl in protest that the world is hard or painful. Rather, one becomes accustomed to it, expecting such hardship and greeting it with, at best, a stoic determination.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“The distinction is essential. Fault implies a failure or weakness for which a person should be held to account, if not outright blamed. Misfortune is an unhappy circumstance, something bad that has happened to a blameless good person.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“In particular, he named three kinds of troubles that could beset a person with a nervous temperament: poor weather, isolation or idleness, and stressful events.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“Suffering was not a punishment from beyond or a malevolent infestation of the soul. Like the earth turning on its axis or energy passing through a conductor, it was a part of the natural world, to be studied, understood, and, when possible, managed.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“A person with a melancholy temperament had been fated with both an awful burden and what Byron called “a fearful gift.” The burden was a sadness and despair that could tip into a state of disease. But the gift was a capacity for depth, wisdom—even genius.   In”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“When a depressed person does get out of bed, it’s usually not with a sudden insight that life is rich and valuable, but out of some creeping sense of duty or instinct for survival. If collapsing is sometimes vital, so is the brute force of will. To William James we owe the insight that, in the absence of real health, we sometimes must act as if we are healthy. Buoyed by such discipline and habit, we might achieve actual well-being.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk
“looking on the dark side, in some scenarios, is valuable. In the midst of a disaster, the man who loudly proclaims the coming trouble will surely be more valuable than the optimist who sits dreamily admiring the daisies. It”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“I want it said of me by those who know me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“Modern researchers have identified one or more major mood disorders in John Quincy Adams, Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson, Benjamin Disraeli, William James, William Tecumseh Sherman, Robert Schumann, Leo Tolstoy, Queen Victoria, and many others. We may accurately call these luminaries “mentally ill,” a label that has some use—as did our early diagnosis of Lincoln—insofar as it indicates the depth, severity, and quality of their trouble. However, if we get stuck on the label, we may miss the core fascination, which is how illness can coexist with marvelous well-being. In”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“A creeping fear of madness often accompanies depression. Sufferers wonder if their black moods will ever lift, or if their feelings of alienation from the healthy world will deepen and widen. “These fears are at least fifty percent of what it is to be melancholy,”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“Indeed, nothing less than the understanding of God’s earth was in flux. For centuries, the church had censored scientific ideas that were contrary to Christian doctrine. When censorship ended, new questions flourished. For example, biblical scholars had long said with confidence that the world was about six thousand years old—that it had been created in six days, beginning at 9 A.M. on October 23, 4004 B.C. Then geologists showed that the world had been created over the course of eons. This in turn led to theories of evolution, to which Charles Darwin, in 1859, would add his theory of natural selection. Imagine living at a time of such discovery. Lincoln became a proponent of evolution.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness

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