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Joshua Wolf Shenk quotes (showing 1-30 of 34)

“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“One of the basic ideas of the evangelical movement in the early nineteenth century was that people could help themselves. Rather than wonder and fear the fate God decreed for them, they could actively change their lives by renouncing sin and accepting Christ. From this same pool of thought rose a wave of healers who claimed that disease wasn’t a product of inscrutable humors that needed to be poisoned or purged from the body, but natural phenomena that could be studied and understood. This idea blended Enlightenment rationalism with evangelical optimism.”
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
“As late as 1820, families made three quarters of all goods—food, clothing, tools—for their own use.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“The individuals in great dyads will be very different from each other and very much alike. These simultaneous extremes generate the deep rapport and energizing friction that define a creative pair.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs
“Yet a period’s character does affect individual character. Psychology, the study of what happens in our minds, is tightly interwoven with culture, the name we give to our beliefs, practices, and social behaviors. The scholar Andrew Delbanco goes so far as to define culture as a collective psychological notion. “Human beings need to organize the inchoate sensations amid which we pass our days—pain, desire, pleasure, fear—into a story,” Delbanco writes. “When that story leads somewhere and thereby helps us navigate through life to its inevitable terminus in death, it gives us hope. And if such a sustaining narrative establishes itself over time in the minds of a substantial number of people, we call it culture.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“In the early nineteenth century, a new culture—a new idea about what to hope for—emerged for many Americans, centered around the independent self, under nation and God.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“Today, many people not only take the self for granted but struggle mightily to connect it to anything larger. In Lincoln’s time, the idea of the self had the power—tinged with uncertainty, even with danger—of something emerging and ascending.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“The Perspectives of Psychiatry, Paul R. McHugh and Phillip R. Slavney identify four approaches to a suffering person.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“At the same time that “self-made” entered the nation’s lexicon, so did the notion of abject failure. Once reserved to describe a discrete financial episode—“I made a failure,” a merchant would say after losing his shop—“failure” in antebellum America became a matter of identity, describing not an event but a person. As the historian Scott Sandage explains in Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, the phrase “I feel like a failure” comes to us so naturally today “that we forget it is a figure of speech: the language of business applied to the soul.” It became conventional wisdom in the early nineteenth century, Sandage explains, that people who failed had a problem native to their constitution. They weren’t just losers; they were “born losers.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“People expected too much, pushed themselves too hard, and therefore brought strains upon their minds that they were constitutionally incapable of withstanding.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“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,” says Lauren Slater, a clinical psychologist who has written about her struggles with mental illness. “If you were to be really, really depressed but know that it was going to end in five days, it wouldn’t be depression. The terror is in what the future holds.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“Her brother-in-law Ninian Edwards said bluntly, “She could make a bishop forget his prayers.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
“because of them, he worked all the harder in his thirties and forties to “make himself,” emotionally as well as materially, and go on to do the special work he longed for. Perseverance and forbearance became core aspects of Lincoln’s character, and he would one day give the same advice his law partner Stephen Logan gave him, that what matters is whether a person “keeps up his labors and efforts until middle life.”
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness

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