Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) was one of my favorite newspaper columnists. He began writing his column in the Chicago Daily News in 1944. By 1978, when the Daily News folded and he moved over to the Sun-Times, Harris was syndicated nationwide in hundreds of papers. He continued writing until his death.
I sometimes found myself at odds with his opinions. But Harris expected that, saying that people “would stop reading if they always agreed with me.” And his column was wonderfully eclectic. One of his best features was the occasional snippets of obscure-but-fascinating facts collected under the heading “Things I Learned While Looking Up Other Things.” I liked that device so much that I’ve been using it in my own Bowlers Journal columns for years.
Harris published ten books of collected columns. Obviously, much of the material is dated. But many of his “Personal Prejudices” aphorisms still ring true, even sixty years later. Here’s a sampling of them from his first book, Strictly Personal—
*Almost all of mankind’s troubles may be attributed to the fact that it is infinitely easier to hate something than to understand it.
*Nobody is more insufferable than the fool who happens to be right by chance.
*It is the fear of being called a coward that makes most men courageous in a crisis; but real courage consists of doing what you know is right, regardless of what men may call you.
*The wistful adoration of celebrities is one of the surest signs of a weak intellect.
*There are only three things that no man will believe about himself—that his sense of humor is deficient, that he is not well-bred, and that he is not somehow appealing to women.
*Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things that we did not do that is insufferable.
*I know some people who are against fine weather if they think other folks are having more fun out of it than they are.
*What perverse instinct prompts people who are getting off at the second floor to push themselves to the rear of a crowded elevator?
*The best company consists of those who combine cynicism and good nature; mere cynicism is depressing, and mere good nature is dull.
*Home-owners ought to be fined for not having the house numbers largely and distinctly visible on their front doors.
*A “reasonable” man is not one who depends solely on reasoning, but one who knows the limits of reason and the place that faith must begin.
*There is little hope for the human race so long as each of us looks for his own face first in a group photograph.
*My chief objection to the self-made man is that he is so pleased with his maker.
*Most parents don’t realize that trying to win a child’s love without first gaining his respect is the surest way to make him contemptuously disobedient.
*I would rather stay up late arguing with friends than get a good night’s sleep.