Oscar Wilde: Socialite, author, intellect. While Wilde is known largely for his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and his play, The Importance of Being Earnest, he is also known for the story of his imprisonment and subsequent death.
Today when you think of Oscar Wilde (after words like author come to mind), his pomp, classism, and vanity are the next things people remember. Despite his reputation, there are many things we can learn from Wilde. In honor of his 163rd birthday, we’ve compiled some of our favorite Oscar Wilde quotes, and what we can take from them.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Everyone has problems, and no one’s life is perfect. You can either accept reality as it is or dream of something better. If you don’t aspire to something better than you have now, your circumstances will never change. Live your dream.
“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”
Embrace failure. When you make a mistake, take a moment to recognize what it is you did wrong, how to fix it, and how to avoid repeating your mistake in the future. If you got something out of your mistake, it’s not failure—it’s a learning experience.
“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”
While this quote may sound like Wilde is simply being shallow, ignoring morality for the pleasure of entertaining company, this statement can also be interpreted as commentary on the fictitious binary between good and evil. When it comes to morality, the world is not as black-and-white as we tend to make it out to be, and people are all shades of grey. Surround yourself with the people you like, rather than those who you think are “good.”
“Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.”
This quote can be interpreted as evidence of the last. Even doing the right thing can be motivated by selfishness, pettiness, or greed. Wilde took the old adages of take the high road and turn the other cheek and added a twist. Once again, in this simple yet amusing quote, he confronts the myth of black-and-white morality.
“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.”
Wilde is more explicit in this quote on his views of morality. He believed that we only pass moral judgments on those outside of our inner circle. We often give ourselves and our friends a free pass as we like them, believe them to be inherently good, and/or know the context that lead to their decision. He saw morality as concept as flawed.
“A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.”
This one is pretty self-explanatory. One must have his or her own opinions. Just because it is the opinion of your spouse, your parents, or the majority does not make it right. Think for yourself and speak up.
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”
You’re not always going to be happy with who you are or where you are in life. Loving yourself takes work, like any relationship. The important thing is that you find a way to be comfortable in your own skin. Treat yourself, and begin the wooing process.
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.”
While a formal education can be a huge asset, especially in pursuing a career, it is not the be-all-end-all. The most valuable lessons in life won’t be taught in a classroom. You’ll learn them by living life, making mistakes, and experiencing everything this world has to offer.
This quote could also be interpreted as a reminder not look down on someone because of their lack of education; not everyone has the same opportunities to further their education, and it doesn’t make them any less of a person.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
There are multiple sides to every story, and finding the objective truth, while a noble cause, may be futile. It’s never as simple as we think it should be. Like everything else in life, the truth isn’t black-and-white. Everything is shades of gray.
“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
This is yet another quote that sounds vain when you first read it. There are really only two options: being talked about and not being talked about. But when someone complains of being talked about, they usually mean in a negative light. Negative news spreads at a lightning pace compared to good news. When people are talking about us negatively, we may feel self-conscious and embarrassed. However, when people do not speak of us at all, we feel invisible. Wilde is merely pointing out that feeling invisible and unimportant is isolating, and even being notorious feels better.