Fixed Ideas by Christopher Morley

Story type: Essay

It is said that a Fixed Idea is the beginning of madness.

Yet we are often worried because we have so few Fixed Ideas. We do not seem to have any really definite Theory about Life.

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We find, on the other hand, that a great many of those we know have some Guiding Principle that excuses and explains all their conduct.

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If you have some Theory about Life, and are thoroughly devoted to it, you may come to a bad end, but you will enjoy yourself heartily.

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These theories may be of many different kinds. One of our friends rests his career and hope of salvation on the doctrine that eating plenty of fish and going without an overcoat whenever possible constitute supreme happiness.

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Another prides himself on not being able to roll a cigarette. If he were forced, at the point of the bayonet, to roll a fag, it would wreck his life.

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Another is convinced that the Lost and Found ads in the papers all contain anarchist code messages, and sits up late at night trying to unriddle them.

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How delightful it must be to be possessed by one of these Theories! All the experiences of the theorist’s life tend to confirm his Theory. This is always so. Did you ever hear of a Theory being confuted?

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Facts are quite helpless in the face of Theories. For after all, most Facts are insufficiently encouraged with applause. When a Fact comes along, the people in charge are generally looking the other way. This is what is meant by Not Facing the Facts.

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Therefore all argument is quite useless, for it only results in stiffening your friend’s belief in his (presumably wrong) Theory.

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When any one tries to argue with you, say, “You are nothing if not accurate, and you are not accurate.” Then escape from the room.

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When we hear our friends diligently expounding the ideas which Explain Everything, we are wistful. We go off and say to ourself, We really must dig up some kind of Theory about Life.

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We read once of a great man that he never said, “Well, possibly so.” This gave us an uneasy pang.

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It is a mistake to be Open to Conviction on so many topics, because all one’s friends try to convince one. This is very painful.

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And it is embarrassing if, for the sake of a quiet life, one pretends to be convinced. At the corner of Tenth and Chestnut we allowed ourself to agree with A.B., who said that the German colonies should be internationalized. Then we had to turn down Ninth Street because we saw C.D. coming, with whom we had previously agreed that Great Britain should have German Africa. And in a moment we had to dodge into Sansom Street to avoid E.F., having already assented to his proposition that the German colonies should have self-determination. This kind of thing makes it impossible to see one’s friends more than one at a time.

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Perhaps our Fixed Idea is that we have no Fixed Ideas.

Well, possibly so.

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