What Is Aphorism Consulting?

Aphorism consulting is a new movement, whose sole adherent at this point is me, built on the fact that there is an aphorism for everything. This assertion is not just wishful thinking, but based on nearly four decades of empirical, albeit anecdotal, evidence. An aphorism for everything, and everything its aphorism. So an aphorism consulting session is simply what happens when someone sits down and tells me something about him- or herself (or, alternatively, about someone else if the aphorism is for another person) and I come up with what I think is the perfect aphorism for him or her. The recipient of the aphorism is free to decline the aphorism if he or she doesn’t think it’s right; in which case, we proceed with the session until we get the right aphorism. I’ve done some sessions recently at The School of Life in London. Here is a recent newspaper piece that contains a bit from one session.

An aphorism consultation can be quite revealing, even moving. In one recent session, a woman asked for an aphorism for her godson. He is about 11 years old and recently lost his mother. He is a smart, introverted kid, this woman told me, who is occasionally teased at school because of it. He likes to read.

Thinking up aphorisms for kids is the most difficult of all, because you need some life experience to understand aphorisms. My experience has been that teenagers don’t get aphorisms (about relationships, for example) that adults find incredibly insightful. It has to do, I think, with having the experiences referred to in the aphorisms so you understand the point. So if it’s difficult to pick aphorisms for teenagers, how much more difficult is it to pick aphorisms for even younger kids.

And, to be honest, I couldn’t think of a damn thing for this woman’s godson. When that happens, I keep asking questions to elicit some information that might lead me to a saying. But, this time, it just wasn’t working. Then the woman mentioned that the boy loved to play the drums, and then everything fell into place—the drums, the love of books, the sense of solitariness, the burden of being different. So I jotted down this aphorism by Henry David Thoreau for him:

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

That aphorism meant a lot to me when I was 15, so maybe it would work for an 11-year-old, too. I could see that his godmother thought it would.

Another emotional session involved a woman who was probably in her 60s, was into spirituality, had traveled in India and other countries on spiritual quests, and was now searching for what to do with her life. An aphorism by the Buddha came to mind immediately:

Your work is to discover your work, and then give your whole heart to it.

During a session at The School of Life last week, a young man and woman sat down in front of me. I mistakenly assumed they were a couple, but they quickly corrected me. So I asked the man to tell me something about the woman and the woman to tell me something about the man, so they would get aphorisms based on how the other person described them.

For the man, the most outstanding feature of the woman was her love of laughter, when it is provoked by humor or slight embarrassment. So I went with this from Josh Billings:

Laughter is the sensation of feeling good all over but showing it principally in one place.

For the woman, the most outstanding feature of the man (something he also revealed in talking about the woman) was that he was looking for something, searching for some kind of purpose or meaning. So, naturally, this from W. Brudzinski sprang to mind:

The most difficult thing is to find the way to the signposts.


  1. My favourite aphorisms are the obscure ones whose meaning (or truth) is not clear. A good example:

    ‘Honour Thy Error as a Hidden Intention’

    I’m not sure what this means but I have had many enjoyable moments thinking about what it might mean.

  2. I have a point of view (not an ultimate truth) on this one in the comment above. This is kind of the opposite of what may be mine but may not as it is one of the ones I am unsure of (James may help me on this)

    Some people are bad at sinning because they mess it up right from the start.

    The one above about honouring thy error would be good for those so constructed as to want to be good and righteous and thereby suffer from a lot of unconscious errors or insert your term for incorrect behavior: Good to know one’s hidden self and when to lay off the super ego’s over restrictive cracking down feedback. Mine I suppose is my bohemian libertine spirit and nonjudgementalism given reactionary hell by my Puritan unconscious before I even attempt certain things, which makes me too clumsy to carry out hidden intentions! I can get angry vis a vis an unselfish cause as may be evident in other comments. Anger – one of the seven deadly sins. ( I am writing a book on them plus Deceit and cowardice for nine basic temperaments in the world, in Greek and Latin thought they were called passions or emotions and had therapeutic antidotes much as in the aphorism counseling.

  3. * Experience is what you get when you’ve managed to get rid of what you’ve got. Leonid S. Sukhorukov