It’s A Gray Area: Einstein’s brilliant thoughts pertinent to today’s woes


Recently a friend of mine suggested that when you find a great thinker in one intellectual area, probably that person would have some noteworthy thoughts in other areas as well.

Honestly, I had never thought about it quite that way before, but I think my friend is right.

There are certainly many such people, but I immediately turned my attention to Albert Einstein. Obviously the man was a brilliant physicist, but what were his thoughts in other areas of life?


To find out I consulted “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein,” edited by Alice Calaprice (Princeton University Press, 2011). In just reading the introduction I knew I was in for a treat; she said those who knew Einstein were always “emphasizing his sense of humor and his serene detachment from the passions that agitate lesser mortals.” So here are some of his quotes that caught my attention.

Einstein modestly said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” In a similar vein, he also said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

Obviously, Einstein was smart and had special talents, but he is probably still correct. How often have you been able to work out solutions to “unsolvable” problems simply by keeping at them? Wouldn’t you rather have an employee who is persistent than one who is overly smart? I would, and I think Einstein would too. What a lesson to teach our children!

In a similar fashion Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” In fact, I would expand that comment to say that if you can’t logically explain something you are opposed to, your opposition probably should not be taken seriously.

Freedom from governmental intrusion was also of critical importance to Einstein. In fact, that was the main reason he came to our country. He expressed this by saying, “I am very happy at the prospect of becoming an American citizen in another year. My desire to be a citizen of a free republic has always been strong.”

But in that regard, Einstein saw a genuine threat to our freedoms in the McCarthy era, saying: “The fear of communism has led to practices that have become incomprehensible to the rest of civilized mankind and expose our country to ridicule.” Continuing on the same subject, he said: “America is incomparably less endangered by its own communists than by the hysterical hunt for the few communists that are here.” In other words, the so-called remedy was worse than the disease.

That warning applies today with how our government is pursuing its so-called war on terror. I believe Einstein would be warning us that the following constitute a greater threat to our country than that presented by the few terrorists who may be here: our government’s use of drones to surveil us from the air without a judicial warrant; legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act, under which any of us could be detained (translation: arrested), held indefinitely without charges being filed and even deported; the so-called Patriot Act, which can be used to tap our telephones and gather huge amounts of data about us; and the continuing use of Guantanamo prison in Cuba.

Of course, I simply must also cite Einstein’s quote about the futility of programs of alcohol prohibition during his time and drug prohibition during ours. “Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws that cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase in crime in this country is closely connected with this.” Thankfully, more people are beginning to see his point.

Einstein also addressed the “character” issue in voting for public officials when he said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.” I believe that we voters should take that important thought seriously.

Einstein also had some great observations about the guidance and education of children. “On the piano, play mainly the things that you enjoy, even if your teacher doesn’t assign them to you. You learn the most from things that you enjoy doing so much that you don’t even notice that the time is passing.” Because Einstein loved music, and played the violin and piano whenever he could, his thoughts were expressed in that medium. But they could just as easily be applied to any other passion as well.

Of course, one of Einstein’s most famous quotes is: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” We should keep this reality in mind when addressing most of the problem areas in our country today, certainly including healthcare, education, government overspending, taxation, prison overcrowding, welfare and so many more.

In fact, he complements this wisdom by saying, “The only mistake in life is the lesson not learned.”

Finally, Einstein treats us gently about the subject of our deaths, by saying: “Our death is not an end if we have lived on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us; our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.”

So here’s to the thoughts, logic, wisdom and humanity of Einstein! A truly remarkable man, whose words we should not only not forget but we should treasure!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at