Apparently. But I still can’t remember what quote it was. A tragedy. Maybe we’ll get back to this later.
But it is like me to spout quotes. I’m a quote spouter. They make you look smart. People like them. It always puts that kind of “Huh” look on their faces, which they seem to appreciate. But collecting and reciting quotes is more than cocktail party tricks. Quotes help us by crystallizing a piece of knowledge or wisdom for us. They tell us something maybe we already knew but had forgotten or couldn’t really articulate, or they offer us a new way of looking at something, whether ourselves or other people or our world. Often they’re witty, and though they don’t have to be, it helps. Most importantly, though, a quote is incisive: you feel that little catch of breath when your read it. Almost as though your soul senses its truth before you even process the quote.
I have a 28-page document on my computer with quotes from over the years, along with plenty tacked up here and there around the apartment for inspiration, enjoyment, or just to keep our butts in check. Among these quotes you can find people who have become eminently quotable, people whose words are heavier on the page when put between quotation marks. Everyone has their own list, but for me, I think of Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, and Bruce Lee, though this is certainly not an exhaustive list. (Yogi Berra should be mentioned for different reasons.) The quotes of each of these three individuals, among others, are mentionable because they fit the criteria that we, the general populous, wants in a good quote: 1) small pieces of wisdom that 2) are able to be committed to memory (for pragmatic employment in life’s myriad situations) and that 3) are also examples of aesthetically pleasing prose. Some quick examples:
“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”
“If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.”
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”
These quotes (and it took me less than two minutes to find them) are compact and powerful to the point that explanation is not necessary. That is what a quote is supposed to do.
Now, for a brief detour, let’s compare that with a few quotes I found on the internet that do not, as far as I’m concerned, fit our three criteria above nearly as well.
“When you invest your time, you make a goal and a decision of something that you want to accomplish. Whether it's make good grades in school, be a good athlete, be a good person, go down and do some community service and help somebody who's in need, whatever it is you choose to do, you're investing your time in that.”
“If everyone were a good person, it'd obviously be a better world.”
Now nothing against these two gentlemen, who are extremely talented and good at what they do. But hopefully you can see what I mean. I wish these were pithier, more compact, more incisive. In short, I want more magic. You know it when you see it. You read a quote and instantly think, “Dang,” because its truth is that powerful. Its breadth is that wide.
And that’s really what good quotes are about: truth. And the wisdom needed to express that truth. Quotes keep those words alive, forever crystallizing them as living words of a timeless truth, living words once spoken or written by people that at this moment may or may not be living. Quotation marks themselves are a symbol of that vitality. There are two on each side—partners, never alone—reverently framing those words like a painting. They have a dynamic shape, with a wide end tapering to a narrow end, and they have a dynamic form: a curve, a turn, a change in course, a moving toward something new.
Because human wisdom is a living thing. It is not just timeless; it stretches through the ages, touching all people and societies, all category of human and culture. And whether that quote, that nugget of wisdom, is embedded in an article or magneted to a refrigerator, those living words are brought back to life in the instant a person reads the quote, speaks the quote, honors the quote by understanding how it’s wisdom can be applied to his or her life, immortalizes the quote by allowing it to change them.
And so, I thought I would end this post by honoring a few quotes that have changed me. A few notes. First, I regret that most of the people quoted here are white men, but I cannot argue with the wisdom in these words. In a way, it is the quote that matters far more than its creator. That said, I realize it is incumbent upon me to seek out diverse emanations of wisdom. Truth demands it. Second, a couple of these quotes have been deemed apocryphal or misattributed, and the explorations of that phenomenon could be a blog post (or dissertation) all its own. For the time being, though, I want to focus on the words within the quote. If one truly speaks to you, I encourage you to research. Once again, truth.
“Don’t write so that you can be understood; write so that you can’t be misunderstood.”
--William Howard Taft
“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
"The map is not the territory."
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
"Long live the child. Long live the mother and father. Long live man. Long live this wounded planet. Long live the good milk of the air. Long live the spawning rivers and the mothering oceans. Long live the juice of the grass and all the determined greenery of the globe. Long live the surviving animals. Long live the Earth, deeper than all our thinking. We have done enough killing. Long live the man, long live the woman who use both courage and compassion. Long live their children."
--From the film "The Body"
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
--Maya Angelou (possibly apocryphal)
"Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence."
"Let your own presence be something that convinces the world."
And no, I never did remember that quote from up above. And I’m okay with that. “Thoughts are circular,” a friend of mine says. “It will come back to you.” But it’s fine if it doesn’t. The well is bottomless.