Life is hard; citing sources is sometimes harder. -Susan Vollenweider, 2018
I believe in research, I’m also practitioner of due diligence so when I asked my Facebook friends for their favorite, life motivating quotes for a column I was writing (See: Kansas City Star) I also asked them to cite the source. Due diligence sent me to confirm those sources and that’s when I ran into a few walls.
Those walls worked like a maze and redirected the original premise of the column. I had thought it would be a nice, easy way to share hard-learned wisdom from some of the wisest people that I know (ie: I could fill the space with someone else’s words for a change), but research sent me down so many rabbit holes that the project took four times as long as it usually does and the end result wasn’t close to my original premise. (Pro tip: It often isn’t.)
BUT I did learn a lot and can’t consider that time wasted. These are all quotes given to me by my friends that filled more hours of my day than I care to admit trying to track down the sources.
The Google box is only as good as the search words you use, and even then, you have to dig deep to get the answers. Fortunately, there are people who love doing this so much that they have created websites of quotes and try to trace them back to whomever said them in the first place. My favorite, methodically researched website for learning the origins of quotes is the Quote Investigator.
The people who formed the words into a profound sentiment SHOULD be credited for the work they do, and no one knows this better than creatives like writers, photographers and other artists.
BUT for a lot of us, the message is what is important. I got so busy searching for the source that I began to be numb to the message of the quote in the first place. There has to be a happy medium here: equal parts joy of learning and reflection on the message.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here next to me.”
This is credited to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, but the exact quote seems to be: “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.” According the website, Quote Investigator, Alice didn’t say it as much as she had the witty taste to have it embroidered on a pillow. If she made the pillow or had it made for her based on something someone else said—we’ll probably never know.
Speaking of Roosevelts, one of my friends loved this quote and attributed it to Eleanor Roosevelt. “Don’t let anyone determine your self-worth.” The actual quote (which means exactly the same thing) is “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” According to the Quote Investigator, Eleanor probably said it. Not definitely, but more than likely. (Read more about that here.)
“Be the change the you wish to see in the world.”
Ghandi is usually given credit for this one, and he may have said it in essence but not in the order of the words. His actual quote, per Quote Investigator: If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. Read more about that here at the Quote Investigator.
But not all quotes have already been investigated and we have to do a little work on our own to find the source. Some are easy and Google will lead you right to the original document:
Lewis Carroll didn’t write in Alice in Wonderland, “I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.” What he did write was “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
But Anne Frank definitely said, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
Be strong and courageous……for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Is, indeed, found in the bible- Joshua 1:9 But that gets a little tricky. There is a whole subset of deep, academic study that I am not qualified in the least to explore about who actually said what in the Bible. Was it a direct quote from the writer, from someone else, or had it been twisted around in oral histories like a game of Telephone into a version that was pretty close to either?
“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
Maya was very, very wise and this does sound like something she would say, but the quote was originally published in a book of quotations and attributed to, Carl W. Buehner, an official in the Church of the Latter Day Saints. “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Some of my friends pulled quotes from their real lives, but even then my friend Jamie wasn’t sure if he, or his wife had said, “It isn’t enough to be nice or think good thoughts. You have to fight for what you believe in, and when you’re faced with systemic oppression and suffering you have to directly confront it. We can’t hug our way out of this.”
They are both very, very smart—it could have gone either way.
“It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and minute to destroy one.” She also warned, “Don’t strain your arm patting yourself on the back.” -Marc’s mom
Don’t worry, Marc’s mom, I’m not. For ones that I had to dig and dig to find, I still feel like a failure;still fuzzy about the source even after a lot of searching.
“Enough is as good as a feast” is attributed to Sir Thomas Malory but I can’t yet find the exact source and may have been “Enough ’s a feast, content is crowned” by Josua Sylvester who lived a full 100 years after Malory but it’s in one of his poems.
“Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”
My friend Kathleen told me that she often quotes this and had first read it in a book by former Vice-President, Joe Biden. She, and Biden, attributed it to Immanuel Kant. But in trying to verify its origins, I also discovered sources that attributed it to that Essayist Joseph Addison (who died five years before Kant was born) and Clergyman George Washington Burnap who was the baby of them all.
Tricky stuff this citing business, but it can’t (or Kant) distract from the message which is solid life advice. All of these quotes are wonderful ways to look at life. We can all learn from them, and while discovering the source is a rewarding learning experience of its own, taking that message into our lives may be the most important part.