Saturday, March 10, 2012

About quotes


Readers will know that I frequently post quotations.

John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, in the preamble to their book “Advanced Banter, The QI Book of Quotations” have provided some observations on the utility and value of quotations:

There’s an old craftsman’s saw:  ‘If the other fellow can do it better, let him.’  That’s how we feel about quotations.  They are the best bits of the best minds, the records of the funniest, truest, wisest and most memorable things anyone has ever said.  A good quotation is a keyhole view of a boundless universe, like one of the windows called ‘squints’ in medieval cathedrals through which only the altar is visible.

Using quotations isn’t a mark of cowardice, inarticulacy or false modesty.  It’s a demonstration of what sets us humans apart: our ability to learn from one another, to share, to talk and to remember. …there are people who exist only on the pages of quotation books, whose life and work has evaporated completely leaving behind just one or tow tiny puddles of wisdom.

Stephen Fry has provided a foreword for the same book.  He points out that by the time of the invention of the printing press in 1440 there were already millions of books in existence, that in the first 50 years of the printing press there were more books created than in the previous 1000 years and that we have now reached “dizzyingly insane levels of oversupply”.  

He comments:

With so much flowing from so many different human brains, who can be arsed to read it?  Not I, sir and madam, not I.    It’s all I can do to peruse the side of a packet of breakfast cereal without distraction from radio, television and phone.  I have no doubt you are in the same case.  You would dearly like to suck intellectual and metaphysical juice from the fruity flesh of the world’s best thinkers and writers but the treetops are all out of reach and it would be too much if a fag to go and fetch a ladder..  If only someone would pick, pulp and squeeze that fruit for you…

That, according to Fry, is the value of quotations.

Which started me thinking about quotations that have meant something to me in my life.  More of that later.

Quoting the words of others serves various purposes.  Some examples:

·         Historical:

“...that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
-          Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

“... and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring-mast. Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming around here...”
-          Herb Morrison, announcer, commenting on the Hindenburg bursting into flames

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
-          President Franklin D Roosevelt, speech to Congress re US declaration of war, 1941

“Well may we say "God save the Queen", because nothing will save the Governor-General! The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's cur.
-          Gough Whitlam following the sacking of his government in 1975, after the reading of the proclamation had finished with the traditional words “God save the Queen”.

·         Humorous:

“I would rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.
-          President Lyndoin Baines Johnson, 1971, on J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, who had dirt files on everyone who mattered.  Johnson had been asked why he did not want to sack Hoover.
“Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe.
-          Albert Einstein

"Marriages don't last. When I meet a guy, the first question I ask myself is: is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?”
-          Rita Rudner

·         Advisory:

Some of the quotes I use in discussions with clients are from noted musical philosophers:

“How can I go forward when I don't know which way I'm facing?”
-          John Lennon, How from the Imagine album

“You can’t always get what you want.”
-          Mick Jagger, song title and song lyric

(Sometimes when a client wants the impossible I also quote Austin Powers: “And I Vanna toilet made out of solid gold, but its just not in the cards now, is it?  An alternative quote is Dr Hibberd from The Simpsons:  And hillbillies prefer 'sons of the soil.' But it ain't gonna happen”).
"Two out of three ain’t bad.”
-          Meatloaf

·         Inspirational:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
-          Martin Luther King Jnr

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
-           Helen Keller

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us
-          Ralph Waldo Emerson

Funnily enough, Ralph Waldo Emerson is also quoted for having said “I hate quotations.  Tell me what you know” and “The next thing to saying a good thing yourself, is to quote one.”

Marlene Dietrich was a supporter of quoting others:  “I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognised wiser than oneself.”

Even the Talmud has something to say on the topic:  “Quotation at the right moment is like bread to the famished.”

Quotations do not change actions and behaviour in any significant way.  My reading Hitler’s comments about the Jews is not going to turn me into an anti-Semite any more than a  motivational quote will suddenly inspire someone akin to Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.

Motivational quotes do, however, reinforce and strengthen beliefs and actions; cause things to be looked at in new ways and provide guidance and instruction.  

I have been told a number of times by different people that quotes posted on Bytes have come along at just the right time to address a particular need or concern.

In my own case there are some quotes that have consoled me in difficult times, those that have lifted me or inspired me.  Those quotations may be reduced to four in number.  Not only have they been with me for so long that they have become companions that support, guide and enlighten, they are also gems that I have sought to pass onto my children.  Whether my kids see the value in such thoughts will be up to them.  It may be that at some future moment or stage in their lives they will recall one or more such thoughts, which will provide insight, console or encourage.

Here they are:

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life  - It goes on."
-          Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

“That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”
-          Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

“I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.”
-          Stephen Grellet (1773-1885)

“Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage - it can be delightful.”
-          George Bernard Shaw

Let me know if any quotes have, or have had, any special meaning or impact in your lives.

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