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Quotations: Human nature, human folly


Don't wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), American humorist, author, and journalist (1835-1910)

We may pretend we are basically moral people who make mistakes, but the whole of history proves otherwise.
Terry Hands, British theatre, opera director

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.
John Maynard Keynes, British economist (1883-1946)

He who has a choice has trouble.
Dutch proverb

In order to exist, man must rebel.
Albert Camus, French existentialist novelist (1913-1960)

What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, philosopher and poet (1803-1882)

If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig.
Woodrow Wilson, 28th American president (1856-1924)

We are what we seem to be.
Willard Gaylin, American psychiatrist (b. 1925)

Our lives teach us who we are.
Salman Rushdie, Anglo-Indian novelist (b. 1947)

Many a man's reputation would not know his character if they met on the street.
Elbert Hubbard, 19th/20th-century American entrepreneur and philosopher (founder of Roycroft)

You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jelly beans.
Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. president (b. 1911)

A person’s character is what it is. It’s a little like a marriage – only without the option of divorce. You can work on it and try to make it better, but basically you have to take the bitter with the sweet.
Henrik Hertzberg, 20th-century American editor and journalist

The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops – no, but the kind of man the country turns out.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, philosopher and poet (1803-1882)

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
Helen Keller, American social activist, public speaker and author (1880-1968)

Character is an essential tendency. It can be covered up, it can be messed with, it can be screwed around with, but it can’t be ultimately changed. It’s the structure of our bones, the blood that runs through our veins.
Sam Shepard, American playwright, actor and director (b. 1943)

The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he’s born.
William R. Inge, American playwright (1913-1973)

One can acquire everything in solitude — except character.
Henri Stendahl, French novelist (1783-1842)

Not in time, place or circumstance but in the man lies success.
James Joyce, Irish novelist (1882-1941)

A nation, as a society, forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.
Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third U.S. president (1743-1826), in a letter to George Hammond, 1792

It is strangely absurd to suppose that a million of human beings, collected together, are not under the same moral laws which bind each of them separately.
Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third U.S. president (1743-1826), in a letter to George Logan, 1816

Americanism is a question of principles, of idealism, of character: it is not a matter of birthplace or creed or line of descent.
Theodore Roosevelt, adventurer, politician and Nobel Prize-winning 26th U.S. president (1858-1919)

Like the body that is made up of different limbs and organs, all moral creatures must depend on each other to exist.
Hindu proverb

Imagination was given to us to compensate for what we are not; a sense of humor was given to us to console us for what we are.
Mack McGinnis

Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become.
Brooke Foss Westcott, British theology professor and bishop (1825-1901)

Fortunately for themselves and the world, nearly all men are cowards and dare not act on what they believe. Nearly all our disasters come of a few fools having the courage of their convictions.
Coventry Patmore, British poet (1823-1896)

The basest of all things is to be afraid.
William Faulkner, American novelist (1897-1962)

Proust has pointed out that the predisposition to love creates its own objects; is this not also true of fear?
Elizabeth Bowen, Irish novelist (1899-1973)

What you are afraid to do is a clear indicator of the next thing you need to do.
Unknown

When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.
George Orwell (Eric Blair), English journalist and novelist (1903-1950)

One must think like a hero merely to behave like a decent human being.
May Sarton, American essayist and novelist (1912-1995)

The value of marriage is not that adults produce children but that children produce adults.
Peter de Vries, American novelist (1910-1993)

But if you ask what is the good of education in general, the answer is easy: that education makes good men, and that good men act nobly.
Plato, Greek philosopher (c. 428-c. 348)

It takes a long time to grow young.
Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist (1881-1973)

Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.
Omar N. Bradley, American general (1893-1981)

Imitation is a necessity of human nature.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., American jurist, Supreme Court justice (1841-1935)

No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.
Emma Goldman, Lithuanian-American anarchist writer, lecturer and activist (1869-1940)

Morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose.
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (1844-1900)

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.
Albert Schweitzer, German Nobel Peace Prize-winning mission doctor and theologian (1875-1965)

The belly comes before the soul.
George Orwell, British journalist and novelist (1903-1950)

Principles have no real force except when one is well fed.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), American journalist, author and humorist (1835-1910)

You've got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body's sermon on how to behave.
Billie Holiday (Eleanor Fagan), American singer (1915-1959)

Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.
Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian (1892-1971)

False hope is worse than despair.
Jonathan Kozol, American journalist and author (b. 1936)

This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.
Theodore Roosevelt, American adventurer and 26th president (1858-1919)

I take it that what all men are really after is some form of, perhaps only some formula of, peace.
Joseph Conrad (Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski), Polish/English novelist (1857-1924)

No wind favors he who has no destined port.
Michel de Montaigne, French essayist and man of letters (1553-1592)

We drive into the future using only our rear view mirror.
(Herbert) Marshall McLuhan, Canadian educator and media philosopher (1911-1980)

With our thoughts we make the world.
Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), Indian philosopher and founder of Buddhism (c. 563-c. 483 B.C.)

Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
Helen Keller, American social activist, public speaker and author (1880-1968)

Freedom and constraint are two aspects of the same necessity, the necessity of being the man you are and not another. You are free to be that man, but not another.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French aviator and author (1900-1944)

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke, English statesman and political philosopher (1729-1797)

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
Hannah Arendt, German-Jewish political philosopher and author (1906-1975)

Most people are good only so long as they believe others to be so.
Friedrich Hebbel, German dramatist (1813-1863)

No one ever became extremely wicked suddenly.
Juvenal, Roman satirist (c. 58-c. 127 A.D.)

The good ended happily and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.
Oscar Wilde, Anglo-Irish writer (1854-1900), Miss Prism speaking to Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes nor between parties either — but right through the human heart.
Alexandr Solzhenitzyn, Russian novelist and historian (b. 1918)

No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.
Mary Wollstonecraft, English feminist and writer (1759-1797)

We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same.
Carlos Castaneda, Peruvian-American mystic and author (1925-2000)

All happy people are grateful. Ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that being unhappy leads people to complain, but it's truer to say that complaining leads to people becoming unhappy.
Dennis Prager, American radio host and author (b. 1948)

Be happy. Talk happiness. Happiness calls out responsive gladness in others. There is enough sadness in the world without yours.... never doubt the excellence and permanence of what is yet to be. Join the great company of those who make the barren places of life fruitful with kindness.... Your success and happiness lie in you.... The great enduring realities are love and service.... Resolve to keep happy and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.
Helen Keller, American social activist, public speaker and author (1880-1968)

I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.
Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father and third president (1743-1826), in letter to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811

People of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour; for this is roughly speaking, the end of political life.
Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384-322 B.C.), from the Nichomachean Ethics

To describe happiness is to diminish it.
Henri Stendahl (Marie-Henri Beyle), French novelist (1783-1842)

I believe... that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.
Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father and third president (1743-1826), in a letter to John Adams, 1816

If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.
Charles-Louis de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu, French jurist and political philosopher (1689-1755)

Nine requisites for contented living: Health enough to make work a pleasure. Wealth enough to support your needs. Strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them. Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them. Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished. Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor. Love enough to move you to be useful to others. Faith enough to make real the things of God. Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet, dramatist and scientist (1749-1832)

A man can refrain from wanting what he has not and cheerfully make the best of a bird in the hand.
Seneca, Roman statesman and author (4 B.C.-65 A.D.)

Welcome everything that comes to you, but do not long for anything else.
Andre Gide, French author (1869-1951)

The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have, instead of what you don't have.
Woody Allen, American humorist and filmmaker (b. 1935)

All who would win joy, must share it; happiness was born a twin.
Lord Byron, English poet (1788-1824)

If all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances, it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give.
Bertrand Russell, British mathematician and philosopher (1872-1970)

See to do good, and you will find that happiness will run after you.
James Freeman Clarke

Those who seek happiness, miss it, and those who discuss it, lack it.
Holbrook Jackson

Happiness depends upon ourselves.
Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384-322 B.C.)

Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them.
Count Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist (1828-1910)

A great obstacle to happiness is expecting too much happiness.
Bernard de Fontanelle, French author (1657-1757)

Happiness is not the end of life: character is.
Henry Ward Beecher, American preacher (1813-1887)

The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not our circumstances.
Martha Washington, American First Lady (1731-1802)

To get up each morning with the resolve to be happy . . . is to set our own conditions to the events of each day. To do this is to condition circumstances instead of being conditioned by them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, philosopher and poet (1803-1882)

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
Martin Luther King Jr., American civil rights leader (1929-1968), from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.
Albert Einstein, Swiss mathematician, physicist and public philosopher (1879-1955)

Great hopes make great men.
Thomas Fuller, English divine and author (1608-1661)

Those who believe they can do something are probably right — and so are those who believe they cant.
Unknown

If we were logical, the future would be bleak indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith and we have hope, and we can work.
Jacques Cousteau, 20th-century French explorer, inventor, environmental activist and author

Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.
Carl Schurz, German-American politician (1829-1906)

Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.
Horace Walpole, English author and man of letters (1717-1797)

No great deed is done by falterers who ask for certainty.
George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), English novelist (1819-1880)

In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly. But with human beings it is the other way round: a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar.
Anton Chekhov, Russian dramatist and short story writer (1860-1904)

I believe a man is born first unto himself — for the happy developing of himself, while the world is a nursery, and the pretty things are to be snatched for, and pleasant things tasted; some people seem to exist thus right to the end. But most are born again on entering manhood; then they are born to humanity, to a consciousness of all the laughing, and the never-ceasing murmur of pain and sorrow that comes from the terrible multitudes of brothers.
D.H. Lawrence, British author (1885-1930)

In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.
Anne Frank, German-born diarist and Holocaust victim (1929-1945)

True goodness springs from a man's own heart. All men are born good.
Confucius, Chinese philosopher (551-479 B.C.)

There are two levers for moving men — interest and fear.
Napoleon Bonaparte, French general and emperor (1769-1821)

If men were angels, no government would be necessary.
James Madison, American Founding Father, U.S. president (1751-1836)

Somebody does somethin' stupid, that's human. They don't stop when they see it's wrong, that's a fool.
Elvis Presley, American rock 'n' roll icon (1935-1977)

The tendency of mans nature to good is like the tendency of water to flow downward.
Mencius (Meng-tzu), Chinese philosopher (c. 371-c. 289 B.C.)

People, like water, will run downhill, seeking their lowest level unless something interdicts them.
Cal Thomas, American journalist (b. 1942)

In general, men are ungrateful and fickle, dissemblers, avoiders of danger and greedy of gain.
Niccolo Machiavelli, Florentine dramatist, political analyst and adviser (1469-1527)

Hate traps us by binding us too tightly to our adversary.
Milan Kundera, Czech novelist, poet and playwright (b. 1929)

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Malachy McCourt, Irish-American writer and actor (b. 1931)

It is silly to go on pretending that under the skin we are brothers. The truth is more likely that under the skin we are all cannibals, assassins, traitors, liars and hypocrites.
Henry Miller, American novelist (1891-1980)

There is no grief which time does not lessen and soften.
Cicero, Roman orator, lawyer, politician and philosopher (106-43 B.C.)

Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.
William Shakespeare, English playwright,(1564-1616)

Our joys as winged dreams do fly; Why then should sorrow last? Since grief but aggravates thy loss, Grieve not for what is past.
Thomas Percy, English poet (1729-1811)

Grief is the agony of an instant: the indulgence of grief the blunder of a life.
Benjamin Disraeli, British prime minister and author (1804-1881)

The delusion that individual advancement is made by crushing others The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it Refusing to set aside trivial preferences Neglecting development and refinement of the mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying Attempting to compel other persons to believe and live as we do.
Ciceros Six Mistakes of Man (according to Arthur F. Lenehan)

My Son, these maxims make a rule An lump them ay thegither: The Rigid Righteous is a fool, The Rigid Wise anither.
Robert Burns, Scottish poet (1759-1796)

New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not common.
John Locke, English empiricist philosopher (1632-1704)

Few men think, yet all will have opinions.
George Berkeley, Irish bishop and empirical philosopher (1685-1753)

Most of ones life. . . is one prolonged effort to prevent oneself thinking.
Aldous Huxley, English novelist (1894-1963)

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
Upton Sinclair, American author and politician (1878-1968)

Necessity is an interpretation, not a fact.
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (1844-1900)

To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
E. E. Cummings, Poet, artist, playwright and novelist (1894-1962)

Do what you want to do... But want to do what you are doing. Be what you want to be... But want to be what you are.
Unknown

Know thyself.
Inscription at the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece

Only the shallow know themselves.
Oscar Wilde, Anglo-Irish wit and author (1854-1900)

Be honorable yourself if you wish to associate with honorable people.
Welsh proverb

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), American humorist, author and journalist (1835-1910)

Of all the paths a man could strike into, there is, at any given moment, a best path. . . a thing which, here and now, it were of all things wisest for him to do ... to find his path and walk in it.
Thomas Carlyle, Anglo-Scottish historian, author (1795-1881)

Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
Carl Jung, Swiss founder of analytical psychology (1875-1961)

Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.
Richard Wright, American author (1908-1960)

Self-image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment.
Maxwell Maltz, 20th-century American psychologist and motivational writer

Those people who are uncomfortable in themselves are disagreeable to others.
William Hazlitt, English essayist and literary critic (1778-1830)

What people call the spirit of the times is mostly their own spirit in which the times mirror themselves.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German statesman, poet, novelist and dramatist (1749-1832)

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (1844-1900)

Everybody comes from the same source. If you hate another human being, you're hating part of yourself.
Elvis Presley, American rock 'n' roll icon (1935-1977)

By a divine paradox, wherever there is one slave there are two. So in the wonderful reciprocities of being, we can never reach the higher levels until all our fellows ascend with us.
Edwin Markham, American poet (1852-1940)

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
Unknown

Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny.
Unknown

They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.
Hindu proverb

Our life is what our thoughts make it.
Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher (121-180 A.D.)

People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead.
Edith Wharton, American novelist (1862-1937), from The Age of Innocence

We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German statesman, poet, novelist, dramatist and scientist (1749-1832)

Lives of great people remind us we can make our lives sublime and, departing, leave behind footprints in the sand of time.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, poet (1807-1882)

Every person in America has done or said something that would keep him or her from being president. Maybe a nation that consumes as much booze and dope as we do and has our kind of divorce statistics should pipe down about character issues.
P.J. ORouke, 20th-century American humorist and essayist

Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, public philosopher and poet (1803-1882)

When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.
Vietnamese saying

The quest for riches darkens the sense of right and wrong.
Antiphanes, ancient Greek dramatist

For greed, all nature is too little.
Seneca, Roman statesman, dramatist and Stoic philosopher (4. B.C.?-65 A.D.)

To perceive is to suffer.
Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384-322 B.C.)

Adversity introduces a man to himself.
Unknown

The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.
Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384-322 B.C.)

Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches people by example. If the government becomes the law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law and invites every man to become a law unto himself.
Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1856-1941)

The sentiments of men are known not only by what they receive, but what they reject also.
Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third U.S. president (1743-1826), from his Autobiography (1821)

Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy.
Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384-322 B.C.), from the Nicomachean Ethics

Envy someone an' it pulls you down. Admire them and it builds you up. Which makes more sense?
Elvis Presley, American rock 'n' roll icon (1935-1977)

He who hates vice, hates mankind.
Pliny the Younger, Roman author (61-113 A.D.)

If thou thinkest twice before thou speakest once, thou wilt speak twice the better for it.
William Penn, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania (1644-1718)

The meaning of life is that nobody knows the meaning of life.
Woody Allen (Allan Stewart Konigsberg), American humorist and filmmaker (b. 1935)

Life is one long struggle between conclusions based on abstract ways of conceiving cases, and opposite conclusions prompted by our instinctive perception of them.
William James, American philosopher and psychologist (1842-1910)

Not a day passes over this earth, but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words and suffer noble sorrows.
Charles Reed

Perfection has one grave defect; it is apt to be dull.
Somerset Maugham, English author (1874-1965)

Satire is tragedy plus time.
Lenny Bruce (Leonard Schneider), American comedian (1925-1966)

A true history of human events would show that a far larger proportion of our acts are the results of sudden impulses and accident than of that reason of which we so much boast.
Peter Cooper, American manufacturer and philanthropist (1791-1883)

A bad workman blames his tools.
Chinese proverb

Bad officials are elected by poor citizens who do not vote.
African proverb

If you decide to eat a toad, you should at least select one that is big.
Igbo proverb

Making a thousand decisions, even the wise will make a mistake.
Chinese proverb

Between two stools one sits on the ground.
French proverb

Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.
Samuel Butler, English writer (1735-1902)

Nothing shows a man's character more than what he laughs at.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German playwright, poet, novelist (1749-1832)

A good guitarist will play even if he has only one string.
South American proverb

One of the basic causes for all the trouble in the world today is that people talk too much and think too little. They act impulsively without thinking. I always try to think before I talk.
Margaret Chase Smith, politician (1897-1995)

He who asks a question may be a fool for five minutes; he who asks no questions stays a fool forever.
Chinese proverb

Don't approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side.
Jewish proverb

A melon forced off its vine is not sweet.
Chinese

The greatest cunning is to have none at all.
French proverb