“What a curious power words have.”
— Tadeusz Borowski.
Quotes. Those little snippets of thought we see pasted at the bottom of emails or as clever memes on social media or as instructive posters hanging on the wall at work.
Sometimes funny. Sometimes inspiring. Sometimes clever. They can become white-noise, elevator music to our consciousness. But, if we’ll tune in, I believe Quotes hold a tremendous power most of us fail to tap in to.
I’ll say it right off — I love quotes. (This is a photo of my office wall at work — full of quotes, thoughts, quips, and reminders of what is true.)
It would be easy to discount Quotes as nothing more than ‘positive thoughts for the day’ or campaign slogans, as fluff. And those who would dismiss quotes might see them as a crutch for those who don’t want to think for themselves. Others may even see them as a barrier to really knowing each other, as Emerson wrote, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” [emphasis added]
But, I see quotes as part of the collective wisdom of the ages. They link me to the past. They help me learn from other’s journeys, where they made their mistakes and successes, what they thought really mattered.
“Remember, young man, experience is not the best teacher. Other people’s experience is the best teacher.” — Andy Andrews
Smart people learn from their mistakes. Smarter people learn from other’s mistakes. — My paraphrase
Example after example prove this true. The Bible’s book of Proverbs demonstrates this. The fact that our culture retains Aristotle’s writings prove it. Heck, even the best lines from the songs we love teach us the power of the quote.
How we interact with quotes is sort of funny. We rarely like quotes that disagree with our thoughts or direction. Occasionally, a good quote challenges us — causes us to rethink — to turn in a new direction. Other times, we gravitate toward quotes that say what we’re thinking and believing. And, that’s ok.
A qood quote can remind of what we believe. They guide us like a desperately needed life-line back to the surface when we feel like we’re sinking. When we’re conflicted about what to do or which way to head, a quote can push us off the fence. They point us in a direction with renewed confidence. Quotes help recenter us on truth.
This is really powerful.
In a conversation today with a friend (who did not know I was writing this article) he shared a quote that was recently shared with him. He recited the quote and shared it’s impact with passion. It had reoriented his thinking. And he shared the thought with me, hoping I’d see it, too. It connected him to the other person, and connected me to him. I read an article yesterday from another person who quit his job and moved to another country in response to a quote. Like him, I’ve also made important life-choices inspired and challenged by a good quote.
This is the power of a quote — they are life changers.
Even if the “changes” we experience from a quote appear insignificant, the simple act of repeated reorientation keeps us pointed in the right direction. Forward. They can break the power of fear… Inspire us to stand our ground in troubled times… Open our mind to ideas we wouldn’t hear in any other way… they help us try again when we were ready to give up.
Quotes simplify. This is part of their power. A compact, clarifying thought — just a few words or sentence — can make a complex idea simple, easy to hold on to, easier to live out. A quote can summarize an entire book. A quote can be an entire speech in its impact. They are like paintings in their ability to “paint 1000 words” with a single phrase.
And quotes have a subtle but important secondary impact.
Quotes help us listen differently. As you speak, I’m learning to listen more intently, trying to capture the full meaning of what you’re saying. And in my head I’m compiling a few words to summarize what I’m hearing to help me hang on to it. At some level we’re all doing this. We all need the ‘summary’ that quotes give us, they help us better understand and remember each other’s story. I’m always looking for something to help me hold on to what I’ve just encountered. This is true in conversation, in times of silence, while watching movies, and when reading articles/books.
Quotes simplify, summarize, and become a container we can carry with us always. They are a like a 3×5 card that reminds us of the entire book. They are the photograph that keeps bringing us back to the experience. Of course, not everything we take in is ‘quotable’. But, there’s no denying the impact a good quote can have on us. And if we’ll only tap into them, I believe we’ll find clarity in the fog of information surrounding us.
Here’s just a few I’m finding myself going back to over and over:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman
“…when fears overtake the problems we are called to solve, we miss out on the stories we’ve been designed to live.” — Jeff Shinabarger @ Storyline Blog
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life within you.” — The Bible, Prov 4:23
“He not busy being born, is busy dying.” — Bob Dylan
So, get quoting. Seek them out. Ask others what quotes have impacted them. Post them on your computer monitor, refrigerator, bathroom mirror, everywhere! And, who knows, you might even find yourself quoting something to a friend — it could change their world.
(You can quote me on that!) 😉
REPLY — Now it’s your turn.
Use the COMMENTS/REPLY to post one or two of YOUR favorite quotes. And, include a thought or two about how Quotes have impacted you over time.
Quotes that come from books & articles you’re reading and speeches, sermons, and conversation with friends make the best quotes because they are personally wrapped in your story. But, there are a LOT of good quotes out there, so have some fun exploring the topics that relate to your present situation.
To add to your list of quotes, here are some Google searches to get you started.