I like the funny ones:
“A modest man, who has much to be modest about.” (Winston Churchill on Clement Atlee).
I like the thoughtful ones:
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” (G. K. Chesterton).
The Bible is, of course, a huge resource of quotations – this, for example, is well known (though not always well understood):
“The truth will set you free.” (Jesus Christ: John 8:32).
People's last words are sometimes profound and often poignant:
“Friends applaud, the comedy is over.” (Ludwig van Beethoven).
It seems that there's a quote for every situation, a pithy phrase to express every mood. Whatever we're doing or feeling, someone's been there first and summed it up neatly.
I came across a particularly good one recently:
“Justice and mercy are the cornerstones of a correct life; justice because it is demanded by nature; and mercy because justice erodes the soul." (Tulisofala).
I don't know if you've heard of Tulisofala. She was an ancient philosopher. But it got me thinking, how important is the source of the quote? Does it matter who said it?
Of course, in some cases the quote is given extra power by the person who spoke it. Words from people who lived great lives carry special weight. As in this from Mother Teresa:
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Because of the commitment she showed to loving people throughout her life, her warning against judging them have more power. She could speak with authority on the subject.
Or what about Albert Einstein’s words:
“The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.”
Einstein can talk about genius, since he is generally acknowledged to have been one!
But what I wondered about was this – could someone else had said these things? Suppose Einstein had talked of love and judgement, or Mother Teresa about genius and stupidity? Would these things be more or less true? Or what if some nobody (like me, for example) had said it?
Which brings me back to Tulisofala. It's likely that you haven't heard of her – but do you agree with what she said? Does it sound like something true, something important even?
And does it make any difference if I tell you that actually Tulisofala was an alien, a member of the Ashiyyur race, and that that she was invented by the Science Fiction writer Jack McDevitt? If she is not real, does that mean that those words are meaningless?
Or is wisdom an absolute thing, something that carries meaning and deserves respect no matter what its source is?
On a practical level, of course we must consider the source of our information. It would be daft to believe everything that adverts or politicians tell us, and we have to keep in mind that everyone trying to sell us something has their own agenda. But perhaps the cynicism of our culture can extend too far. Do we sometimes reject an argument because the person making it is from the wrong group, of the wrong sexual orientation, or wearing the wrong colours?
The truth sets us free, but do we filter it at source? Are we willing to consider that other people, other cultures, other races might have some truth to offer?
As Tulisofala might have said: “It is better to consider a lie than to refuse a truth.”
(She didn't. I said it. You can quote me).