Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
Miyamoto Musashi was a 17th-century Japanese samurai, artist, and writer known for his undefeated fighting record and philosophical work. After retiring from dueling, the swordsman turned to his community, mentoring students and sharing wisdom through his writing. This quote is part of the “Dokkōdō,” a short work written just before his death, which lays out tenets for an honest and simple life. His words here encourage us to extend our compassion outward, and find meaning in life by helping others.
Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
Droll yet poignant, this line uttered by Mr. Dumby, a character created by Oscar Wilde for his 1892 play “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” expresses the value of learning from our errors. Remembered for his witty epigraphs as much as his groundbreaking satirical works, Wilde wrote of the follies and foibles of the upper class in Victorian England, and often brought his characters redemption through a hard-earned lesson. The Irish playwright reminds us that we all mess up from time to time, but we can extract valuable wisdom from those mistakes.
The soul would have no rainbow, had the eyes no tears.
John Vance Cheney
Writer and librarian John Vance Cheney often chose nature as his muse. Here he suggests that sadness, like rain, is a normal part of life, and just as a storm gives way to clearer skies, a good cry is often followed by a period of greater clarity. Cheney believed passing through sadness could engender a beautiful opening and expression of the soul, like a rainbow after a storm. This quote is reflective of much of Cheney’s creative writing, which often succinctly draws the reader's attention to the wonders of the natural world and their parallels and reverberations within the human spirit.
James Clear’s trajectory toward becoming a behavioral science expert began in high school, when he spent many months recovering from a life-threatening sports injury. Slowing down caused him to study others’ actions and take inventory of his own thought patterns. The author of the bestselling “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” noticed the shared tendency to downplay praise and amplify criticism. In September 2021, Clear shared this insight in his email newsletter: “It’s crazy how 1,000 people can compliment you and you’ll spend all day thinking about the one person who criticized you.” He encourages us to instead take time to appreciate each bit of recognition, a practice that promotes active listening and a healthy sense of self-worth.
With confidence, you have won before you have started.
Possessing a strong sense of who you are and what you are capable of can carry you a long way in reaching your goals. The opposite is also true: Taking on a difficult task while full of self-doubt and pessimism often leads to failure. Marcus Garvey, a Black leader and activist in the early 20th century, believed this so thoroughly that he saw confidence as a victory in itself. He said, “If you have no confidence in self you are twice defeated in the race of life.”
That virtue we appreciate is as much ours as another’s. We see so much only as we possess.
Henry David Thoreau Best known for his book “Walden,” a series of essays about his time living alone in nature, Henry David Thoreau valued deep introspection over materialism. Rooted in his Transcendentalist belief in spirituality and simple virtues, Thoreau’s work often encourages the reader to be guided by their personal values, rather than societal expectations. It makes sense that what we value in others would already be present in us, be it kindness or courage. Thoreau reminds us that we are our own role models: In surrounding ourselves with people we admire, we realize the kind of people we are.
American poet, philosopher, and essayist Criss Jami, sometimes known by his alter ego “TheKillosopher,” poses a unique challenge to readers of his 2015 book, “Killosophy.” The author asserts that perhaps our time on Earth is best spent in devotion to something — a cause, a community, a religion — rather than in pursuit of lifestyles defined and critiqued by an ever-changing culture.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Squire Bill Widener
This line was made famous by President Theodore Roosevelt, but he was actually quoting a Virginian soldier and community leader named Squire Bill Widener. Published in Roosevelt’s 1913 autobiography, this succinct quote summarizes the former President’s philosophy on life: that devotion to the pursuit of mere pleasure and success is hollow in comparison to a life lived dutifully for the people right in front of you. “Why, the greatest happiness,” Roosevelt wrote, “is the happiness that comes as a by-product of striving to do what must be done.”
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people. Now 86 years old (as of October 2021), he has spent a lifetime advocating for peace and kindness. In 1989, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his five-point plan to restore peace between Tibet and China. He has traveled abroad more than any of his predecessors, citing the importance of responsibility and compassion between people from different backgrounds. His teachings guide us toward a more expansive idea of happiness — one that is founded on extending care to other people as well as ourselves.
We all have ability. The difference is how we use it.
Though he was born with a disorder that led to blindness, musician Stevie Wonder was so gifted and passionate about music that by the age of 10, he had already taught himself multiple instruments. At age 11, he was discovered by a Motown music executive and signed to a record deal. Still, Wonder never rested on his laurels, choosing instead to push himself. He studied classical piano, sought out mentors, and promoted social issues through music (including recording the 1985 charity single “We Are The World”). This quote reminds us that everyone can have an impact, no matter our circumstances — but it’s up to us to harness our unique skills.
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