My 10 Favorite Quotes for Living.

Some say, you can judge a person by their goals and the vision they have for the world.  Others say, you should judge a person by their actions and not their words.  I suggest we can judge a person by the aphorisms and thoughts that govern their behavior.  Each of us from the time we were born has been told stories and parables that have left their mark on our lives. Who we are is shaped by these stories and the indelible morals they have imprinted on our lives.  Often we only remember some short phrase or memorable quote from these tales but they continue to have an important impact on our lives long after we have forgotten the actual source or story they are derived from.

For my blog today, I am going to print my TOP TEN FAVORITE QUOTES of all time.  If you want to judge me, try using these as a means of determining who I am or perhaps who I aspire to be.  It may not be an easy task since these quotes are fairly diverse.  I am going to list them in no particular order of importance, but I will “annotate” each with my own interpretation of the meaning of the quote and of course, what it means to me.

  • A triumph of intellect but a tragic failure of reason. – Max Born

We allow ourselves to be seduced by technology into developing smart bombs, drones, spy satellites, stealth missiles, bunker busters and a host of “high tech” solutions to be deployed in pursuit of egregious goals and political mandates. We are perhaps cursed rather than blessed with brilliant people who can create such weapons that can then be given to IDIOTS who may just end up destroying the planet.  I seldom see science as the savior of humanity but simply as another thought system which can be useful but should not be treated as a god.

  • Survival is not compulsory W. E. Deming

The famous quality guru, Dr. Deming often used this quote to answer queries concerning what would happen to stalwart companies like GM and Ford if they did not change their ways.  His nonchalant blasé attitude reflects an acceptance of the rise and fall of corporations basically through their own stupidity.  I often think of this quote when I am working with clients who are resistant to change and new ideas.

  • What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his own soul?Matthew

Perhaps the most famous quote from the gospels and one I have often thought is the most forgotten. We search for fame and fortune and greatness but at what cost?  When we die, what will we be remembered for.  In the new movie: Oz, The Great and Powerful, there is a line at the end where the Good Witch says to the Wizard, “it is better to be good than great.” This reminds me of the thought that says “What knowledge is there that is greater than kindness?”  We live in a world that seems to idolize fame and fortune and the outcome has been for us to create perhaps the greediest society in the history of the world. As great as America is, its greatness once stemmed from the Goodness of its beliefs concerning life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. America’s greatness did not come from an obsessive infatuation with wealth and fortune but instead from a pursuit of justice and equality. Somewhere along the line, we have lost our way and the “heart” of Christianity has been forgotten in a nation where most people pride themselves on being Christian.  Sitting Bull once commented about Christianity: “Sounds like a great religion but I don’t see anyone practicing it.” 

  • Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.Santayana

If only our politicians believed this quote.  History is the most reviled subject in high schools across the nation and many of our leaders eschew studying the past as a waste of time.  Countless crisis from WW II to the present Afghan-Iraq debacle could have been avoided if only we had learned the lessons that history had to teach us.  In the Fog of War, the documentary of McNamara’s fiasco with Vietnam, there is a scene where the North Vietnam war leader Vo Nguyen Giap asks McNamara if he is stupid.  McNamara appears astounded at the question and Giap explains that if any American Leaders ever read the history of Vietnam they would have realized that the Vietnamese hated the Chinese more than they hated us.  There was little recognition that we faced a nationalistic insurgency and not a domino type take over by the Chinese. We continue to compound our mistakes today in the Mideast by failing to learn from the past.

  • I killed you because it’s my nature. – Panchatantra

This quote is from a famous fable that tells the story of a scorpion who hitches a ride from a skeptical frog across a small pond.  The frog at first will not give a ride to the scorpion for fear of being stung. But the scorpion assuages the fears of the frog by asking what good would it do to kill the frog when the scorpion would then drown.  The frog relents to this reasoning but is subsequently stung by the scorpion. When with his dying breath, the frog asks “Why?”; the scorpion replies because “It’s my nature.”

Sometimes we want to see things as we think they are or should be but life dictates character and choices to a far greater extent than our puny influences and efforts. It is wise to consider that as individuals we can have only so much impact on others and that people will act according to their own volitions and instincts and not our own fatuous expectations.

  • The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance when we are in the majority.Ralph W. Sockman

When to be bold and when not to? The above quote provides a good guideline for action.  It is easy to be bold when in the majority but much more difficult when we appear surrounded on all sides by enemies or naysayers.  This is the time for courage. If you want to be a hero/heroine, then you should act when others around you are all against you.  It is much more difficult to be courageous when you are alone then when you are surrounded by a likeminded crowd.  Major General Smedley Butler, put his career and fame on the line when he came out against war.  All of the military were arrayed against his courageous anti-war position but it did not stop General Butler from condemning the war industry in the USA.

When you are in the majority, it is time to be tolerant.  When the lynch mobs are forming their nooses, when the crowd is screaming for intolerance to other religions, immigrants, minorities and other belief systems, this is the time to step out and demonstrate compassion for those in the minority.  Be brave and take the side of those who have no one to stand up for them or who are being persecuted on all sides.  Jesus spoke out against the majority when he said “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”   

  • Life is but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. – Shakespeare

I admit to a somewhat skeptical attitude with this quote. Nevertheless, life to me often seems senseless and unfathomable. When I think of the random crimes, stupid political decisions and incorrigible greed that surrounds us, I am left with the feeling that life is nothing more than a charade run by a few demented idiots.  I realize I can take myself too seriously and this quote often helps me to put my life into a perspective that is not all rose collared lenses. Nevertheless, I will continue to live as though life was full of meaning and purpose, if only the meaning and purpose I put on it for myself.

  • So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew

The quote above is also attributed to Jesus from one of his famous gospel parables.  The man who tries to store up goods for the future arrives at his bed only to find he is going to die on the morrow.  Some have said “Live each day as though it will be your last but watch your money as though you would live forever.”  As with all wisdom, there is truth to both sides.  However, one who studies the major world religions will note that among all the great prophets, from Buddha, to Lao Tzu, to Jesus Christ to Osho, there is the recurring theme of the need to live in the present.  A rather less sensible version of this theme is the quote “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die.” As a guide to life, I think this quote is somewhat at the other end of the thought left us by Jesus on the need to live in the present. The prophets all want us to live the best we can each day while the latter thought is a guide to profligacy and irresponsibility.  To live in the present, is to take responsibility for our lives on a moment to moment basis and not to blame God, the President, the Pope or our parents for the life we are now choosing to live.  Only when I give up on life, will I succumb to the “eat, drink and be merry” dictum.

  • All models are wrong, some are useful.George Box

A model is a conception or depiction of the world. We create computer models, scale models, construction models, ideological models and many other models to depict a future end state or goal we want to reach.  In all too many cases, we treat these models as though they were “perfect” depictions of reality. The opposite is the truth. No model was ever made or will ever be made, that can perfectly depict reality.  All our thoughts, belief systems and ideologies are flawed by a fundamental principle inherent in Box’s quote. Simply, that the world is more complex and multi-facted then anyone or any number of us can ever understand.  Add to these futile attempts to depict reality, the fact that the world is dynamic and constantly changing and you can understand why many of our plans go wrong.  We simply never have an accurate enough picture of the forces facing us to be 100 percent correct. Thus efforts at perfection must succumb to a simple pragmatism stated as “some are useful.”  Something can be useful without being perfect.  Most maps and guidance systems are useful even if flawed. The religions of the world may not be perfect but they serve a purpose in helping people live better more compassionate lives.

  • A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. —  Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote should form the basis of a set of new laws for all bureaucracies.  Craziness lies in doing the same thing and expecting different results.  The foolish bureaucrat thinks that if he/she follows all the rules and policies then everything will always work out fine. The bureaucrat thinks it is her job to guard all policies and procedures against changes or exceptions.  Exceptions cannot be made to the rules for anyone since this would violate the fundamental principle of all bureaucracies, namely: No exceptions under any circumstances for anyone, anywhere, anytime, anyplace or anyhow. 

The faceless bureaucrat is faceless so that she/he cannot be blamed for taking any responsibility. The bureaucrat lives in abject terror of responsibility and is relieved by the policies and procedures that enable them to avoid responsibility. “Don’t tell me your problems, don’t explain your situation, and don’t cry on my shoulder.  The law is the law.” The bureaucrat does not face any guilt or shame and can sleep peacefully at night knowing that they simply followed the rules.  The answer for me has simply been to break as many stupid idiotic rules as I can.  Too hell with rules and policies and procedures!  As Jesus said when healing on the Sabbath:  “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. – Mark.

 Ok, time for questions:

What are your favorite quotes? Why? How do these quotes influence your life?  Who are your role models? How do they influence your life? What stories do you tell your children and grandchildren? Why? If you had a different set of quotes how would your life be different?  What if you do not have any quotes? Why would this be?

Life is just beginning.



3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan Armstrong
    Mar 16, 2013 @ 19:44:50

    “The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” – Buddha

    “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

    These two always catch my attention, John, and I think that they’re somewhat connected.



  2. johnpersico
    Feb 16, 2015 @ 15:54:14

    Reblogged this on Aging Capriciously and commented:

    Happy Presidents Day. Karen and I are in San Francisco visiting some friends. I thought I would repost this blog since it was one of my early ones and I do not think too many of you will have read it. My niece prompted my rereading of this blog when she told me she wanted to print Santayana’s quote on her body as a tattoo. Probably reflecting my age, but I would hope my “wisdom” I advised her not to. Instead, I recommended she get the quote on a wall frame and post it in her house. Easier to change then I tattoo. Anyway, these are some of my favorite quotes and what they mean to me. Please feel free to add your posts in the comments section. I would love to know what you like.



  3. Denny Sinnoh
    Feb 16, 2015 @ 21:29:42

    “Life is but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. – Shakespeare”

    I can use it to explain a lot of what I observe.

    MacBeth is a goldmine of intense quotations : )



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