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Modern Quotes, Old Ideas

Posted on Wednesday, January 31, 2024
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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16 Comments
Concept of imagination in book quote

What’s your favorite quote? Is it the quote, or the idea, that grabs you? Ideas hold power, quotes just package them. Whether wrapped in newsprint and string, or silk and a bow, ideas are valuable. BUT beware of false quotes and plagiarism, on the rise.

Take this quote: “During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” We know the quote and like it.

We like it because it reminds us that we are never alone, always cared for, accompanied in our hardest times, and attended to with love, hope, mercy, forgiveness, and strength – by a loving God. That is true.

The quote’s origins? More unclear. The collection of words, organized just so, reminds us, in a way that leads us to reflection, that faith is worth having, especially when we confront hopelessness, worry, anxiety, or struggle. It also reminds us that we often do not see truth, or adversity as a blessing, until later.

Of secondary importance is who crafted the poem. The sentiment is, of course, biblical. “Not a sparrow falls without His knowing,” as Matthew wrote. And how much more does God love us? So in toughest times, keep the faith.

Still, who produced that visual, two pairs of prints rather than one, gradually resolved by understanding we are being carried not abandoned? Where did it come from?

Humans being humans, a bunch of presumed authors – beyond “Unknown” – have claimed credit for the poem, unfortunately. But do we care? What matters is the idea.

Take other quotes, often attributed without understanding. George Washington, for example, copied a list, his “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior.” He made clear they were not his ideas. Still, people insist on attributing them to him.

Attributed to Washington are, “It is better to be alone than in bad company” and “Think before you speak.” Not his, but the copied ideas – are good ones. 

These days misattribution and plagiarism are an epidemic, a modern plague. So, be careful not to swoon when you hear “climate change” came from Daniel Boone, or “Open border, again” came from Davy Crocket’s pen. Not so.  

Still, ideas are important. “Everybody you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so be kind always,” is attributed to Robin Williams, falsely.

Still, his sad life’s end and memorable (acted) soliloquy in “Dead Poet’s Society,” plus his tendency to see humor in misfortune, are worth empathy, fit the quote, which is not a quote.

Abe Lincoln said many brilliant, illuminating, entertaining things, yet is credited with things he never said, like “Nearly all men stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.” Good idea? Yes. Lincoln? No.

So, we hear lots of ideas shined up these days, another “sow’s ear” turned “silk purse” (maybe Jonathan Swift) by a clever journalist – yet a false attribution.

Be cautious about who you credit with quotes. Then again, the idea may be a lovely one, timely, even one we could learn from in an age inclined not to wonder or think.

When everyone from Harvard’s (former) president to our Plagiarist-In-Chief, Mr. Biden, puts us on guard for plastic talk, untruth, non-truth, reimagined truth, things unoriginal and uncouth, do be discerning. 

Modern “quotes” are worth a bit of cynical circumspection, but good ideas remain in circulation, even if from questionable sources. Ideas are always worth noodling.

Closing quote, authentic Mark Twain: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. 

Bottom line: Be discerning. Question sources, quotes. But keep reading, looking for new combinations of colored glass, and ideas to prompt thought. Ideas, especially old ones, are worth reflection, even if – sometimes very creatively – repackaged.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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Max
Max
2 months ago

Quotes…? I have to state that I enjoy and obey those from the Word of God. I thank him everyday from start to finish that he is always beside me, guiding me through the Holy Spirit. I know that I make mistakes and am grateful for his mercy and forgiveness when I repent. He makes my life more easy to deal with the complications of life.

SusanW
SusanW
2 months ago

Interesting thoughts, Robert! Although, plagiarism, unfortunately, has been around for a fair amount of time and as an educator, it was an area of writing that I always had to be on the lookout for. The majority of my students who had fallen into that dark hole, did not do it because of the lack of a strong writing ability, but more often, because they were either just plain “lazy” or more commonly, over programmed after school and had limited time to do their best writing. Writing is definitely a dedicated process. Quotes should also be verified as much as possible, however, I find the message more impactful than the actual author. The message in a quote inspires me or encourages me to look at an issue from a different perspective.
Two of my favorite quotes, both by Albert Einstein are:”I have no special talents. I am just passionately curious.” And “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” In my opinion, everything is a miracle. Stay curious!

ADRIAN
ADRIAN
2 months ago

Robert, your writing gives me comfort w/o the calories.
“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” MT
Mark Twain underwrote US Grant’s book “Personal Memoirs.” Grant had been duped by scoundrels, all his life, actually, was almost destitute, and dying from mouth/throat cancer. MT, knowing of Grant’s plight stepped forward and saved the Grants from certain poverty.

NancyInOregon
NancyInOregon
2 months ago

My very favorite quote: “Experience is that thing you get just after you need it.” It was attributed to Woody Allen when I first saw it but I’ve seen it attributed to Steven Wright and I suspect it’s been around for a lot longer. Anybody know?

Jimmy P
Jimmy P
2 months ago

My favorite quote? Aside from many from the Bible, pretty much ANY quote from American Treasure Thomas Sowell.

Weck
Weck
2 months ago

I recently found the quote. “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.” James Whitcomb Riley, not a recent politition.

VikkiC
VikkiC
2 months ago

My favorite? The Golden Rule. My mother…if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all…

John Shipway
John Shipway
2 months ago

“Man, my head hurts like crazy”
—John Fitzgerald Kennedy, November 1963

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