Quotations about   action

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In case signals can neither be seen nor perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy.

Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) British admiral
Memorandum before the Battle of Trafalgar (9 Oct 1805)
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Added on 2-Feb-19 | Last updated 2-Feb-19
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We do what we must, and call it by the best names we can, and would fain have the praise of having intended the result which ensues.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Experience,” Essays: Second Series (1844)
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Added on 2-Feb-19 | Last updated 2-Feb-19
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Marriage is not a noun, it’s a verb. It’s not something you have, like a house or a car. It is not a piece of paper that proves you are husband and wife. Marriage is a behavior. It is a choice you make over and over again, reflected in the way you treat your partner every day.

Barbara De Angelis (b. 1951) American relationship consultant, lecturer, author
Ask Barbara: The 100 Most-Asked Questions About Love, Sex, and Relationships (1997)
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Added on 25-May-18 | Last updated 25-May-18
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Words and thoughts concerning compassionate action that are not put into practice are like beautiful flowers that are colorful but have no fragrance.

Thích Nhất Hạnh (b. 1926) Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist
Creating True Peace, ch. 1 (2003)
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Added on 7-May-18 | Last updated 7-May-18
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An activist is the guy who cleans the river, not the guy who concludes it’s dirty.

H. Ross Perot (b. 1930) American entrepreneur, politician, reformer [Henry Ross Perot, Sr.]
(Attributed)
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In Ken Gross, Ross Perot: The Man Behind the Myth, ch. 14 (1992). A favorite saying of Perot's, varying slightly over the years (e.g., "The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.").
Added on 9-Apr-18 | Last updated 9-Apr-18
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Agitation is the marshalling of the conscience of a nation to mold its laws.

Robert Peel (1788-1850) British statesman, Prime Minister (1834-35, 1841-46)
(Attributed)
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Sometimes quoted as "conscience of a people." Widely quoted without source in the late 19th Century (earliest ref. 1881).
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If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
In Young India (12 May 1920)
Added on 26-Feb-18 | Last updated 26-Feb-18
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The time is always right to do what’s right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Future of Integration” Finney Chapel, Oberlin College (22 Oct 1964)

King gave several speeches over the years with this title.
Added on 16-Feb-18 | Last updated 16-Feb-18
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There are three possible ways in which the church can act toward the state: in the first place, as has been said, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e., it can throw the state back on its responsibilities. Secondly, it can aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Do good to all men.” In both these course of action, the church serves the free state in its free way, and at times when laws are changed the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks.

The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself. Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and required when the church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order, i.e., when it sees the state unrestrainedly bring about too much or too little law and order.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
“The Church and the Jewish Question” (1933)
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On the need for Christian clergy to actively oppose the Nazi regime's persecution of Jews.
Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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Few men of action have been able to make a graceful exit at the appropriate time.

Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) British journalist, author, media personality, satirist
“Twilight of Greatness,” The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge (1966)
Added on 30-Oct-17 | Last updated 30-Oct-17
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There is no more contemptible type of human character that that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a manly concrete deed.

William James (1842-1910) American psychologist and philosopher
The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1, ch. 4 “Habit” (1890)
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This chapter originally published in Popular Science Monthly (Feb 1887).
Added on 23-Oct-17 | Last updated 23-Oct-17
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No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one has not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved.

William James (1842-1910) American psychologist and philosopher
The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1, “Habit” (1890)
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Added on 16-Oct-17 | Last updated 16-Oct-17
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A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) Lebanese-American poet, writer, painter [Gibran Khalil Gibran]
The Voice of the Master, Part 2, ch. 8 (1960)
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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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Action is character.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) American writer [Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald]
“Notes for The Last Tycoon” (1941)
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Added on 18-Sep-17 | Last updated 18-Sep-17
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Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
Letter to Renate and Eberhard Bethge (1944)
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Alt. trans.: "It is not the thought but readiness to take responsibility that is the mainspring of action."
Added on 21-Aug-17 | Last updated 21-Aug-17
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Thought is sad without action, and action is sad without thought.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss philosopher, poet, critic
Journal (2nd Ed.,1889)
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Quoted in Cesare Lombroso, The Man of Genius (1896),
Added on 14-Aug-17 | Last updated 14-Aug-17
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There is only one proof of ability — action.

[Für das Können gibt es nur einen Beweis: das Tun.]

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916) Austrian writer
Aphorisms [Aphorismen] [tr. Wister (1883)]
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Alt. trans.: "There is only one proof of ability: doing it."
Added on 7-Aug-17 | Last updated 7-Aug-17
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For action is indeed the sole medium of expression for ethics. We continually forget that the sphere of morals is the sphere of action, that speculation in regard to morality is but observation and must remain in the sphere of intellectual comment, that a situation does not really become moral until we are confronted with the question of what shall be done in a concrete case, and are obliged to act upon our theory.

Jane Addams (1860-1935) American reformer, suffragist, philosopher, author
Democracy and Social Ethics, ch. 7 “Political Reform” (1902)
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Added on 7-Aug-17 | Last updated 7-Aug-17
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Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989) American anarchist, writer, environmentalist
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, ch. 4, “Life and Death and All That” (1989)
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Sometimes incorrectly quoted as "Belief without action is the ruin of the soul."
Added on 31-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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Don’t agonize, organize.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).
Added on 10-Jul-17 | Last updated 10-Jul-17
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It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) British novelist [pseud. Currer Bell]
Jane Eyre, ch. 12 [Jane] (1847)
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Added on 8-Jun-17 | Last updated 8-Jun-17
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Talk doesn’t cook rice.

Other Authors and Sources
Chinese proverb

Also attributed to the Japanese.
Added on 3-May-17 | Last updated 3-May-17
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When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.

Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929) American writer
The Left Hand of Darkness, ch. 3 (1969)
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Added on 12-Apr-17 | Last updated 12-Apr-17
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You must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act.

Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929) American writer
A Wizard of Earthsea, ch. 3 (1968)
Added on 6-Apr-17 | Last updated 6-Apr-17
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It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now.

Hugh Laurie (b. 1959) English actor, writer, musician, singer
Interview with Sophie Harris, Time Out: New York (1 Sep 2012)
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Added on 5-Dec-16 | Last updated 5-Dec-16
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God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please — you can never have both.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Intellect,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 11-Nov-16 | Last updated 11-Nov-16
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Sympathy … is not an end in itself. … Not mere feeling, but action, will mitigate the world’s misery, society’s injustice, or the people’s alienation from God.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) Polish-American rabbi, theologian, philosopher
The Prophets, 18 (1962)
Added on 24-Aug-16 | Last updated 24-Aug-16
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A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 1 “Introductory” (1859)
Added on 3-Aug-16 | Last updated 3-Aug-16
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He’s suffering from Politicians’ Logic. Something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it.

Antony Jay (b. 1930) English writer, broadcaster, director
Yes, Prime Minister, 2×05 “Power to the People” (7 Jan 1988)

Variant: "There is this great idea about the logic of a politician, along the lines of: 'Something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it.'"
Added on 1-Aug-16 | Last updated 1-Aug-16
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Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Comment to Mrs. J. A. Roosevelt (25 Dec 1851)
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Quoted in David McCullough, Mornings on Horseback (1981), sourced from the W. Sheffield Cowles, Jr. Collection (private). Usually given as a quote in full to his children, McCullough only notes the last sentence ("Man ... oyster") as an actual quotation.
Added on 27-Jul-16 | Last updated 27-Jul-16
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There are many fine things which you mean to do some day, under what you think will be more favorable circumstances. But the only time that is surely yours is the present, hence this is the time to speak the word of appreciation and sympathy, to do the generous deed, to forgive the fault of a thoughtless friend, to sacrifice self a little more for others. Today is the day in which to express your noblest qualities of mind and heart, to do at least one worthy thing which you have long postponed, and to use your God-given abilities for the enrichment of some less fortunate fellow traveler. Today you can make your life big, broad, significant and worthwhile. The present is yours to do with it as you will.

Kleiser - today is the day - wist_info quote

Grenville Kleiser (1868-1953) Canadian-American self-help author
Inspiration And Ideals: Thoughts For Every Day, “August Twenty-Eighth” (1918 ed.)
Added on 1-Jun-16 | Last updated 1-Jun-16
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The best effect of any book is that it excites the reader to self-activity.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Wood (ed.), Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893).
Added on 14-Apr-16 | Last updated 14-Apr-16
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Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

Leo Buscaglia (1925-1998) American psychologist, writer
Born For Love: Reflections on Loving (1992)
Added on 12-Apr-16 | Last updated 12-Apr-16
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It is circumstance and proper measure that give an action its character, and make it either good or bad.

Plutarch (AD 46-127) Greek historian, biographer, essayist [Mestrius Plutarchos]
Parallel Lives, “Agisilaus” [tr. Dryden (1693)]
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I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Douglass - prayed with my legs - wist_info quote

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
(Attributed)

Mentioned frequently as being part of his earlier speeches, but unsourced. Also found as "failed to see the slightest scintillation of an answer until I prayed with my legs."
Added on 7-Mar-16 | Last updated 7-Mar-16
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When “Do no Evil” has been understood,
Then learn the harder, braver rule, “Do Good.”

Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943) American poet, humorist
“Of Duty” (1924)
Added on 9-Feb-16 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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It’s no great Commendation to just forbear doing ill; thou art bound moreover to do good to others.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio at Prudentiam, #716 (1731)
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Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.

Chinese - fly and follow - wist_info quote

Other Authors and Sources
Chinese proverb

First recorded by Jean Paul [Johann Paul Friedrich Richter] (1763-1825), Levana, sec. 8 (1807): "Nicht das Geschrei, sagt ein chinesischer Autor, sondern der Ausflug einer wilden Ente treibt die Heerde zur Folge und zum Nachfliegen." (See H. A., A Book of Thoughts (1865))
Added on 7-Dec-15 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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Make the least ado about your greatest gifts. Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish writer.
The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
Added on 2-Dec-15 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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An act is not good because we feel obliged to do it; it is rather that we feel obliged to do it because it is good.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) Polish-American rabbi, theologian, philosopher
Man Is Not Alone, ch. 13 (1951)
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A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.

Patton - vigor now - wist_info

George S. Patton (1885-1945) American soldier
(Attributed)
Added on 2-Nov-15 | Last updated 3-Nov-15
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Every man of action has a strong dose of egotism, pride, hardness, and cunning. But all those things will be forgiven him, indeed, they will be regarded as high qualities, if he can make of them the means to achieve great ends.

Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) French statesman and soldier
The Edge of the Sword, “Of Prestige” (2) (1934) [tr. Hopkins (1960)]
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Don’t wait for a light to appear at the end of the tunnel, stride down there … and light the bloody thing yourself.

Sara Henderson (1936-2005) Australian pastoralist and author
The Strength in Us All (1994)
Added on 29-Sep-15 | Last updated 29-Sep-15
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Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish poet and dramatist
“Vacillation,” The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)
Added on 28-Sep-15 | Last updated 28-Sep-15
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You never can tell when you do an act
Just what the result will be;
But with every deed you are sowing a seed,
Though the harvest you may not see.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) American author and poet.
“You Never Can Tell,” Custer And Other Poems (1896)
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Added on 21-Sep-15 | Last updated 21-Sep-15
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Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.

Charles Reade (1814-1884) English novelist and dramatist
(Attributed)

Attributed in Notes and Queries, 9th series, vol. 12 (7 Nov 1903). Not found in any of his works, but attributed to many other authors over time. See here for more discussion.
Added on 7-Sep-15 | Last updated 10-Aug-16
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No action, whether foul or fair,
Is ever done, but it leaves somewhere
A record, written by fingers ghostly,
As a blessing or a curse, and mostly
In the greater weakness or greater strength
Of the acts which follow it.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
Christus, pt. 2 “A Village Church” (1872)
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Deeds are better things than words are,
Actions mightier than boastings.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
The Song of Hiawatha (1855)
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I begin to think that a calm is not desirable in any situation in life. Every object is beautiful in motion; a ship under sail, trees gently agitated with the wind, and a fine woman dancing, are three instances in point. Man was made for action and for bustle too, I believe.

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) American correspondent, First Lady (1797-1801)
Letter to Mary Smith Cranch (1784)
Added on 24-Jul-15 | Last updated 24-Jul-15
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The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.

Charles Lamb (1775-1834) Welsh-English essayist
“Table Talk, by the Late Elia,” London Athenaeum (4 Jan 1834)
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Added on 13-Jul-15 | Last updated 13-Jul-15
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My test of the real worth of a man as a preacher is when his congregation go away, saying, not, “What a beautiful sermon!” but “I will do something.”

François de Sales (1567-1622) French bishop, saint, writer [a.k.a. Francis de Sales, b. François de Boisy]
(Attributed)
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Added on 7-Jul-15 | Last updated 7-Jul-15
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Indolence is a delightful but distressing state; we must be doing something to be happy. Action is no less necessary than thought to the instinctive tendencies of the human frame.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) English writer
Table Talk, “On the Pleasure of Painting” (1821-22)
Added on 29-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; It is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
Strictly Personal (1953)
Added on 22-Jun-15 | Last updated 18-May-16
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Every time I’ve done something that doesn’t feel right, it’s ended up not being right.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
(Attributed)
Added on 8-Jun-15 | Last updated 8-Jun-15
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We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) English writer
Men and Manners, “On Prejudice” (1852)
Added on 30-Apr-15 | Last updated 30-Apr-15
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