Quotations about   change

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One great secret of the art of politics all over the world is never to push evil or beneficial measures to that point where resistance commences on the part of the governed.

Edwin Percy Whipple 1819-1886) American essayist and critic
“Character” (1857), Character and Characteristic Men (1866)
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Any experience deeply felt makes some men better and some men worse. When it has ended, they share nothing but the recollection of a commitment in which each was tested and to some degree found wanting. They were not alike when they began, and they were not alike when they finished. […] The consequences of the journey change the voyager so much more than the embarking or the arrival.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, “A Prelude” (1955)
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American capitalism is predatory, and American politics are corrupt: The same thing is true in England and the same in France; but in all these three countries the dominating fact is that whenever the people get ready to change the government, they can change it.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
Letter to John Reed (22 Oct 1918)
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The bearers of the myth of every decade seem to carry in their hands the ax and the spade to execute and inter the myth of the previous one.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, Prelude (1955)
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He may have gone quite far in our society, but no matter how far one goes, one cannot avoid bringing oneself along.

Peter David (b. 1956) American writer
Babylon 5: Legions of Fire III – Out of the Darkness (2000)
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In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble
(They’re only made of clay),
But — our love is here to stay.

Ira Gershwin (1896-1983) American lyricist [b. Israel Gershowitz]
“Love Is Here to Stay”, The Goldwyn Follies (1938)
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In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please,
And change, with every passing lad,
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
“Indian Summer,” Enough Rope (1926)
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In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.

Max De Pree (b. 1924) American businessman and writer
Leadership Is an Art, “Who Owns This Place?” (1987)
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Sometimes misquoted as "by remaining who we are."
Added on 1-May-20 | Last updated 1-May-20
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Good authors, too, who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Writing prose.
Anything goes!

Cole Porter (1891-1964) American composer and songwriter
“Anything Goes” (1934)
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Every now and then, in the course of great events, the elements of tradition and innovation ally themselves and each one’s weakness supplements the other and together they achieve the perfect debacle.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
“The Genius of Mussolini,” New York Review of Books (7 Oct 1982)
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Reprinted in Rebellions, Perversities, and Main Events (1994).
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As nought good endures beneath the skies,
So ill endures no more.

[Come cosa buona non si trova
Che duri sempre, così ancor né ria.]

Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) Italian poet
Orlando Furioso, Canto 37, st. 7 (1532) [tr. Rose (1831)]
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Alt trans.: "For learn this truth, by just experience found, / Nor good, nor ill has one eternal round." [tr. Hoole (1807), l. 51]
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The certainties of one age are the problems of the next.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, ch. 5 (1926)
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Added on 17-Apr-20 | Last updated 17-Apr-20
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… “[F]uture shock” [is] the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.

Alvin Toffler (1928-2016) American writer and futurist
Future Shock, Introduction (1970)
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Ye knowe ek that, in forme of speche is chaunge
Withinne a thowsand yere, and words tho
That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thynketh hem, and yet thai spake hm so,
And spedde as wele in love, as men now do ….

[You know that the form of speech will change within a thousand years, and words that were once apt, we now regard as quaint and strange; and yet they spoke them thus, and succeeded as well in love as men do now.]

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400) English poet, philosopher, astronomer, diplomat
Troilus and Criseyde, Book 2, st. 4, ll. 22-26 (1385)
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Note that the spelling varied between different editions of this same text.

Alt. trans.:
"Remember in the forms of speech comes change
Within a thousand years, and words that then
Were well esteemed, seem foolish now and strange;
And yet they spake them so, time and again,
And thrived in love as well as any men." [tr. Krapp (2006)]
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The very act of trying to run counter to the culture is what creates the next wave of culture people will in turn attempt to counter.

David McRaney (contemp.) American journalist, author, new media worker
You Are Not So Smart, ch. 27 “Selling Out” (2011)
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Added on 20-Mar-20 | Last updated 20-Mar-20
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Just for the record, darling, not all positive change feels positive in the beginning.

Other Authors and Sources
S. C. Lourie
Added on 16-Mar-20 | Last updated 16-Mar-20
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Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress, Vol. 1, “Reason in Common Sense,” ch. 12 (1905-1906)
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Often given as "Those who do not remember the past ...." Quoted at the Auschwitz Holocaust Museum, via Polish, as: "The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again."

Often misattributed to Winston Churchill, who paraphrased it in a Commons speech in 1948: "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."
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Our life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Representative Men, Lecture 4 “Montaigne; or, The Skeptic” (1850)
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If life becomes hard to bear we think of a change in our circumstances. But the most important and effective change, a change in our own attitude, hardly even occurs to us, and the resolution to take such a step is very difficult for us.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) Austrian-English philosopher
Culture and Value, 1946 (1977) [tr. Winch (1980)]
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The greatest skill in cards is to know when to discard; the smallest of current trumps is worth more than the ace of trumps of the last game.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], # 31 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
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Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.

Alvin Toffler (1928-2016) American writer and futurist
Future Shock, Introduction (1970)
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Added on 21-Jan-20 | Last updated 21-Jan-20
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Success is like reaching an important birthday and finding you’re exactly the same.

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) Belgian-English actress
Quoted in Yann-Brice Dherbier and Pierre-Henri Verlhac, Audrey Hepburn : A Life in Pictures (2007)
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The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those that cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Alvin Toffler (1928-2016) American writer and futurist
(Paraphrase)
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Sometimes given as "The illiterate of the future ..." This ubiquitous (mis)quotation of Toffler is a conflation of two sentences in ch. 18 of Toffler's Future Shock (1970).

  1. On p. 414, Toffler writes, "By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education."
  2. In the next paragraph, he quotes psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy: "Tomorrow's illiterate will not be the man who can't read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn."
Added on 16-Jan-20 | Last updated 16-Jan-20
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Abuse is a proof that you are felt. If they praise you, you will work no revolution.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1855)
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Added on 16-Aug-19 | Last updated 16-Aug-19
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Where men then are free to consult experience they will correct their practice, and make changes for the better. It follows, therefore, that the more free men are, the more changes they will make. In the beginning, possibly, for the worse; but most certainly in time for the better; until their knowledge enlarging by observation, and their judgment strengthening by exercise, they will find themselves in the straight, broad, fair road of improvement. Out of change, therefore, springs improvement; and the people who shall have imagined a peaceable mode of changing their institutions, hold a surety for their melioration. This surety is worth all other excellences. Better were the prospects of a people under the influence of the worst government who should hold the power of changing it, that those of a people under the best who should hold no such power.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
Independence Day speech, New Harmony, Indiana (4 Jul 1828)
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The paradox of education is precisely this — that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it -– at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American novelist, playwright, activist
“The Negro Child — His Self-Image,” speech (16 Oct 1963)
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Speech to educators, first published as "A Talk to Teachers," The Saturday Review (21 Dec 1963). The thesis above is restatated at the end in these words, more frequently quoted: "I began by saying that one of the paradoxes of education was that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society. It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person."
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There is, in the institutions of this country, one principle, which, had they no other excellence, would secure to them the preference over those of all other countries. I mean — and some devout patriots will start — I mean the principle of change.

I have used a word to which is attached an obnoxious meaning. Speak of change, and the world is in alarm. And yet where do we not see change? What is there in the physical world but change? And what would there be in the moral world without change?

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
Independence Day speech, New Harmony, Indiana (4 Jul 1828)
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For a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.

Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941) French philosopher
Creative Evolution, ch. 1 (1907) [tr. Mitchell (1911)]
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Added on 26-Nov-18 | Last updated 26-Nov-18
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If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.

Eric Shinseki (b. 1942) American military leader, cabinet secretary
Quoted in Mackubin Thomas Owens, “Marines Turned Soldiers,” National Review Online (10 Dec 2001)
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A man who marries a woman to educate her falls victim to the same fallacy as the woman who marries a man to reform him.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
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What is said by great employers of labor against agitators is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilization.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)
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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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There is fascism, leading only into the blackness which it has chosen as its symbol, into smartness and yapping out of orders, and self-righteous brutality, into social as well as international war. It means change without hope. Our immediate duty — in that tinkering which is the only useful form of action in our leaky old tub — our immediate duty is to stop it ….

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“Notes on the Way,” Time and Tide (10 June 1934)
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Reprinted in The Prince's Tale and Other Uncollected Writings (1998)
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It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” sermon, National Cathedral, Washington, DC (31 Mar 1968)
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Compare to language he used here.
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What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you — what used to be a tail wind is now a head wind — you have to lean into that and figure out what to do, because complaining isn’t a strategy.

Jeff Bezos (b. 1964) American business magnate, entrepreneur, investor
Interview, ABC News (25 Sep 2013)
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At twenty a man is a Peacock, at thirty a Lion, at forty a Camel, at fifty a Serpent, at sixty a Dog, at seventy an Ape, at eighty nothing.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], #276 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
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Leave well — even “pretty well” — alone: that is what I learn as I get old.

Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883) English writer, poet, translator
Letter to W. F. Pollock (7 Dec 1869)
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Everything passes, everything breaks, everything palls, everything gets replaced.

[Tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse, et tout se remplace.]

Other Authors and Sources
French proverb

Sometimes given without the final clause. The second and third clauses are sometimes reversed.
Added on 18-Aug-17 | Last updated 18-Aug-17
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Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Everybody’s Political What’s What? (1950 ed.)
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Added on 27-Jul-17 | Last updated 27-Jul-17
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Change is the essence of life: be willing to surrender who you are for what you could become.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) American theologian and clergyman
(Attributed)

Sometimes elided to: "Change is the essence of life: surrender who you are for what you could become."
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Our ancestors used to wear decent clothes, well-adapted to the shape of their bodies; they were skilled horsemen and swift runners, ready for all seemly undertakings. But in these days the old customs have almost wholly given way to new fads. Our wanton youth is sunk in effeminacy, and courtiers, fawning, seek the favors of women with every kind of lewdness. […] They sweep the dusty ground with the unnecessary trains of their robes and mantles; their long, wide sleeves cover their hands whatever they do; impeded by these frivolities they are almost incapable of walking quickly or doing any kind of useful work.

Orderic Vitalis (1075-c. 1142) English monk, chronicler
Historia Ecclesiastica, Book 4 [tr. Chibnall (1969-80)]

Alt. trans.: "Our ancestors used to wear decent clothes, nicely fitted to the shape of their bodies and suitable for riding and running and performing every task that they should reasonably perform. But in these wicked days the practices of olden times have almost completely given way to novel fads."
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Love responsibility. Say: “It is my duty, and mine alone, to save the earth. If it is not saved, then I alone am to blame.” Love each man according to his contribution in the struggle. Do not seek friends; seek comrades-in-arms.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer and philosopher
The Saviors of God [Salvatores Dei], “The March: First Step: The Ego,” #15-16 (1923) [tr. Friar [1960])
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As has been pointed out so often, it is characteristic of mankind to make as little adjustment as possible in customary ways in the face of new conditions; the process of social change is epitomized in the fact that the first Packard car body delivered to the manufacturers had a whipstock on the dashboard.

Robert Lynd (1892-1970) American sociologist [Robert Slaughton Lynd]
Middletown, ch. 29 (1929) [with Helen Lynd]
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You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of “the artist” and the all-sufficiency of “art” and “beauty” and “love”, back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermuda, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) American writer
You Can’t Go Home Again, Book 7 “A Wind Is Rising and the Rivers Flow” (1940)
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Added on 1-Jun-17 | Last updated 12-Jun-17
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Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 6, Epigraph “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar” (1894)
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She smoothed her hair back from her forehead and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked like she always looked. It was probably a truth about tragedy, she thought, while the tragedy is going on people look pretty much the way they looked when it wasn’t.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Thin Air (1995)
Added on 3-May-17 | Last updated 3-May-17
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The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Preface (1936)
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We are the highest achievement reached so far by the great constructors of evolution. We are their “latest” but certainly not their last word. The scientist must not regard anything as absolute, not even the laws of pure reason. He must remain aware of the great fact, discovered by Heraclitus, that nothing whatever really remains the same even for one moment, but that everything is perpetually changing. To regard man, the most ephemeral and rapidly evolving of all species, as the final and unsurpassable achievement of creation, especially at his present-day particularly dangerous and disagreeable stage of development, is certainly the most arrogant and dangerous of all untenable doctrines.

Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) Austrian zoologist, ethologist, ornithologist
On Aggression, ch. 12 “On the Virtue of Scientific Humility” (1963)
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It used to be a good hotel, but that proves nothing — I used to be a good boy, for that matter. Both of us have lost character of late years.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Innocents Abroad, ch. 57 (1869)
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Added on 20-Apr-17 | Last updated 20-Apr-17
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People never move towards revolution; they are pushed towards it by intolerable injustices in the economic and social order under which they live.

Suzanne La Follette (1893-1983) American journalist, author, feminist
(Attributed)
Added on 10-Apr-17 | Last updated 10-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)
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The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany: ‘Traditional values are to be debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Abolition of Man (1943)
Added on 29-Mar-17 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
(Attributed)

Reply to a criticism of having changed his position on monetary policy. Quoted in Paul Samuelson, "The Keynes Centenary" The Economist, Vol. 287 (1983), but possibly apocryphal (see here).

Variants:
  • "When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?"
  • "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
  • "When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?"
Added on 21-Mar-17 | Last updated 15-Apr-20
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When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler, #50 (25 Sep 1750)
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People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there is any hope for them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Circles,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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