Quotations about   compassion

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We have all heard enough to fill a book about Dr. Johnson’s incivilities. I wish they would compile another book consisting of Dr. Johnson’s apologies. There is no better test of a man’s ultimate chivalry and integrity than how he behaves when he is wrong; and Johnson behaved very well. He understood (what so many faultlessly polite people do not understand) that a stiff apology is a second insult. He understood that the injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
“The Real Dr. Johnson,” The Common Man (1950)
Added on 6-Mar-19 | Last updated 6-Mar-19
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Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.

Emily Post (1872-1960) American author, columnist [née Price]
(Attributed)

Often cited to her famous Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922), but not found in that work. Claimed as genuine by the Emily Post Institute.
Added on 4-Oct-18 | Last updated 4-Oct-18
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Tolerance, good temper and sympathy — they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Added on 12-Sep-18 | Last updated 12-Sep-18
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To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Loving Your Enemies,” Sermon, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery (25 Dec 1957)
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Added on 26-Aug-17 | Last updated 26-Aug-17
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The last business of Christ’s life was the saving of a poor penitent thief. That was part of His triumph. That was one of the glories attending His death.

Dwight Lyman "D. L." Moody (1837-1899) American evangelist and publisher
“The Penitent Thief” (sermon)
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Added on 11-Aug-17 | Last updated 11-Aug-17
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In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Loving Your Enemies,” Sermon, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery (17 Nov 1957)
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Added on 30-Jun-17 | Last updated 30-Jun-17
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The moral of it is, that if we would build on a sure foundation in friendship, we must love our friends for THEIR sakes rather than OUR OWN; we must look at their truth to THEMSELVES, full as much as their truth to US. In the latter case, every wound to self-love would be a cause of coldness; in the former, only some painful change in the friend’s character and disposition — some frightful breach in his allegiance to his better self — could alienate the heart.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) British novelist [pseud. Currer Bell]
Letter to W S. Williams (21 Jul 1851)
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Added on 7-Apr-17 | Last updated 7-Apr-17
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An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self. And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness. They end up the victims of distorted and disrupted personality.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Conquering Self-Centeredness,” sermon, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama (11 Aug 1957)
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Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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If a civil word or two will render a man happy, he must be a wretch indeed who will not give them to him.

Louis XIV (1638-1715) French monarch (1643-1715) [Louis the Great, the Sun King)
(Attributed)
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Quoted in William Seward, Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons, Vol 4, 5th ed. (1804).
Added on 27-Feb-17 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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Yet somehow our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) American writer
My Several Worlds (1954)
Added on 6-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.

whitman-become-the-wounded-person-wist_info-quote

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) American poet
“The Song of Myself” Sec. 33 (1892)
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Added on 12-Oct-16 | Last updated 12-Oct-16
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Lofty mountains are full of springs; great hearts are full of tears.

Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest, 5.56 [tr. Hapgood (1886)]
Added on 30-Sep-16 | Last updated 30-Sep-16
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A generous heart suffers for the misfortunes of others as much as though it had caused them.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes], #173 (1746) [tr. Stevens (1940)]
Added on 28-Sep-16 | Last updated 14-Jun-17
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Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Paul - rejoice weep - wist_info quote

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Romans 12:15 [KJV]
Added on 7-Sep-16 | Last updated 7-Sep-16
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Now, I’m an atheist. I really don’t believe for a moment that our moral sense comes from a God. […] It’s human, universal, [it’s] being able to think our way into the minds of others. As I said at the time, what those holy fools clearly lacked, or clearly were able to deny themselves, was the ability to enter into the minds of the people they were being so cruel to. Amongst their crimes, is, was, a failure of the imagination, of the moral imagination.

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
“Faith and Doubt At Ground Zero,” Frontline (Feb 2002)
Added on 19-Jul-16 | Last updated 19-Jul-16
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It’s okay if you don’t want to feed the hungry, or heal the sick, or house the homeless. Just don’t say you’re doing it for their own good. Don’t say you’d like to help people, but your hands are tied, because if you did it would cause a “culture of dependency,” or “go against the Bible,” or, worst of all, “rob them of their freedom” to be sick and hungry. Just admit you’re selfish, and based on how little your beliefs mirror the actual teachings of Jesus you might as well be worshiping Despicable Me.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Real Time with Bill Maher (8 Nov 2013)
Added on 15-Jun-16 | Last updated 16-Jun-16
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Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow
For other’s good, and melt at other’s woe.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
The Odyssey of Homer, Book 18 (1725)

See also Pope.
Added on 17-May-16 | Last updated 17-May-16
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Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.

McEwan - someone other than yourself - wist_info quote

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
“Only love and then oblivion,” The Guardian (15 Sep 2001)
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Added on 9-May-16 | Last updated 9-May-16
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So perish all whose breast ne’er learned to glow
For others’ good, or melt at others’ woe!

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
“Elegy to an Unfortunate Lady”, l. 45 (1717)
Added on 26-Apr-16 | Last updated 26-Apr-16
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They did to others that which they would not they should do to them — that grand principle of immorality upon which rests the whole art of war.

[Ils faisaient à autrui ce qu’ils ne voulaient pas qu’on leur fît, principe immoral sur lequel repose tout l’art de la guerre.]

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
From the Earth to the Moon, ch. 10 (1865) [tr. Scribner’s (1890)]
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Alt. trans.: "They did unto others what they would not have others do unto them, an immoral principle that is the basic premise of the art of war." [tr. Miller (1978)]
Added on 18-Mar-16 | Last updated 18-Mar-16
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A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.

Shelley - greatly good - wist_info quote

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) English poet
A Defence of Poetry (1821) [ed. Albert S. Cook (1890)]
Added on 26-Jan-16 | Last updated 1-Jun-16
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It really hurts me very much to suppose that I have wronged anybody on earth.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Quincy, Illinois (13 Oct 1858)
Added on 4-Jan-16 | Last updated 4-Jan-16
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None knows the weight of another’s burthen.

Herbert - anothers burden - wist_info quote

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Outlandish Proverbs, #880 (1640)
Added on 10-Dec-15 | Last updated 10-Dec-15
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We cannot exist as a little island of well-being in a world where two-thirds of the people go to bed hungry every night.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Speech (8 Dec 1959)
Added on 15-Oct-15 | Last updated 15-Oct-15
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If you ask any police officer what the worst part of the job is, they will always say breaking bad news to relatives, but this is not the truth. The worst part is staying in the room after you’ve broken the news, so that you’re forced to be there when someone’s life disintegrates around them. Some people say it doesn’t bother them — such people are not to be trusted.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Rivers of London [Midnight Riot] (2011)
Added on 14-Oct-15 | Last updated 14-Oct-15
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The pat on the back, the arm around the shoulder, the praise for what was done right, and the sympathetic nod for what wasn’t, are as much a part of golf as life itself.

Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) US President, (1974-77) [b. Leslie Lynch King, Jr.]
Speech, Dedication of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Pinehurst, North Carolina (12 Sep 1974)
Added on 28-Aug-15 | Last updated 28-Aug-15
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Sin? Sin like love was a word hard to define. It came in two bitter but vastly different flavors. The first lay in violating the taboos of your tribe … The other meaning of sin was easier to define because it was not molded by the murky concepts of religion and taboo: Sin is behavior that ignores the welfare of others.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Time Enough For Love (1973)
Added on 7-Jul-15 | Last updated 7-Jul-15
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We believe we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter we are bound one to another, that the problems of a retired school teacher in Duluth are our problems; that the future of the child in Buffalo is our future; that the struggle of a disabled man in Boston to survive and live decently is our struggle; that the hunger of a woman in Little Rock is our hunger; that the failure anywhere to provide what reasonably we might, to avoid pain, is our failure.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
Keynote Address, Democratic National Convention (16 Jul 1984)
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Added on 6-Jul-15 | Last updated 6-Jul-15
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Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves — to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Mere Christianity (1952)
Added on 1-Jul-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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We believe in only the government we need, but we insist on all the government we need. We believe in a government that is characterized by fairness and reasonableness, a reasonableness that goes beyond labels, that doesn’t distort or promise to do things that we know we can’t do. We believe in a government strong enough to use words like “love” and “compassion” and smart enough to convert our noblest aspirations into practical realities. We believe in encouraging the talented, but we believe that while survival of the fittest may be a good working description of the process of evolution, a government of humans should elevate itself to a higher order.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
Keynote Address, Democratic National Convention (16 Jul 1984)
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Added on 29-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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We believe in a single fundamental idea that describes better than most textbooks and any speech that I could write what a proper government should be: the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another’s pain, sharing one another’s blessings — reasonably, honestly, fairly, without respect to race, or sex, or geography, or political affiliation.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
Commencement Address, Iona College (3 Jun 1984)
Added on 22-Jun-15 | Last updated 22-Jun-15
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Any sufficiently advanced indifference is indistinguishable from evil.

George Wiman (contemp.) American blogger, computer technician
Google+ (15 May 2015)
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See Clarke.
Added on 19-May-15 | Last updated 19-May-15
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Teach me to feel another’s Woe;
To hide the Fault I see;
That Mercy I to others show,
That Mercy show to me.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
“The Universal Prayer,” 9 (1738)
Added on 12-May-15 | Last updated 12-May-15
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If I should try to say anew the creed of the Optimist, I should say something like this: “I believe in God, I believe in Man, I believe in the power of the spirit, I believe we should so act that we may draw nearer and more near the age when no man shall live at his ease while another suffers.”

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
“Optimism” (1903)
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Added on 9-Mar-15 | Last updated 9-Mar-15
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But the truth is, that no man is much regarded by the rest of the world, except where the interest of others is involved in his fortune. The common employments or pleasures of life, love or opposition, loss or gain, keep almost every mind in perpetual agitation. If any man would consider how little he dwells upon the condition of others, he would learn how little the attention of others is attracted by himself.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler #159 (24 Sep 1751)
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Added on 10-Feb-15 | Last updated 10-Feb-15
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Perhaps the worst thing about suffering is that it finally hardens the hearts of those around it.

Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) American feminist, journalist, activist
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, “Ruth’s Song” (1983)
Added on 30-Dec-14 | Last updated 30-Dec-14
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The whole point of society is to be less unforgiving than nature.

Arthur D. Hlavaty (b. 1942) American writer, editor, publisher [a/k/a "Supergee"]
“Derogatory Reference” #100 (2002)
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Added on 25-Aug-14 | Last updated 25-Aug-14
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At a dinner given by Periander, tyrant of Corinth, to the Seven Wise Men, including Anacharsis, the question was asked, What is the ideal state, or most perfect form of popular government? The answers given by the philosophers were as follows:—

Solon: “That in which an injury done to the least of its citizens is an injury done to all.”
Bias: “Where the law has no superior.”
Thales: “Where the rich are neither too rich, nor the poor too poor.”
Anacharsis: “Where virtue is honored, and vice detested.”
Pittacus: “Where dignities are always conferred on the good, never on the bad.”
Cleobulus: “Where the citizens fear blame more than punishment.”
Chilo: “Where the laws are more regarded, and have more authority, than the orators.”
Goethe has asked, “What government is best? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.” At another time he said, “The best government is that which makes itself superfluous.”
“Good government,” says Confucius, “obtains when those who are near are made happy, and those who are far off are attracted.”

Solon (c. 638 BC - 558 BC) Athenian statesman, lawmaker, poet
(Attributed)
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In S.A. Bent, Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men, "Solon" (1887)
Added on 18-Jun-14 | Last updated 18-Jun-14
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“It don’t look well, now, for a feller to be praisin’ himself; but I say it jest because it’s the truth. I believe I’m reckoned to bring in about the finest droves of niggers that is brought in, — at least, I’ve been told so; if I have once, I reckon I have a hundred times, — all in good case, — fat and likely, and I lose as few as any man in the business. And I lays it all to my management, sir; and humanity, sir, I may say, is the great pillar of my management.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American author
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ch. 1 “In Which the Reader Is Introduced to a Man of Humanity” (1862)
Added on 5-Mar-14 | Last updated 5-Mar-14
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For mortal to aid mortal — this is god; and this is the road to eternal glory.

Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) Roman author, naturalist, philosopher, military commander [Gaius Plinius Secundus]
Natural History, 2.5 [tr. Rackham (1938)]
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Too many people don’t care what happens so long as it doesn’t happen to them.

William Howard Taft (1857-1930) US President (1909-13) and Chief Justice (1921-1930)
(Attributed)
Added on 17-Jan-14 | Last updated 17-Jan-14
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A large part of altruism, even when it is perfectly honest, is grounded upon the fact that it is uncomfortable to have unhappy people about one.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“On the Nature of Man: The Altruist,” Prejudices: Fourth Series (1924)
Added on 13-Jan-14 | Last updated 13-Jan-14
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He rises by lifting others.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“Liberty”
Added on 30-Dec-13 | Last updated 30-Dec-13
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Justice does not belong to the Christian way of life and there is no mention of it in Christ’s teaching. Rejoice with the joyous and weep with those who weep; for this is the sign of limpid purity. Suffer with those who are ill and mourn with sinners; with those who repent, rejoice. Be a partaker in the sufferings of all men. Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even men who live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over the man who is falling and cover him. And if you cannot take upon yourself his sins and receive his chastisement in his stead, then at least patiently suffer his shame and do not disgrace him.

St. Isaac of Nineveh (d. c. 700) Assyrian bishop and theologian [a.k.a. Isaac the Assyrian, Abba Isaac, Isaac of Syria, Isaac Syrus]
Ascetical Homilies
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We are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? ch. 3 (1967)
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Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. With them, we can make a joint effort to solve the problems of the whole humankind.

The Dalai Lama (b. 1935) Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader [The 14th Dalai Lama; a/k/a Lhama Thondup / Lhama Dhondrub; b. Tenzin Gyatso]
(Attributed)
Added on 9-Sep-11 | Last updated 18-Oct-17
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Bear with the faults and frailties of others, for you, too, have many faults which others have to bear. If you cannot mold yourself as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking? For we require other people to be perfect, but do not correct our own faults.

Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471) German monk, author
The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, ch. 16 (c. 1418) [tr. L. Sherley-Price (1952)]
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Alt trans.: "Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure. If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves to be restrained in nothing."

Alt trans.: "Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be."
Added on 2-Jun-10 | Last updated 14-Sep-16
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God has … ordered things that we may learn to bear one another’s burdens; for there is no man without his faults, none without his burden. None is sufficient in himself; none is wise in himself; therefore, we must support one another, comfort, help, teach, and advise one another.

Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471) German monk, author
The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, ch. 16 (c. 1418) [tr. L. Sherley-Price (1952)]
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Alt trans.: "But God has so ordained, that we may learn to bear with one another's burdens, for there is no man without fault, no man without burden, no man sufficient to himself nor wise enough. Hence we must support one another, console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise ...."
Added on 1-May-09 | Last updated 14-Sep-16
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Never find your delight in another’s misfortune.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 467
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Democracy means, not “I am as good as you are,” but, “You are as good as I am.”

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) American theologian and clergyman
The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, foreward (1944)

This quote was difficult to track down. It's quoted everywhere -- but often attributed to Theodore Parker (as I previously did) or James Russell Lowell. I couldn't find, however, any specific citation from either gentleman.

Rev. John Murray Atwood, in his essay "Universalism and Educational Ideas" in 1770-1920 - From Good Luck to Gloucester, ed. Rev. Frederick A Bisbee (1920), writes:

But he who not only feels that he himself has unknown, divine possibilities, but so has his fellow, that democracy means, not I am as good as you are, but you are as good as I am, who seeks as the expression of his own true nature the larger liberty and life for others, is the kind of man essential to construct a new world.


The book is a history of Universalism, which may tie into Theodore Parker's Unitarian career. At any rate, the wording does seem to precede Niebuhr, but lacking a solid citation, I'll leave it with him.
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When the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea, the angels in heaven began to break forth in songs of jubilation, but the Holy One, blessed be He, silenced them: “My creatures are perishing — and ye are ready to sing!”

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
(Unreferenced)

In Louis I. Newman, comp. The Talmudic Anthology, 103 (1945): "When the Egyptians were drowning, the angels wished to sing. But God said, 'My children are dying, and you would sing?'"
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If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
Drift-Wood, “Table Talk”
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Kindness, nobler ever than revenge.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 4, sc. 3, l. 129 (1599)
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Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish poet and dramatist
“Easter 1916” (4), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921)
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“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) English writer and social critic
A Christmas Carol (1843)
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