Quotations about   ego

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One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

Carl Sagan (1934-1996) American scientist and writer
The Demon-Haunted World, ch. 13 (1995)
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Added on 29-Sep-20 | Last updated 29-Sep-20
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Man is rated the highest animal, at least among all animals who returned the questionnaire.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
(Attributed)
Added on 15-Sep-20 | Last updated 15-Sep-20
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A man is what he does with his attention.

John Ciardi (1916-1986) American poet, writer, critic
(Attributed)

A personal maxim, it is mentioned in multiple contexts.
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The murderer, the victim, the witness, each of us thinks our role is the lead.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Invisible Monsters, ch. 1 (1999)
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Many complain of their looks, but none of their brains.

Other Authors and Sources
Italian proverb

Also noted as a Jewish or Yiddish proverb.

This is also often cited to Sally Koslow, Little Pink Slips, ch. 5 (2007); it appears there as ""Many complain of their looks, few of their brains," but is described as an unoriginal needlepoint on a pillow cover.

See also La Rochefoucauld for a similar construction.
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Men of all races have always sought for a convincing explanation of their own astonishing excellence and they have frequently found what they were looking for.

Aubrey Menen (1912-1989) English writer
Dead Man in the Silver Market, ch. 1, opening lines (1954)
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Added on 22-Jul-20 | Last updated 22-Jul-20
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Knowledge fills a large brain; it merely inflates a small one.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Strictly Personal” column (7 Jan 1982)
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Indeed, just as frightened horses raise their necks up high, in the same way all those devotees of empty glory raise themselves above everything else, above cities, laws, ancestral custom, and the affairs of individual citizens. As they move from demagoguery to dictatorship, they subdue some of their neighbors as they try to make themselves superior and upright — and then they plan to enslave however so many minds remain naturally free and unenslaved.

[τῷ γὰρ ὄντι καθάπερ οἱ γαῦροι τῶν ἵππων τὸν αὐχένα μετέωρον ἐξάραντες, ὅσοι θιασῶται τῆς κενῆς δόξης εἰσίν, ἐπάνω πάντων ἑαυτοὺς ἱδρύουσι, πόλεων, νόμων, ἐθῶν πατρίων, τῶν παρ᾿ ἑκάστοις πραγμάτων· εἶτα ἀπὸ δημαγωγίας ἐπὶ δημαρχίαν βαδίζοντες καὶ τὰ μὲν τῶν πλησίον καταβάλλοντες, τὰ δὲ οἰκεῖα διανιστάντες καὶ παγίως ὀρθοῦντες, ὅσα ἐλεύθερα καὶ ἀδούλωτα φύσει φρονήματα]

Philo of Alexandria (AD c. 20-50) Hellenistic Jewish philosopher [Philo Judaeus]
On Dreams, That They Are God-Sent [Quod a Deo Mittantur Somnia or De Somniis], Book 2, ch. 12 [2.78-79] [tr. @sentantiq]
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Alt. trans.: "In real truth, as spirited horses lift their necks high, so all who are companions of vain opinion place themselves above all things, above all cities, and laws, and national customs, and above all the circumstances which affect each individual of them. Then proceeding onwards from being demagogues to being leaders of the people, and overthrowing the things which belong to their neighbours, and setting up and establishing on a solid footing what belongs to themselves, that is to say, all such dispositions as are free and by nature impatient of slavery, they attempt to reduce these also under their power." [Yonge (1855)]
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The less you speak of your greatness, the more I will think of it.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Remark to Sir Edward Coke
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Quoted in Joseph Sortain, The Life of Francis, Lord Bacon (1851).
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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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Added on 4-May-20 | Last updated 4-May-20
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That seems to point up a significant difference between Europeans and Americans:

A European says: I can’t understand this, what’s wrong with me?
An American says: I can’t understand this, what’s wrong with him?

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Post, alt.fan.pratchett (8 May 1994)
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Added on 3-Apr-20 | Last updated 3-Apr-20
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One of the sure signs of maturity is the ability to rise to the point of self criticism.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” Speech, National Urban League, New York (6 Sep 1960)
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Added on 27-Mar-20 | Last updated 27-Mar-20
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It isn’t easy for an author to remain a pleasant human being: both success and failure are usually of a crippling kind.

Graham Greene (1904-1991) English novelist [Henry Graham Greene]
“The Poker-Face,” The Spectator (15 Oct 1943)
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Reprinted in The Lost Childhood and Other Essays (1951).
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I think the author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) English politician and author
Speech, Banquet to Lord Rector, University of Glasgow (19 Nov 1870)
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The dramatic art is particularly satisfying for any writer with a polemical bent; and I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012) American novelist, dramatist, critic
Visit to a Small Planet and Other Television Plays, Preface (1956)
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Added on 28-Jan-20 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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O’Brien knew everything. A thousand times better than Winston, he knew what the world was really like, in what degradation the mass of human beings lived and by what lies and barbarities the Party kept them there. He had understood it all, weighed it all, and it made no difference: all was justified by the ultimate purpose. What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
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Added on 28-Oct-19 | Last updated 28-Oct-19
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You’re mighty fond o’ Craig; but for my part, I think he’s welly like a cock as think’s the sun’s rose o’ purpose to hear him crow.

George Eliot (1819-1880) English novelist [pseud. of Mary Ann Evans]
Adam Bede, ch. 17 (1859)
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Mrs. Poyser, about Mr. Craig. Sometimes paraphrased, "He was like a cock, who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow."
Added on 28-Dec-18 | Last updated 28-Dec-18
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Nothing is more embarrassing in the ordinary intercourse of life than this irritable patriotism of the Americans. A stranger may be well inclined to praise many of the institutions of their country, but he begs permission to blame some of the peculiarities which he observes — a permission which is however inexorably refused.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, Vol. 1, “Public Spirit in the United States” (1835) [tr. Reeve (1839)]
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Added on 21-Nov-18 | Last updated 21-Nov-18
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Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) American mythological scholar
The Power of Myth, ch. 1 “Myth and the Modern World” (1988)
Added on 7-Mar-18 | Last updated 7-Mar-18
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There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.

Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) American clergyman and writer
“Salt,” Counsels by the Way (1921 ed.)
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Added on 13-Dec-17 | Last updated 13-Dec-17
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You can tell the character of every man when you see how he gives and receives praise.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Moral Letters to Lucilius [Epistulae morales ad Lucilium], Letter 52 “On choosing our teachers,” Sec. 12
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Added on 17-Oct-17 | Last updated 17-Oct-17
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Man is so built that he cannot imagine his own death. This leads to endless invention of religions. While this conviction by no means proves immortality to be a fact, questions generated by it are overwhelmingly important. The nature of life, how ego hooks into the body, the problem of ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe — these are paramount questions, Ben; they can never be trivial. Science hasn’t solved them — and who am I to sneer at religions for trying, no matter how unconvincingly to me? Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can’t rule him out because he owns no fancy cathedrals. Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic; he might be the Messiah. The only religious opinion I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, Part 4, ch. 33 [Jubal] (1961)
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In the "uncut" original version (1960): "Self-aware man is so built that he cannot believe in his own extinction ... and this automatically leads to endless invention of religions. While this involuntary conviction of immortality by no means proves immortality to be a fact, the questions generated by this conviction are overwhelmingly important ... whether we can answer them or not, or prove what answers we suspect. The nature of life, how the ego hooks into the physical body, the problem of the ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe -- these are paramount questions Ben; they can never be trivial. Science can't, or hasn't, coped with any of them -- and who am I to sneer at religions for trying to answer them, no matter how unconvincingly to me? Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can't rule Him out because He owns no fancy cathedrals. Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic; he might be the Messiah. The only religious opinion that I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!"
Added on 11-Aug-17 | Last updated 11-Aug-17
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It is also characteristic of the great-souled man … to be haughty towards men of position and fortune, but courteous towards those of moderate station, because it is difficult and distinguished to be superior to the great, but easy to outdo the lowly, and to adopt a high manner with the former is not ill-bred, but it is vulgar to lord it over humble people: it is like putting forth one’s strength against the weak.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 4, ch. 3, l. 26 – 1124b.19 [tr. Rackham]
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Sometimes paraphrased: "It is not ill-bred to adopt a high manner with the great and the powerful, but it is vulgar to lord it over humble people."

Alt. trans.: "Towards those in high position and prosperity he bears himself with pride, but towards ordinary men with moderation; for in the former case it is difficult to show superiority, and to do so is a lordly mater; whereas in the latter case it is easy. To be haughty among the great is no proof of bad breeding, but haughtiness among the lowly is as base-born a thing as it is to make trial of great strength upon the weak." [tr. Williams (1869)]
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Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It is beyond me.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
“How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, The World Tomorrow (May 1928)
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There are no grades of vanity, there are only grades of ability in concealing it.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1898 [ed. Paine (1935)]
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Ambition is only vanity ennobled.

Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) English writer, humorist [Jerome Klapka Jerome]
“On Vanity and Vanities,” The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1889)
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Let us be content to do little, if God sets us at little tasks. It is but pride and self-will which says, “Give me something huge to fight, — and I should enjoy that — but why make me sweep the dust?”

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) English clergyman, historian, essayist, novelist (pseud. "Parson Lot")
Letter, “To a lady who consulted him about Sisterhoods” (24 Jul 1854)
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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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Most people have a furious itch to talk about themselves and are restrained only by the disinclination of others to listen. Reserve is an artificial quality that is developed in most of us but as the result.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 19 (1938)
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My father deals with millionaires and billionaires on a daily basis, the sort of people who have egos just this side (and sometimes way over the edge) of sociopathy. The sort of person who thinks he’s the apex predator wading through a universe of sheep.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
Lock In (2014)
Added on 24-Mar-17 | Last updated 24-Mar-17
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It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American politician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Letter to the Smothers Brothers (Nov 1968)

Replying to a letter from them apologizing for making him the target of so much of their humor. More info here and here.
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Don’t take up a man’s time talking about the smartness of your children; he wants to talk to you about the smartness of his children.

Edgar Watson "Ed" Howe (1853-1937) American journalist and author [E. W. Howe]
Country Town Sayings (1911)
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And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Luke 18:9-14 [KJV]
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Delusions are often functional. A mother’s opinions about her children’s beauty, intelligence, goodness, et cetera ad nauseam, keep her from drowning them at birth.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough for Love (1973)
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Most people seem to take pleasure in feeling superior to someone. I’m not like that, which pleases me because it makes me feel superior.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
Jhegaala (2008)
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At its core, therefore, science is a form of arrogance control.

Carol Tavris (b. 1944) American social psychologist and author
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (2008) [with Elliot Aronson]
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The certain way to be cheated is to fancy one’s self more cunning than others.

Charron - more cunning than others - wist_info quote

Pierre Charron (1541-1603) French Catholic theologian and philosopher
(Attributed)

Quoted in John Timbs, Laconics: Or, The Best Words of the Best Authors, vol. 3, #308 (1829)
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He’s a good person, you know. In spite of many things, including his own opinion, he’s a good person. Maybe a bit conceited, overbearing, and arrogant, but then, people without a trace of these diseases aren’t usually worth one’s time.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
Orca [Kiera] (1996)
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When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things. You have to remember it isn’t for you. It’s for the Presidency.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
In Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman, ch. 15 (1973)
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All people believe their suffering is greater than others’. Just as they secretly believe they are smarter, and more deserving of fame.

Erica Jong (b. 1942) American writer, poet
How to Save Your Own Life (1977)
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Under pressure, people admit to murder, setting fire to the village church, or robbing a bank, but never to being bores.

Maxwell - but never to being bores - wist_info quote

Elsa Maxwell (1883-1963) American gossip columnist, author, songwriter, professional hostess
How to Do It, or The Lively Art of Entertaining (1957)
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Whoo-oop! I’m the old original iron-jawed, brass-mounted, copper-bellied corpse-maker from the wilds of Arkansaw. — Look at me! I’m the man they call Sudden Death & General Desolation! Sired by a hurricane, dam’d by an earthquake, half-brother to the cholera, nearly related to the small-pox on the mother’s side! Look at me! I take nineteen alligators and a bar’l of whiskey for breakfast when I’m in robust health, and a bushel of rattlesnakes and a dead body when I’m ailing! I split the everlasting rocks with my glance, and I squench the thunder when I speak! Whoo-oop! Stand back and give me room according to my strength! Blood’s my natural drink, and the wails of the dying is music to my ear! Cast your eye on me, gentlemen! — and lay low and hold your breath, for I’m bout to turn myself loose!

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Life on the Mississippi, ch. 3 (1883)
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It therefore comes to pass that everyone is fond of relating his own exploits and displaying the strength both of his body and his mind, and that men are on this account a nuisance one to the other.

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) Dutch philosopher
Ethics, Part 3 (1677)
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I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.

Baretti - hate mankind - wist_info quote

Giuseppe Baretti (1719-1789) Italian-English literary critic and translator [a.k.a. Joseph Baretti]
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).
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Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]
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Tell me what you brag about and I’ll tell you what you lack.

Other Authors and Sources
Spanish proverb
Added on 2-Mar-16 | Last updated 2-Mar-16
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PAROLLES: Who knows himself a braggart,
Let him fear this; for it will come to pass
That every braggart shall be found an ass.

Shakespeare - braggart ass - wist_info quote

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 4, sc. 3 (1602-04)
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Do you wish people to think well of you? Don’t speak well of your-self.

[Voulez-vous qu’on croie du bien de vous? N’en dites point.]

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) French scientist and philosopher
Pensées, # 4 (1670)

Alt. trans.:
  • "If you want people to think well of you, do not speak well of yourself."
  • "Do you want people to think well of you? Don't say a word about it."
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To have a thing is little, if you’re not allowed to show it;
And to know a thing is nothing, unless others know you know it.

Charles Neaves (1800-1876) Scottish judge, theologian, critic, poet
(Attributed)

Quoted in Booth Epigrams, Ancient and Modern (1865).
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Say nothing good of yourself, you will be distrusted; say nothing bad of yourself, you will be taken at your word.

Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, Part 5 “Joy, Suffering, Fortune,” #22 (1886) [tr. Hapgood]
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But when all is summed up, a man never speaks of himself without loss; his accusations of himself are always believed; his praises never.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
“The Art of Conversation,” Essays, Vol. 3, ch. 8 (1588) [tr. Cotton (1877)]
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Man is always looking for someone to boast to; woman is always looking for someone to complain to.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
The New York Evening Mail (15 Nov 1917)

A year later he wrote: "Man is always looking for someone to boast to; woman is always looking for a shoulder to put her head on." [In Defense of Women (1918)]
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This sad little lizard told me that he was a Brontosaurus on his mother’s side. I did not laugh; people who boast of ancestry often have little else to sustain them. Humoring them costs nothing and adds to happiness in a world in which happiness is in short supply.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough for Love (1973)
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I know that a man who shows me his wealth is like the beggar who shows me his poverty; they are both looking for alms from me, the rich man for the alms of my envy, the poor man for the alms of my guilt.

Ben Hecht (1894-1964) American writer, director, producer, journalist
A Child of the Century (1954)
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We cease loving ourselves if no one loves us.

[On cesse de s’aimer si quelqu’un ne nous aime.]

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
Sophie, or The Secret Sentiments [Sophie, ou les sentiments secrets], Act 2, sc. 8 (1790)
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