Quotations about:
    identity


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No matter what a man or a woman does for a living, it is part of the human mechanism to expect and need recognition of some sort. Beyond the security and the paycheck is the palpable hunger of a person to have an identity of his own.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Patterns, Introduction (1957)
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Added on 30-Aug-22 | Last updated 30-Aug-22
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What happens when conspiracy theories become the coin of politics, and mainstream media and educational institutions are discredited, is that citizens no longer have a common reality that can serve as background for democratic deliberation. In such a situation, citizens have no choice but to look for markers to follow other than truth or reliability. What happens in such cases, as we see across the world, is that citizens look to politics for tribal identifications, for addressing personal grievances, and for entertainment. When news becomes sports, the strongman achieves a certain measure of popularity. Fascist politics transforms the news from a conduit of information and reasoned debate into a spectacle with the strongman as the star.

Jason Stanley (b. 1969) American philosopher, epistemologist, academic
How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, ch. 4 (2018)
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Added on 7-Jul-22 | Last updated 8-Jul-22
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In an age where there is much talk about “being yourself” I reserve to myself the right to forget about being myself, since in any case there is very little chance of my being anybody else. Rather it seems to me that when one is too intent on “being himself” he runs the risk of impersonating a shadow.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
“Day of a Stranger,” The Hudson Review (Summer 1967)
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Added on 2-Jun-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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For ages past, women were defined only in relation to other people, and the definition lingers: a woman may be called a wife and mother for most of her life, while a man is called a husband and father only at his funeral.

Barbara Holland (1933-2010) American author
One’s Company: Reflections on Living Alone, ch. 1 (1992)
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Added on 9-May-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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What we do belongs to what we are; and what we are is what becomes of us.

Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) American clergyman and writer
Ships and Havens, ch. 2 (1898)
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Added on 14-Mar-22 | Last updated 14-Mar-22
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It seems to me that if there is some infinite being who wants us to think alike, he would have made us alike.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 15-Sep-21 | Last updated 15-Sep-21
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When asked to define a friend, he said, “One soul dwelling in two bodies.”

[ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἐστι φίλος, ἔφη, “μία ψυχὴ δύο σώμασιν ἐνοικοῦσα.”]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Attributed in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers [Vitae Philosophorum], Book 5, sec. 11 [tr. Mensch (2018)]
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(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

He was once asked what a friend is; and his answer was, “One soul abiding in two bodies.”
[tr. Yonge (1853)]

To the query, "What is a friend?" his reply was, "A single soul dwelling in two bodies."
[tr. Hicks (1925), sec. 20]

When he was asked what a friend is, he replied “one soul occupying two bodies.”
[tr. @sentantiq (2016)]

 
Added on 4-Jun-21 | Last updated 21-Sep-21
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Pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.

[ἔλεος μὲν περὶ τὸν ἀνάξιον, φόβος δὲ περὶ τὸν ὅμοιον]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Poetics [Περὶ ποιητικῆς, De Poetica], ch. 13 / 1453a (c. 335 BC) [tr. Butcher (1895)]
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On the essential elements of tragedy. Original Greek. Alternate translations:

  • "Pity is occasioned by undeserved misfortune, and fear by that of one like ourselves." [tr. Bywater (1909)]
  • "Pity is concerned with unmerited ill-fortune, fear with what happens to one's like." [tr. Margoliouth (1911)]
  • "Pity for the undeserved misfortune, fear for the man like ourselves." [tr. Fyfe (1932)]
  • "We pity those who suffer undeservedly, and feel fear for people who are like ourselves." [tr. Janko (1987)]
  • "The one [pity] is to do with the man brought to disaster undeservedly, the other [terror] is to do with [what happens to] men like us." [tr. Whalley (1997)]
  • "One of these sentiments, namely pity, has to do with undeserved misfortune, and the other, namely fear, has to do with someone who is like ourselves." [tr. Sachs (2006)]
 
Added on 28-May-21 | Last updated 28-May-21
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To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism.

Umberto Eco (1932-2016) Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, novelist
“Ur-Fascism,” New York Review of Books (22 Jun 1995)
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Added on 21-May-21 | Last updated 21-May-21
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Young people, who are still uncertain of their identity, often try on a succession of masks in the hope of finding the one which suits them — the one, in fact, which is not a mask.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) Anglo-American poet [Wystan Hugh Auden]
“One of the Family” (1965), Forewords and Afterwords (1973)
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Added on 25-Sep-20 | Last updated 25-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.
 
Added on 29-Jul-20 | Last updated 29-Jul-20
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My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) English novelist
Frankenstein, ch. 14 (1818)
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Narrated by the Monster.
 
Added on 30-Jun-20 | Last updated 30-Jun-20
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The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous (making it impossible to find out whether a prisoner is dead or alive), robbed death of its meaning as the end of a fulfilled life. In a sense they took away the individual’s own death, proving that henceforth nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one. His death merely set a seal on the fact that he had never existed.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 12 “Totalitarianism in Power,” sec. 3 (1951)
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Added on 23-Jun-20 | Last updated 5-Jul-22
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The disturbing factor in the success of totalitarianism is rather the true selflessness of its adherents: it may be understandable that a Nazi or Bolshevik will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement or are even hostile to it; but the amazing fact is that neither is he likely to waver when the monster begins to devour its own children, and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself, if he is framed and condemned, if he is purged from the party and sent to a forced-labor or concentration camp. On the contrary, to the wonder of the whole civilized world, he may even be willing to help in his own prosecution and frame his own death sentence if only his status as a member of the movement is not touched.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 10 “A Classless Society,” sec. 1 (1951)
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Added on 9-Jun-20 | Last updated 5-Jul-22
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You can never leave home. You take it with you no matter where you go. Home is between your teeth, under your fingernails, in the hair follicles, in your smile, in the ride of your hips, in the passage of your breasts.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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Added on 27-Feb-20 | Last updated 27-Feb-20
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About all you can do in life is be who you are. Some people will love you for you. Most will love you for what you can do for them, and some won’t like you at all.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
(Attributed)
 
Added on 14-Oct-19 | Last updated 14-Oct-19
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Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) American union leader, activist, socialist, politician
Statement to the Court (18 Sep 1918)
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On being convicted of Sedition. Often paraphrased: "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
 
Added on 25-May-18 | Last updated 25-May-18
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Characters never change. Opinions alter — characters are only developed.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) English politician and author
(Attributed)


Quoted in Joseph Waldo Denny, Wearing The Blue in The Twenty-Fifth Mass. Volunteer Infantry (1879).
 
Added on 20-Dec-16 | Last updated 20-Dec-16
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     More to the point, nameless hideous monsters are freaking terrifying. You always fear what you don’t know, what you don’t understand, and the first step to having understanding of something is to know what to call it. It’s a habit of mine to give names to anything I wind up interacting with if it doesn’t have one readily available. Names have power — magically, sure, but far more important, they have psychological power. Something horrible with a name holds less power over you, less terror, than something horrible without one.
     “Octokongs,” I pronounced grimly. “Why did it have to be octokongs?”

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Skin Game (2014)
 
Added on 16-Nov-15 | Last updated 16-Nov-15
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If I try to be like him, who will be like me?

(Other Authors and Sources)
Yiddish proverb
 
Added on 21-Nov-14 | Last updated 21-Nov-14
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Please not thyself the flattering crowd to hear;
‘Tis fulsome stuff, to please thy itching ear.
[…]
Survey thy soul, not what thou does appear,
But what thou art.

Persius (AD 34-62) Roman poet and satirist [Aulus Persius Flaccus]
Fourth Satire
 
Added on 17-Oct-14 | Last updated 17-Oct-14
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To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

e e cummings (1894-1962) American poet and painter [Edward Estlin Cummings]
A Miscellany (1958)
 
Added on 29-Aug-14 | Last updated 29-Aug-14
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Middle age is when you stop criticizing the older generation and start criticizing the younger one.

Lawrence J Peter
Lawrence J. Peter (1919-1990) American educator, management theorist
Peter’s Quotations (1977)
 
Added on 13-Oct-11 | Last updated 3-Apr-20
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I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen. […] I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number. […] I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me. […] I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ring-winner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) English writer, fabulist, philologist, academic [John Ronald Reuel Tolkien]
The Hobbit, ch. 12 “Inside Information” [Bilbo] (1937)
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Bilbo's "riddling talk" epithets, given to Smaug in "the way to talk to dragons, if you don't want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don't want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise)."
 
Added on 22-Feb-11 | Last updated 25-Aug-22
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When people come to see us, we foolishly prattle, lest we be inhospitable. But things said for conversation are chalk eggs. Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Social Aims,” lecture, Boston (4 Dec 1864), Letters and Social Aims (1875)
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Likely source of the abridgments more commonly found *in:
  • "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."
  • "What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."
  • "Who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."
  • "What we are speaks louder than what we say." [John F Kennedy, Q&A, Salt Lake City (23 Sep 1960), and in numerous subsequent speeches]
More discussion of this quotation: What You Do Speaks So Loudly that I Cannot Hear What You Say – Quote Investigator
 
Added on 21-Jul-07 | Last updated 19-Feb-22
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Candy smiled at me a little. “Look,” she said. “You’re a good guy. I know you care about me, but you’re a white male, you can’t understand a minority situation. It’s not your fault.”

[…] When the beer came, I drank about a quarter of it and said to Candy, “Extend that logic, and we eventually have to decide that no one can understand anyone. Maybe the matter of understanding has been overrated. Maybe I don’t have to understand your situation to sympathize with it, to help you alter it, to be on your side. I’ve never experienced starvation either, but I’m opposed to it. When I encounter it, I try to alleviate it. I sympathize with its victims. The question of whether I understand it doesn’t arise.”

She shook her head. “That’s different,” she said.

“Maybe it isn’t. Maybe civilization is possible, if at all, only because people can care about conditions they haven’t experienced. Maybe you need understanding like a fish needs a bicycle.”

“You’re quite thoughtful,” she said, “for a man your size.”

“You’ve never been my size,” I said. “You wouldn’t understand.”

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
A Savage Place, ch. 12 (1981)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Nov-20
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Lord, we know what we are but
know not what we may be.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 4, sc. 5, l. 48ff [Ophelia] (c. 1600)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Jun-22
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Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to the garage makes you a car.

Lawrence J Peter
Lawrence J. Peter (1919-1990) American educator, management theorist
(Attributed)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 3-Apr-20
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