Quotations about   impact

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Awful as silence. Hark! the rushing snow!
The sun-awakened avalanche! whose mass,
Thrice sifted by the storm, had gathered there
Flake after flake, in heaven-defying minds
As thought by thought is piled, till some great truth
Is loosened, and the nations echo round,
Shaken to their roots, as do the mountains now.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) English poet
Prometheus Unbound, Act 2 (1820)
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Added on 9-May-22 | Last updated 9-May-22
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The national unity of a free people depends upon a sufficiently even balance of political power to make it impracticable for the administration to be arbitrary and for the opposition to be revolutionary and irreconcilable. Where that balance no longer exists, democracy perishes. For unless all the citizens of a state are forced by circumstances to compromise, unless they feel that they can affect policy but that no one can wholly dominate it, unless by habit and necessity they have to give and take, freedom cannot be maintained.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
“The Indispensable Opposition,” The Atlantic Monthly (Aug 1939)
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Added on 23-Mar-22 | Last updated 23-Mar-22
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Words are more powerful than perhaps anyone suspects, and once deeply engraved in a child’s mind, they are not easily eradicated.

May Sarton
May Sarton (1912-1995) Belgian-American poet, novelist, memoirist [pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton]
I Knew a Phoenix, “A Belgian School” (1959)
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Added on 9-Nov-21 | Last updated 9-Nov-21
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The more articulate one is, the more dangerous words become.

May Sarton
May Sarton (1912-1995) Belgian-American poet, novelist, memoirist [pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton]
Journal of a Solitude, “September 16th” (1973)
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Added on 2-Nov-21 | Last updated 2-Nov-21
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Life is political, not because the world cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017)
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Added on 4-Aug-21 | Last updated 4-Aug-21
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Every day of our lives we are on the verge of making those changes that would make all the difference.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 4 (1963)
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Added on 29-Apr-21 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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The vanity of man revolts from the serene indifference of the cat.

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950) American writer
“The Grocer’s Cat,” Americans and Others (1912)
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Added on 9-Feb-21 | Last updated 9-Feb-21
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Some people are going to leave a mark on this world, while others will leave a stain.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)
Added on 18-Dec-20 | Last updated 18-Dec-20
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Political strategies and tactics are not jealous lovers. You don’t have to be monogamous. Direct Action will not feel betrayed if you also vote from time to time — you can be poly in your tactics. And I am. Of course I vote! If you’re a woman, or a person of color, or a person who doesn’t own property, or even a white male who doesn’t belong to the nobility, centuries of struggle and many deaths have bought you the right to vote. I vote to keep faith with peasant rebels and suffragist hunger strikers and civil rights workers braving the lynch mobs of the South, if for no other reason. But there is another reason — because who we vote for has an enormous impact on real peoples’ lives.

Starhawk (b. 1951) American writer, activist, feminist theologian [b. Miriam Simos]
“Pre-Election Day Thoughts,” blog post (7 Nov 2016)
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Added on 19-Oct-20 | Last updated 19-Oct-20
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But although foreign and internal threats of Fascism must be taken seriously, there is no greater mistake and no graver danger than not to see that in our own society we are faced with the same phenomenon that is fertile soil for the rise of Fascism anywhere: the insignificance and powerlessness of the individual.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
Escape from Freedom, ch. 7, sec. 1 (1941)
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Added on 21-Sep-20 | Last updated 21-Sep-20
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I am sure that in nine out of ten cases the original wish to write is the wish to make oneself felt … the non-essential writer never gets past that wish.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
Letter to Graham Greene, quoted in Why Do I Write? (1948)

Ellipses in the original.
Added on 24-Aug-20 | Last updated 24-Aug-20
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A man can look upon his life and accept it as good or evil; it is far, far harder for him to confess that it has been unimportant in the sum of things.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, ch. 5 (1955)
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Added on 17-Jul-20 | Last updated 17-Jul-20
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Every man is a consumer, and ought to be a producer. He fails to make his place good in the world, unless he not only pays his debt, but also adds something to the common wealth.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Wealth,” The Conduct of Life, ch. 3 (1860)
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Added on 7-Apr-20 | Last updated 22-Feb-22
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I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“When Death Comes” New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 (2005)
Added on 7-Apr-20 | Last updated 7-Apr-20
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Malice is of a low Stature, but it hath very long Arms.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) English politician and essayist
“Of Malice and Envy,” Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
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Added on 16-Mar-20 | Last updated 16-Mar-20
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I distrust Great Men. They produce a desert of uniformity around them and often a pool of blood too, and I always feel a little man’s pleasure when they come a cropper.

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 29-Jan-20 | Last updated 29-Jan-20
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People don’t alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just make brief patterns in it.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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Added on 28-Dec-18 | Last updated 28-Dec-18
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The essence of the Epistles of Paul is that Christians should rejoice at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believe. The projection of a social gospel, in my opinion, is the true witness of a Christian life. This is the meaning of the true ekklesia — the inner, spiritual church. The church once changed society. It was then a thermostat of society. But today I feel that too much of the church is merely a thermometer, which measures rather than molds popular opinion.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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Added on 15-Oct-18 | Last updated 15-Oct-18
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You confuse what’s important with what’s impressive.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
Maurice (w. 1914, pub. 1971)
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Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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When you teach your son, you teach your son’s son.

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
Seder Nashim, Kiddushin 30a

Paraphrase of "This serves to say to you that whoever teaches his son Torah, the verse ascribes him credit as though he taught him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the end of all generations" (alt. trans. "to him who teaches his son Torah, the Writ ascribes merit as though he had taught him, his son and his son's son until the end of all time!"). This is in turn referenced to Deut. 4:9.
Added on 27-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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It was later that the story of Windle Poons really came to an end, if “story” means all that he did and caused and set in motion. In the Ramtop village where they dance the real Morris dance, for example, they believe that no one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away — until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Reaper Man (1991)
Added on 29-May-17 | Last updated 29-May-17
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A great flame follows a little spark.

[Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda.]

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Italian poet
The Divine Comedy, “Paradiso,” Canto 1, l. 34 (1321)
Added on 1-Jun-16 | Last updated 1-Jun-16
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The voice of passion is better than the voice of reason.
The passionless cannot change history.

Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) Polish-Lithuanian poet, essayist, diplomat
“The Child of Europe” (1946)
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Added on 16-Sep-15 | Last updated 16-Sep-15
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Man is a complex being who makes deserts bloom and lakes die.

G. B. Stern (1890-1973) British writer [Gladys Bronwyn Stern]
(Attributed)

Also attributed (unsourced) to Gil Stern, Gil Scott-Heron, and Lawrence Peter.
Added on 20-Apr-15 | Last updated 20-Apr-15
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Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“A Psalm of Life” (1838)
Added on 14-Jan-15 | Last updated 14-Jan-15
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Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Commencement address, University of the Arts, Philadelphia (2012)
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Added on 2-Jan-14 | Last updated 2-Jan-14
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I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? … We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.

[Ich glaube, man sollte überhaupt nur solche Bücher lesen, die einen beißen und stechen. Wenn das Buch, das wir lesen, uns nicht mit einem Faustschlag auf den Schädel weckt, wozu lesen wir dann das Buch? Damit es uns glücklich macht, wie Du schreibst? Mein Gott, glücklich wären wir eben auch, wenn wir keine Bücher hätten, und solche Bücher, die uns glücklich machen, könnten wir zur Not selber schreiben. Wir brauchen aber die Bücher, die auf uns wirken wie ein Unglück, das uns sehr schmerzt, wie der Tod eines, den wir lieber hatten als uns, wie wenn wir in Wälder verstoßen würden, von allen Menschen weg, wie ein Selbstmord, ein Buch muß die Axt sein für das gefrorene Meer in uns. Das glaube ich.]

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) Czech-Austrian Jewish writer
Letter to Oskar Pollak (27 Jan 1904)
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Alt. translations:
  • "If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? Good God, we also would be happy if we had no books and such books that make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. What we must have are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us."
  • "What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us."
  • "A book should be an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us."
  • "A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul."
  • "A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us."
Added on 12-Nov-13 | Last updated 19-Dec-19
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The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what the man or woman is able to do that the world cares about.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) American educator, writer
“Mind and Matter,” Speech, Alabama State Teachers’ Association, Selma (5 Jun 1895)

Washington reused material in various speeches he gave. In an address to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Boston (30 July 1903), he phrased this: "The world cares very little what you or I know, but it does care a great deal about what you or I do."
Added on 13-Feb-13 | Last updated 20-Jan-22
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And is he dead whose glorious mind
Lifts thine on high?
To live in the hearts we leave
Is not to die!

Campbell - not to die - wist_info

Thomas Campbell (1777–1844) Scottish poet
“Hallowed Ground” (1825)
Added on 8-Feb-11 | Last updated 19-Nov-15
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I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be “happy.” I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.

Leo C. Rosten (1908-1997) Polish-American author and political scientist
“Credo,” Passions and Prejudices (1978)
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This appears to be the final iteration of a thought that Rosen used on numerous occasions. In "On Finding Truth: Abandon the Strait Jacket of Conformity," Speech, National Book Awards, New York City, as reprinted in The Sunday Star (8 Apr 1962):

The purpose of life is not to be happy -- but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.

In a later essay, "Words To Live By: The Real Reason For Being Alive," This Week Magazine (20 Jan 1963):

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE is not to be happy. The purpose of life is to matter, to be productive, to have it make some difference that you lived at all. Happiness, in the ancient, noble sense, means self-fulfillment — and is given to those who use to the fullest whatever talents God or luck or fate bestowed upon them. Happiness, to me, lies in stretching, to the farthest boundaries of which we are capable, the resources of the mind and heart.

In "The Myths by Which We Live," The Rotarian (Sep 1965):

Finally there is the myth which gives me the greatest pain: the myth that the purpose of life is happiness, and that you ought to have fun, and that your children ought to have fun. Where was it written that life is so cheap? Where was it written that life is, or should be, or can ever be free of conflict and effort and deprivation and sacrifice? [...] [T]he purpose of life is not to be happy at all. It is to be useful, to be honorable. It is to be compassionate. It is to matter, to have it make some difference that you lived.

A variation of this quotation is misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. More discussion of this quotation (including a shout-out to WIST for some of this research) here: The Purpose of Life Is Not To Be Happy But To Matter – Quote Investigator.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Mar-22
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The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
(Misattributed)

Though widely credited to Emerson, this appears to be a misattributed variation of a Leo Rosten quotation. More discussion of the connection here: The Purpose of Life Is Not To Be Happy But To Matter – Quote Investigator.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-Mar-22
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