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Take the pulse of the matter. Many see the trees but not the forest, or bark up the wrong tree, speaking endlessly, reasoning uselessly, without getting to the heart of the matter. They go round and round, tiring themselves and us, and never get to what is important. This happens to people with confused minds who do not know how to clear away the brambles. They waste time and patience on what it would be better to leave alone, and later there is no time for what they left.

[Vanse muchos o por las ramas de un inútil discurrir, o por las hojas de una cansada verbosidad, sin topar con la sustancia del caso. Dan cien vueltas rodeando un punto, cansándose y cansando, y nunca llegan al centro de la importancia. Procede de entendimientos confusos, que no se saben desembarazar. Gastan el tiempo y la paciencia en lo que habían de dejar, y después no la hay para lo que dejaron.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 136 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1992)]
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(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translation:

So you feel the pulse of affairs. Many lose their way either in the ramifications of useless discussion or in the brushwood of wearisome verbosity without ever realising the real matter at issue. They go over a single point a hundred times wearying themselves and others and yet never touch the all important centre of affairs. This comes from a confusion of mind from which they cannot extricate themselves. They waste time and patience on matters they should leave alone and cannot spare them afterwards for what they have left alone.
[tr. Jacobs (1892)]

 
Added on 14-Mar-22 | Last updated 14-Mar-22
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Don’t fool yourself that important things can be put off till tomorrow; they can be put off forever, or not at all.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 10 (1963)
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Added on 17-Feb-22 | Last updated 17-Feb-22
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Sex is interesting, but it’s not totally important. I mean, it’s not even as important (physically) as excretion. A man can go seventy years without a piece of ass, but he can die in a week without a bowel movement.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969)
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Added on 24-Nov-21 | Last updated 24-Nov-21
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The life of making money is a life people are, as it were, forced into, and wealth is clearly not the good we are seeking, since it is merely useful, for getting something else.

[ὁ δὲ χρηματιστὴς βίαιός τις ἐστίν, καὶ ὁ πλοῦτος δῆλον ὅτι οὐ τὸ ζητούμενον ἀγαθόν.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 1, ch. 5 (1.5, 1096a.5) (c. 325 BC) [tr. Crisp (2000)]
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Rackham notes the term βίαιος (translated under compulsion/constraint) is "literally ‘violent’; the adjective is applied to the strict diet and and laborious exercises of athletes, and to physical phenomena such as motion, in the sense of ‘constrained,’ ‘not natural.’"

(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

As for the life of money-making, it is one of constraint, and wealth manifestly is not the good we are seeking, because it is for use, that is, for the sake of something further.
[tr. Chase (1847), ch. 3]

As for the money-getting life, it violates the natural fitness of things. Wealth is clearly not the absolute good of which we are in search, for it is a utility, and nonly desirable as a means.
[tr. Williams (1869)]

The life of money-making is in a sense a life of constraint, and it is clear that wealth is not the good of which we are in quest; for it is useful in part as a means to something else.
[tr. Welldon (1892), ch. 3]

As for the money-making life, it is something quite contrary to nature; and wealth evidently is not the good of which we are in search, for it is merely useful as a means to something else.
[tr. Peters (1893)]

The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

The Life of Money-making is a constrained kind of life, and clearly wealth is not the Good we are in search of, for it is only good as being useful, a means to something else.
[tr. Rackham (1934), 1.5.8]

The life of a moneymaker is in a way forced, and wealth is clearly not the good we are looking for, since it was useful and for the sake of something else.
[tr. Reeve (1948), ch. 5]

As for the life of a money-maker, it is one of tension; and clearly the good sought is not wealth, for wealth is instrumental and is sought for the sake of something else.
[tr. Apostle (1975), ch. 3]

As for the life of the businessman, it does not give him much freedom of action. Besides, wealth is obviously not the good that we are seeking, because it serves only as a means; i.e., for getting something else.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

The moneymaking life is characterized by a certain constraint, and it is clear that wealth is not the good being sought, for it is a useful thing and for the sake of something else.
[tr. Bartlett/Collins (2011)]

 
Added on 5-Oct-21 | Last updated 14-Dec-21
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Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest.

Herman Hesse (1877-1962) German-born Swiss poet, novelist, painter
Steppenwolf (1927) [tr. Creighton, rev. Milleck (1963)]
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Added on 1-Oct-21 | Last updated 1-Oct-21
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Little friends may prove great friends.

Aesop (620?-560? BC) Legendary Greek storyteller
Fables [Aesopica], “The Lion and the Mouse” (6th C BC) [tr. Jacobs (1894)]
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Alternate translations:

  • "There is no creature so much below another but that he may have it in his power to return a good office." [tr. James (1848)]
  • "It is possible for even a Mouse to confer benefits on a Lion" [tr. Townsend (1887)]
 
Added on 23-Sep-21 | Last updated 23-Sep-21
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On Venice Beach, Alice and the girls and I once saw a man blowing truly spectacular soap bubbles the size of watermelons — still the symbol for me of the tendency of people in Southern California to become awfully good at something that isn’t terribly important.

Calvin Trillin
Calvin Trillin (b. 1935) American journalist, humorist, novelist
Travels with Alice, ch. 10 (1989)
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Added on 16-Aug-21 | Last updated 16-Aug-21
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When first we fall in love, we feel that we know all there is to know about life, and perhaps we are right.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 1 (1963)
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Added on 17-Jun-21 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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The human race exaggerates everything: its heroes, its enemies, its importance.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship (1998)
 
Added on 25-Feb-21 | Last updated 25-Feb-21
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Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
(Attributed)
 
Added on 22-Dec-20 | Last updated 22-Dec-20
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To find someone who will love you through success and failure is to discover how little life has to do with either.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
(Attributed)
 
Added on 1-Sep-20 | Last updated 1-Sep-20
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There’s some devil in us that drives us to and fro on everlasting idiocies. There’s time for everything except the things worth doing. Think of something you really care about. Then add hour to hour and calculate the fraction of your life that you’ve actually spent in doing it. And then calculate the time you’ve spent on things like shaving, riding to and fro on buses, waiting in railway, junctions, swapping dirty stories, and reading the newspapers.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
Coming up for Air, ch. 5 (1939)
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Added on 26-May-20 | Last updated 26-May-20
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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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I suppose we think euphemistically that all writers write because they have something to say that is truthful and honest and pointed and important. And I suppose I subscribe to that, too. But God knows when I look back over thirty years of professional writing, I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything that’s important. Some things are literate, some things are interesting, some things are classy, but very damn little is important.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
“Rod Serling: The Facts of Life,” interview by Linda Brevelle (4 Mar 1975)
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Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 4-Oct-22
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A democracy is badly served when newspapers and television focus so intensely on the personal joys and tragedies of famous people. This kind of “news” crowds out more serious issues, and there is an important difference — as the Constitution’s framers well knew, and as many people today appear to have forgotten — between the public interest and what interests the public.

Cass R. Sunstein (b. 1954) American legal scholar
“Reinforce the Walls of Privacy,” New York Times (6 Sep 1997)
 
Added on 13-Dec-16 | Last updated 13-Dec-16
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All the pieces wish to be, if not a player, at least the piece the players are most concerned with.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
Dragon (1998)
 
Added on 15-Jul-16 | Last updated 15-Jul-16
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Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one Glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.

Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) Spanish mystic, poet, philosopher, saint
“Maxims for Her Nuns”

In Complete Works St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. 3 (1963) [ed. Peers]
 
Added on 28-Oct-15 | Last updated 28-Oct-15
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Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Yerushalmi Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a
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Alt. trans.: "Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world."
 
Added on 1-Sep-15 | Last updated 20-Dec-19
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Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
Vera; or, The Nihilists, Act 2 [Prince Paul] (1881)
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Almost always paraphrased, "Life is too important to be taken seriously."

In Lady Windermere's Fan, Act 2 (1892), he recycled the line as "Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it."

Also (mis)attributed to G.K. Chesterton. More discussion of this quotation: Life Is Too Important To Be Taken Seriously – Quote Investigator.
 
Added on 30-Jul-15 | Last updated 30-Jun-22
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It is the mark of great people to treat trifles as trifles and important matters as important.

[Denn zu einem großen Manne gehört beides: Kleinigkeiten als Kleinigkeiten, und wichtige Dinge als wichtige Dinge zu behandeln.]

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramiturg, writer
Vierunddreißigstes Stück Den 25. Aug 1767, Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767-1769)
 
Added on 4-Mar-15 | Last updated 4-Mar-15
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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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Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, social activist, preacher
Sermon, Ebenezer Baptist Church (4 Feb 1968)

Full text. Adaptation by King of the 1952 homily "Drum-Major Instincts" by J. Wallace Hamilton. Paraphrased on the MLK memorial in Washington, DC, as, "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness"; the inscription was later removed.
 
Added on 3-Sep-11 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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Everything matters more than we think it does, and, at the same time, nothing matters so much as we think it does. The merest spark may set all Europe in a blaze, but though all Europe be set in a blaze twenty times over, the world will wag itself right again.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, “Sparks” (1912)
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Added on 2-Apr-09 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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The three most important things a man has are, briefly, his private parts, his money, and his religious opinions.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
Further Extracts from Note-books of Samuel Butler (1934)
 
Added on 15-Aug-08 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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We recognize that there are no trivial occurrences in life if we get the right focus on them.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (2010)
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Added on 16-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.

Wallace Sayre (1905-1972) U.S. political scientist, academic
Sayre’s Third Law

One of several formulations of the same sentiment, which has also been attributed to Richard Neustadt, Jesse Unruh, Henry Kissinger ("University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small"), Charles Philip Issawi ("In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake. That is why academic politics are so bitter"), Lawrence Peter, C.P. Snow, and others, with antecedents by Samuel Johnson and Woodrow Wilson. Most of the attributions come in the early-mid 1970s, though Herbert Kaufman, a colleague, claimed Sayres had used the phrase for decades.

See also Quote Investigator, Quote Verifier, and Wikipedia for more discussion.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 24-Mar-19
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The vanity of being trusted with a secret is generally one of the chief motives to disclose it; for however absurd it may be thought to boast an honor by an act with shows that it was conferred without merit, yet most men seem rather inclined to confess the want of virtue than of importance, and more willingly show their influence, though at the expense of their probity, than glide through life with no other pleasure than the private consciousness of fidelity; which, while it is preserved, must be without praise, except from the single person who tries and knows it.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler, #13 (1 May 1750)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Jun-22
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A conference is a gathering of important people who, singly, can do nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done.

Fred Allen (1894-1956) American humorist [b. John Florence Sullivan]
Letter to William McChesney Martin (25 Jan 1940)
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The letter, to the then-President of the New York Stock Exchange, was written as an apology for a joke Allen had made about Wall Street, and was re-published in TIME magazine (4 Feb 1940).

Allen apparently used the line, and variations of it, at various times in his career. A variant more commonly quoted than the original shows up, without citation, in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations:

Committee -- A group of men who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Oct-22
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One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
The Conquest of Happiness, ch. 5 (1930)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Feb-21
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