Quotations about   labor

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Remind them that the sword still hangs upon the wall and the heart still beats within the man, and that that sword will be unsheathed again, if necessary, in defense of your rights. Given them to understand that you will not stand patiently by and see your hard earnings squandered by a luxuriating class of idlers. If the American manhood will arouse itself and speak to those fellows in plain language, not to be misunderstood, they can save themselves, their country and their children, from the fate of poverty which awaits them. Will you do it?

Lucy Parsons
Lucy Parsons (1851-1942) American labor organizer, anarchist, orator [a.k.a. Lucy Gonzalez]
“Wage Slaves vs. Corporations,” The Liberator (24 Sep 1905)
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The avalanche of the Alps, which carries destruction in its gathering force, and whelms whole districts in its frozen shroud, acquired its tremendous force by UNION — the vast mass of cold destruction was accumulated flake by flake. Compare this figure yourselves — ye are the snow-flakes; gather then instruction from nature, single flakes form the avalanche, single grains of sand form mountains, single drops form the mighty ocean, and supply its resistless power!

(Other Authors and Sources)
Anonymous (“Jack Steadfast”), “To the Wealth Producers of Birmingham and of the Midland Counties,” Birmingham Journal (13 May 1837)
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The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Attributed)
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Happiness is thought to imply leisure; for we toil in order that we may have leisure, as we make war in order that we may enjoy peace.

[δοκεῖ τε ἡ εὐδαιμονία ἐν τῇ σχολῇ εἶναι, ἀσχολούμεθα γὰρ ἵνα σχολάζωμεν καὶ πολεμοῦμεν ἵν᾽ εἰρήνην ἄγωμεν.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 10, ch. 7 (10.7) / 1177b.4 (c. 325 BC) [tr. Peters (1893), 10.7.6]
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(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

Happiness is thought to stand in perfect rest; for we toil that we may rest, and war that we may be at peace.
[tr. Chase (1847), ch. 6]

It would seem that happiness is the very antithesis of a busy life, in that it is compatible with perfect leisures. And it is with such leisure in view that a busy life is always led, exactly as war is only waged for the sake of ultimate peace.
[tr. Williams (1869)]

The end of labor is to gain leisure.
[in Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1872)]

Happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we are busy that we may have leisure, and make war that we may live in peace.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

Happiness is thought to involve leisure; for we do business in order that we may have leisure, and carry on war in order that we may have peace.
[tr. Rackham (1934)]

Happiness seems to reside in leisure, since we do unleisured things in order to be at leisure, and wage war in order to live in peace.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

Happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we toil for the sake of leisurely activity, and we are at war for the sake of peaceful activity.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

Happiness seems to depend on leisure, because we work to have leisure, and wage war to live in peace.
[tr. Crisp (2000)]

[Because], happiness seems to reside in leisure, we labor [sacrifice leisure] so that we may have leisure.
[tr. @sentantiq (2018)]

Added on 8-Mar-22 | Last updated 8-Mar-22
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Consequently, happiness is not found in amusement, for it would be also absurd to maintain that the end of man is amusement and that men work and suffer all their life for the sake of amusement. For, in short, we choose everything for the sake of something else, except happiness, since happiness is the end of a man. So to be serious and work hard for the sake of amusement appears foolish and very childish, but to amuse oneself for the sake of serious work seems, as Anacharsis put it, to be right; for amusement is like relaxation, and we need relaxation since we cannot keep on working hard continuously. Thus amusement is not the end, for it is chosen for the sake of serious activity.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 10, ch. 6, sec. 6 (10.6.6) / 1176b.28ff (c. 325 BC) [tr. Apostle (1975)]
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(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

Happiness then stands not in amusement; in fact the very notion is absurd of the End being amusement, and of one’s toiling and enduring hardness all one’s life long with a view to amusement: for everything in the world, so to speak, we choose with some further End in view, except Happiness, for that is the End comprehending all others. Now to take pains and to labour with a view to amusement is plainly foolish and very childish: but to amuse one’s self with a view to steady employment afterwards, as Anacharsis says, is thought to be right: for amusement is like rest, and men want rest because unable to labour continuously. Rest, therefore, is not an End, because it is adopted with a view to Working afterwards.
[tr. Chase (1847), ch. 5]

And, hence it follows, that happiness does not consist in mere amusement. For, it is inconceivable that amusement should be the end and consummation of everything, and that a man should endure a lifetime of labour and suffering, with nothing higher than amusement in view. And this would be the case, were happiness identical with mere amusement. For there is, indeed, nothing whatever upon earth which we do not choose for the sake of something else beyond itself, with the one exception of happiness -- happiness being the one end of all things els. Now, that all earnestness and toil should tend to no higher end than mere amusement, is a view of life which is worse than childish, and fit only for a fool. But the saying of Anacharsis, "play makes us fit for work," would seem to be well spoken; for it would seem that amusement is a species of rest, and that men stand in need of rest, inasmuch as continuous exertion is not possible. And, hence, rest cannot be an end in itself, inasmuch as it is only sought with view to subsequent action.
[tr. Williams (1869)]

Happiness then does not consist in amusement. It would be paradoxical to hold that the end of human life is amusement, and that we should toil and suffer all our life for the sake of amusing ourselves. For we may be said to desire all things as means to something else except indeed happiness, as happiness is the end or perfect state. It appears to be foolish and utterly childish to take serious trouble and pains for the sake of amusement. But to amuse oneself with a view to being serious seems to be right, as Anacharsis says; for amusement is a kind of relaxation, and it is because we cannot work for ever that we need relaxation. Relaxation then is not an end. We enjoy it as a means to activity.
[tr. Welldon (1892)]

Happiness, therefore, does not consist in amusement; and indeed it is absurd to suppose that the end is amusement, and that we toil and moil all our life long for the sake of amusing ourselves. We may say that we choose everything for the sake of something else, excepting only happiness; for it is the end. But to be serious and to labour for the sake of amusement seems silly and utterly childish; while to amuse ourselves in order that we may be serious, as Anacharsis says, seems to be right; for amusement is a sort of recreation, and we need recreation because we are unable to work continuously. Recreation, then, cannot be the end; for it is taken as a means to the exercise of our faculties.
[tr. Peters (1893), 10.6.6]

Happiness, therefore, does not lie in amusement; it would, indeed, be strange if the end were amusement, and one were to take trouble and suffer hardship all one's life in order to amuse oneself. For, in a word, everything that we choose we choose for the sake of something else -- except happiness, which is an end. Now to exert oneself and work for the sake of amusement seems silly and utterly childish. But to amuse oneself in order that one may exert oneself, as Anacharsis puts it, seems right; for amusement is a sort of relaxation, and we need relaxation because we cannot work continuously. Relaxation, then, is not an end; for it is taken for the sake of activity.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

It follows therefore that happiness is not to be found in amusements. Indeed it would be strange that amusement should be our End -- that we should toil and moil all our life long in order that we may amuse ourselves. For virtually every object we adopt is pursued as a means to something else, excepting happiness, which is an end in itself; to make amusement the object of our serious pursuits and our work seems foolish and childish to excess: Anacharsis' motto, Play in order that you may work, is felt to be the right rule. For amusement is a form of rest; but we need rest because we are not able to go on working without a break, and therefore it is not an end, since we take it as a means to further activity.
[tr. Rackham (1934)]

Hence happiness does not lie in amusement, since it would indeed be strange if the end were amusement and we did all the work we do and suffered evil all our live for the sake of amusing ourselves. For, in a word, we choose everything -- except happiness, since end it is -- for the sake of something else. But to engage in serious matters and to labor for the sake of amusement would evidently be silly and utterly childish. On the contrary, "amusing ourselves so as to engage in serious matters," as Anacharsis puts it, seems to be correct. For amusement is like relaxation, and it is because people cannot labor continuously that they need relaxation. End, then, relaxation is not, since it occurs for the sake of activity.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

It follows that happiness does not consist in amusement. Indeed, it would be paradoxical if the end were amusement; if we toiled and suffered all our lives long to amuse ourselves. For we choose practically everything for the sake of something else, except happiness, because it is the end. To spend effort and toil for the sake of amusement seems silly and unduly childish; but on the other hand the maxim of Anacharsis, "Play to work harder," seems to be on the right lines, because amusement is a form of relaxation, and people need relaxation because they cannot exert themselves continuously. Therefore relaxation is not an end, because it is taken for the sake of activity.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

Happiness, then, is not found in amusement, for it would be absurd if the end were amusement, and our lifelong efforts and sufferings aimed at amusing ourselves. For we choose practically everything for some other end -- except for happiness, since it is the end; but serious work and toil amed only at amusement appears stupid and excessively childish. Rather, it seems correct to amuse ourselves so that we can do something serous, as Anacharsis says; for amusement would seem to be relaxation, and it is because we cannot toil continuously that we require relaxation. Relaxation, then, is not the end, since we pursue it to prepare for activity.
[tr. Irwin/Fine (1995)]

Happiness, then, does not consist in amusement, because it would be absurd if our end were amusement, and we laboured and suffered all of our lives for the sake of amusing ourselves. For we choose virtually everything for the sake of something else, except happiness, since it is the end; but serious work and exertion for the sake of amusement is manifestly foolish and extremely childish. Rather, as Anacharsis puts it, what seems correct is amusing ourselves so that we can engage in some serious work, since amusement is like relaxation, and we need relaxation because we cannot continuously exert ourselves. Relaxation, then, is not an end, since it occurs for the sake of activity.
[tr. Crisp (2000)]

Added on 9-Feb-22 | Last updated 9-Feb-22
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Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labour and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) American educator, writer
Speech, Cotton States and International Exposition, Atlanta (18 Nov 1895)
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Reprinted in his autobiography, Up from Slavery, ch. 14 "The Atlanta Exposition Address" (1907).
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Not to oversee Workmen, is to leave them your Purse open.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (Nov 1751)
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I sell my time to get enough money to buy it back.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001) #151
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It was the fixation of businessmen that the W.P.A. did nothing but lean on shovels. I had an uncle who was particularly irritated at shovel-leaning. When he pooh-poohed my contention that shovel leaning was necessary, I bet him five dollars, which I didn’t have, that he couldn’t shovel sand for fifteen timed minutes without stopping. He said a man should give a good day’s work and grabbed a shovel. At the end of three minutes his face was red, at six he was staggering and before eight minutes were up his wife stopped him to save him from apoplexy. And he never mentioned shovel-leaning again. I’ve always been amused at the contention that brain work is harder than manual labor. I never knew a man to leave a desk for a muck-stick if he could avoid it.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American writer
“A Primer on the 30s” Esquire (1 Jun 1960)
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Later reprinted.
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No matter how many times I do my work, it never stays done for long.

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Pot-Shots, #2847
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One strain in Protestant thinking has always looked to economic life not just for its efficacy in producing goods and services but as a vast apparatus of moral discipline, of rewards for virtue and industry and punishments for vice and indolence.

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) American historian and intellectual
“Pseudo-Conservatism Revisited — 1965,” sec. 3 (1965)
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The evangelist was preaching “sin and redemption,” the infinite grace of God and His pardon for human frailty. He was very much in earnest, and he meant well, but Jurgis, as he listened, found his soul filled with hatred. What did he know about sin and suffering — with his smooth, black coat and his neatly starched collar, his body warm, and his belly full, and money in his pocket — and lecturing men who were struggling for their lives, men at the death grapple with the demon powers of hunger and cold! — This, of course, was unfair; but Jurgis felt that these men were out of touch with the life they discussed, that they were unfitted to solve its problems; nay, they themselves were part of the problem — they were part of the order established that was crushing men down and beating them! They were of the triumphant and insolent possessors; they had a hall, and a fire, and food and clothing and money, and so they might preach to hungry men, and the hungry men must be humble and listen! They were trying to save their souls — and who but a fool could fail to see that all that was the matter with their souls was that they had not been able to get a decent existence for their bodies?

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
The Jungle, ch. 23 (1906)
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Meantime, heedless of all these things, the men upon the floor were going about their work. Neither squeals of hogs nor tears of visitors made any difference to them; one by one they hooked up the hogs, and one by one with a swift stroke they slit their throats. There was a long line of hogs, with squeals and lifeblood ebbing away together; until at last each started again, and vanished with a splash into a huge vat of boiling water.

It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was porkmaking by machinery, porkmaking by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests — and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without a pretense of apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
The Jungle, ch. 3 (1906)
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The supposition is prevalent the world over that there would be no problems in production or service if only our production workers would do their jobs in the way that they were taught. Pleasant dreams. The workers are handicapped by the system, and the system belongs to the management.

W Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) American management consultant, educator
Out of the Crisis, ch. 3 (1982)
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If hard work is not another name for talent, it is the best possible substitute for it.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“College Education,” Speech, Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (Jun 1867)
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Work is the greatest thing in the world — so we should save some of it for to-morrow.

Don Herold (1889-1966) American humorist, cartoonist, author
So Human, Epigraph (1924)
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I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime I am not frightened by your menaces. I am not a giant physically; I shrink from pain and filth and vermin and foul air, like any other man of refinement; also, I freely admit, when I see a line of a hundred policemen with drawn revolvers flung across a street to keep anyone from coming onto private property to hear my feeble voice, I am somewhat disturbed in my nerves. But I have a conscience and a religious faith, and I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. I intend to do my duty to my country.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
Letter to the Louis D. Oaks, Los Angeles Chief of Police (17 May 1923)
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Reprinted in his Autobiography (1962).
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If I should labor through daylight and dark,
Consecrate, valorous, serious, true,
Then on the world I may blazon my mark;
And what if I don’t, and what if I do?

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
“Philosophy,” Enough Rope (1926)
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A rich man cannot enjoy a sound mind nor a sound body without exercise and abstinence; and yet these are truly the worst ingredients of poverty.

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782) Scottish jurist, agriculturalist, philosopher, writer
Introduction to the Art of Thinking, ch. 2 (1761)
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business business business
grind grind grind
what a life for a man
that might have been a poet

Don Marquis (1878-1937) American journalist and humorist
“pete the parrot and shakespeare,” archy and mehtabel (1927)
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I couldn’t get myself to read the want ads. The thought of sitting in front of a man behind a desk and telling him that I wanted a job, that I was qualified for a job, was too much for me. Frankly, I was horrified by life, at what a man had to do simply in order to eat, sleep, and keep himself clothed.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
Factotum, ch. 31 (1975)
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Yet I think that to all living things there is a pleasure in the exercise of their energies, and that even beasts rejoice in being lithe and swift and strong. But a man at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body. Memory and imagination help him as he works. Not only his own thoughts, but the thoughts of the men of past ages guide his hands; and, as a part of the human race, he creates. If we work thus we shall be men, and our days will be happy and eventful.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“Useful Work versus Useless Toil,” lecture (1884)
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Printed in Signs of Change (1888).
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Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making; or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
Art and Socialism (1884)
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I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

Cormac McCarthy (b. 1933) American novelist, playwright, screenwriter
“Hollywood’s Favorite Cowboy,” interview with John Jurgensen, The Wall Street Journal (20 Nov 2009)
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I believe you are your work. Don’t trade the stuff of your life, time, for nothing more than dollars. That’s a rotten bargain.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
(Attributed)
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Divide the work and thus you’ll shorten it.

[Divisum sic breve fiet opus.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 4, epigram 82 (4.82)
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As quoted in Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1906); mislabeled as Epigram 83. Alt. trans.:
  • "If it be too much to read two volumes, let them roll up one of them; and the task, thus divided, will seem shorter." [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • "If two be too much, double one parcel down; / So half, perhaps, better the pleasure will crown." [tr. Elphinston]
  • "If it is too much to read two, let one book be rolled up: divided the work will thus become brief. [Si nimis est legisse duos, tibi charta plicetur / Altera: divisum sic breve fiet opus.]"  [tr. Ker (1919), Ep. 210]
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You can buy a man’s time; you can buy a man’s physical presence at a given place; you can even buy a measured number of skilled muscular motions per hour or day. But you cannot buy enthusiasm; you cannot buy initiative; you cannot buy loyalty; you cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds and souls. You have to earn those things.

Clarence Francis (1888-1985) American business executive, food industry consultant
“The Causes of Industrial Peace,” speech, National Association of Manufacturers (4 Dec 1947)
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Sometimes titled "Philosophy of Management".
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When I go into my garden with a spade and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health, that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Man the Reformer,” lecture, Boston (25 Jan 1841)
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Less than a century ago, the laborer had no rights, little or no respect, and led a life which was socially submerged and barren. He was hired and fired by economic despots whose power over him decreed his life or death. […] American industry organized misery into sweatshops and proclaimed the right of capital to act without restraints and without conscience. […] The inspiring answer to this intolerable and dehumanizing existence was economic organization through trade unions. The worker became determined not to wait for charitable impulses to grow in his employer. He constructed the means by which fairer sharing of the fruits of his toil had to be given to him or the wheels of industry, which he alone turned, would halt and wealth for no one would be available.

This revolution within industry was fought bitterly by those who blindly believed their right to uncontrolled profits was a law of the universe, and that without the maintenance of the old order, catastrophe faced the nation. But history is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it by raising the living standards of millions. Labor miraculously created a market for industry, and lifted the whole nation to undreamed-of levels of production. Those who today attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Speech, AFL-CIO Convention, Miami (11 Dec 1961)
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Disgraceful ’tis to treat small things as difficult;
‘Tis silly to waste time on foolish trifles.

[Turpe est difficiles habere nugas,
Et stultus labor est ineptiarum.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 2, epigram 86 (2.86)
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As quoted in the Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1906). Alt. trans.: "It is absurd to make one's amusements difficult; and labor expended on follies is childish." [tr. Bohn (1871)]
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Good government is known from bad government by this infallible test: that under the former the labouring people are well fed and well clothed, and under the latter, they are badly fed and badly clothed.

William Cobbett (1763-1835) English politician, agriculturist, journalist, pamphleteer
Cobbett’s Political Register, Vol. 46 (31 May 1823)
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No labor, however humble, is dishonoring.

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 49b

Alt. trans.: "Great is labor, for it honors the worker." [tr. Freedman] Alt. trans.: "Labor is great, as it brings honor to the laborer who performs it."
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It’s amazing how much work you can get done in three days if you hold a blowtorch to each end of the candle.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Annihilation Score, ch. 7 (2015)
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Added on 13-Jun-17 | Last updated 13-Jun-17
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What has destroyed every previous civilization has been the tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth and power. This same tendency, operating with increasing force, is observable in our civilization to-day, showing itself in every progressive community, and with greater intensity the more progressive the community. Wages and interest tend constantly to fall, rent to rise, the rich to become very much richer, the poor to become more helpless and hopeless, and the middle class to be swept away.

Henry George (1839-1897) American economist
Progress and Poverty, “How Modern Civilization May Decline” (1879)
Added on 22-Mar-17 | Last updated 22-Mar-17
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O let us love our occupations,
Bless the squire and his relations,
Live upon our daily rations,
And always know our proper stations.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) English writer and social critic
The Chimes, “The Second Quarter” (1844)
Added on 21-Mar-17 | Last updated 21-Mar-17
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You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away men’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

William J. H. Boetcker (1873-1962) German-American religious leader, author, public speaker [William John Henry Boetcker]
“The Industrial Decalogue” (1916)

Often referred to as "The Ten Cannots," and also often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln.
Added on 14-Mar-17 | Last updated 14-Mar-17
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Revolutions, as a long and bitter experience reveals, are apt to take their colour from the régime which they overthrow. Is it any wonder that the creed which affirms the absolute rights of property should sometimes be met with a counter-affirmation of the absolute rights of labour, less anti-social, indeed, and inhuman, but almost as dogmatic, almost as intolerant and thoughtless as itself.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 3 “The Acquisitive Society” (1920)
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Added on 19-Jan-17 | Last updated 19-Jan-17
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Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.

kierkegaard-most-men-pursue-pleasure-hurry-past-wist_info-quote

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Either/Or, Vol. 1 “Diapsalmata” (1843) [tr. Swenson (1959)]
Added on 4-Jan-17 | Last updated 9-Jan-20
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It is not yours to finish the task, but neither are you free to set it aside.

tarfon-finish-the-task-wist_info-quote

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Tarfon (fl. 1st-2nd C AD) Jewish rabbi, sage
Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 2:15-16

Alt. trans.:
  • It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.
  • It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it.
  • We need not finish the task but neither can we desist from it.
  • Although I am not free to avoid doing the work, it is not always necessary that I finish the task.
  • You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
Added on 21-Nov-16 | Last updated 21-Nov-16
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Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Abigail Adams (26 Apr 1777)
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Added on 31-Aug-16 | Last updated 31-Aug-16
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Life is a grindstone, and whether it grinds a man down or polishes him up, depends on the stuff he’s made of.

Billings - life is a grindstone - wist_info quote

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
(Attributed)

Attributed in Forbes (14 Oct 1922).
Added on 23-Aug-16 | Last updated 23-Aug-16
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The virtues, like the body, become strong more by labor than by nourishment.

Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825) German novelist, art historian, aesthetician [Johann Paul Friedrich Richter; pseud. Jean Paul]
(Attributed)

Quoted in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
Added on 20-Jul-16 | Last updated 20-Jul-16
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The only route to success is hard work. If you didn’t work hard I don’t think it counts as success.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Twitter (27 Nov 2012)
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Added on 14-Jul-16 | Last updated 14-Jul-16
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The truest American president we have ever had, the companion of Washington in our love and honor, recognized that the poorest man, however outraged, however ignorant, however despised, however black, was, as a man, his equal. The child of the American people was their most prophetic man, because, whether as small shop-keeper, as flat-boatman, as volunteer captain, as honest lawyer, as defender of the Declaration, as President of the United States, he knew by the profoundest instinct and the widest experience and reflection, that in the most vital faith of this country it is just as honorable for an honest man to curry a horse and black a boot as it is to raise cotton or corn, to sell molasses or cloth, to practice medicine or law, to gamble in stocks or speculate in petroleum. He knew the European doctrine that the king makes the gentleman; but he believed with his whole soul the doctrine, the American doctrine, that worth makes the man.

George William Curtis (1824-1892) American essayist, editor, reformer, orator
“The Good Fight” (1865)
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Added on 11-Jul-16 | Last updated 11-Jul-16
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In our industrial and social system the interests of all men are so closely intertwined that in the immense majority of cases a straight-dealing man who by his efficiency, by his ingenuity and industry, benefits himself must also benefit others. Normally the man of great productive capacity who becomes rich by guiding the labor of other men does so by enabling them to produce more than they could produce without his guidance; and both he and they share in the benefit, which comes also to the public at large. The superficial fact that the sharing may be unequal must never blind us to the underlying fact that there is this sharing, and that the benefit comes in some degree to each man involved.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Fifth Message to Congress (5 Dec 1905)
Added on 11-May-16 | Last updated 11-May-16
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Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist
Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (1873)
Added on 20-Apr-16 | Last updated 20-Apr-16
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Life is too short to do mediocre work and it is definitely too short to build shitty things.

Stewart Butterfield (b. 1973) Canadian tech entrepreneur and businessman
(Attributed)
Added on 15-Apr-16 | Last updated 15-Apr-16
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On the whole, with scandalous exceptions, Democracy has given the ordinary worker more dignity than he ever had.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
It Can’t Happen Here (1935)
Added on 13-Apr-16 | Last updated 13-Apr-16
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The art consists in making others work rather than in wearing oneself out.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to Eugène Beauharnais (27 Feb 1806)
Added on 29-Feb-16 | Last updated 29-Feb-16
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The way’s not easy where the prize is great:
I hope no virtues, where I smell no sweat.

Quarles - smell no sweat - wist_info quote

Francis Quarles (1592-1644) English poet
Emblems, Emblem 11, Epigram (1634)
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Often given, "I see no virtue where I smell no sweat."
Added on 1-Feb-16 | Last updated 8-Jun-16
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Men might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
Speech on West India Emancipation (4 Aug 1857)
Added on 13-Oct-15 | Last updated 13-Oct-15
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Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.

Newt Gingrich (b. 1943) American politician [Newton Leroy Gingrich]
Renewing American Civilization, Lecture 2 “Personal Strength” (1993)
Added on 23-Sep-15 | Last updated 23-Sep-15
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Government can do a great deal to aid the settlement of labor disputes without allowing itself to be employed as an ally of either side. Its proper role in industrial strife is to encourage the process of mediation and conciliation.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
State of the Union Message (2 Feb 1953)
Added on 10-Sep-15 | Last updated 10-Sep-15
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Today in America unions have a secure place in our industrial life. Only a handful of unreconstructed reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions. Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, American Federation of Labor, New York City (17 Sep 1952)
Added on 7-Sep-15 | Last updated 7-Sep-15
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I have no use for those — regardless of their political party — who hold some foolish dream of spinning the clock back to days when unorganized labor was a huddled, almost helpless mass.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, American Federation of Labor, New York City (17 Sep 1952)
Added on 20-Aug-15 | Last updated 20-Aug-15
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