Quotations about   reform

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I’d be the first to say that some historical victories have been won by violence; the U.S. Revolution is certainly one of the foremost. But the Negro revolution is seeking integration, not independence. Those fighting for independence have the purpose to drive out the oppressors. But here in America, we’ve got to live together. We’ve got to find a way to reconcile ourselves to living in community, one group with the other. The struggle of the Negro in America, to be successful, must be waged with resolute efforts, but efforts that are kept strictly within the framework of our democratic society. This means reaching, educating and moving large enough groups of people of both races to stir the conscience of the nation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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Added on 24-Mar-19 | Last updated 24-Mar-19
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The paradox of education is precisely this — that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it -– at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American author [James Arthur Baldwin]
“The Negro Child — His Self-Image,” speech (16 Oct 1963)
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Speech to educators, first published as "A Talk to Teachers," The Saturday Review (21 Dec 1963). The thesis above is restatated at the end in these words, more frequently quoted: "I began by saying that one of the paradoxes of education was that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society. It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person."
Added on 6-Mar-19 | Last updated 6-Mar-19
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A man who marries a woman to educate her falls victim to the same fallacy as the woman who marries a man to reform him.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard (1927)
Added on 8-Aug-18 | Last updated 8-Aug-18
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If you attack Stupidity, you attack an entrenched interest with friends in government and every walk of public life, and you will make small progress against it.

Robertson Davies (1913-1995) Canadian author, editor, publisher
The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks (1949)
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Added on 8-Sep-17 | Last updated 8-Sep-17
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You’ve got to rattle your cage door. You’ve got to let them know that you’re in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you’ll sure have a lot more fun.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).
Added on 21-Aug-17 | Last updated 21-Aug-17
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Leave well — even “pretty well” — alone: that is what I learn as I get old.

Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883) English writer, poet, translator
Letter to W. F. Pollock (7 Dec 1869)
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Added on 21-Aug-17 | Last updated 21-Aug-17
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The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
Minority Report, #323 (1956)
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Added on 30-May-17 | Last updated 30-May-17
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Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 6, Epigraph “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar” (1894)
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Added on 25-May-17 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany: ‘Traditional values are to be debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Abolition of Man (1943)
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Added on 2-May-17 | Last updated 2-May-17
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The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Preface (1936)
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Added on 25-Apr-17 | Last updated 25-Apr-17
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The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany: ‘Traditional values are to be debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Abolition of Man (1943)
Added on 29-Mar-17 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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Any fool could devise a more consistent system than exists, but even a despot can rarely institute one.

Alfred Louis "A. L." Kroeber (1876-1960) American cultural anthropologist
The Nature of Culture, ch. 14 (1952)
Added on 14-Nov-16 | Last updated 14-Nov-16
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He who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler # 6 (7 Apr 1750)
Added on 29-Sep-16 | Last updated 29-Sep-16
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To reform man was a tedious and uncertain labor: now hanging was the sure work of a minute.

Douglas William Jerrold (1803-1857) English playwright and humorist
The History of St. Giles and St. James, ch. 15 (1845)
Added on 22-Sep-16 | Last updated 22-Sep-16
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You couldn’t get hold of the things you’d done and turn them right again. Such a power might be given to the gods, but it was not given to women and men, and that was probably a good thing. Had it been otherwise, people would probably die of old age still trying to rewrite their teens.

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
The Stand (1978)
Added on 27-Jul-16 | Last updated 27-Jul-16
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Surely there is no better way to stop the rising of new sects and schisms than to reform abuses; to compound the smaller differences; to proceed mildly, and not with sanguinary persecutions; and rather to take off the principal authors by winning and advancing them, than to enrage them by violence and bitterness.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Vicissitude of Things,” Essays, No. 58 (1625)
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Added on 16-Jun-16 | Last updated 16-Jun-16
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Throw a few chairmen of the board in jail for polluting the air and water, and you’ll see the pollution disappear quite rapidly. … You would also probably see some pretty drastic prison reform.

Other Authors and Sources
Pete Stark, Jr., in “Tumult & Shouting,” San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle (2 Jan 1972)
Added on 13-Apr-16 | Last updated 13-Apr-16
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Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.

Twain - other peoples habits - wist_info quote

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 15, epigraph (1894)
Added on 25-Feb-16 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (1979)
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“Vice,” said Mr. Dooley, “is a creature of such heejous mein, as Hogan says, that th’ more ye see it th’ betther ye like it.”

[“Vice,” said Mr. Dooley, “is a creature of such hideous mien, as Hogan says, that the more you see it the better you like it.”]

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) American humorist and journalist
“The Crusade Against Vice,” Mr. Dooley’s Opinions (1901)
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Added on 29-Jan-16 | Last updated 29-Jan-16
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I think perhaps we want a more conscious life. We’re tired of drudging and sleeping and dying. We’re tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists. We’re tired of always deferring hope till the next generation. We’re tired of hearing politicians and priests and cautious reformers (and the husbands!) coax us, “Be calm! Be patient! Wait! We have the plans for a Utopia already made; just wiser than you.” For ten thousand years they’ve said that. We want our Utopia now — and we’re going to try our hands at it.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
Main Street, ch. 16 [Carol] (1920)
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Added on 8-Sep-15 | Last updated 8-Sep-15
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The latter part of a wise man’s life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1706)
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Added on 3-Sep-15 | Last updated 3-Sep-15
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Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945, ch. 8 (1972)
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Added on 9-Jun-15 | Last updated 9-Jun-15
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What has occurred in this case must ever recur in similar cases. Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech, Washington, DC (10 Nov 1964)
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Added on 4-May-15 | Last updated 4-May-15
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What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason. Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“On the Mindless Menace of Violence,” speech, City Club of Cleveland (5 Apr 1968)
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Added on 8-Dec-14 | Last updated 8-Dec-14
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The conservative has but little to fear from the man whose reason is the servant of his passions, but let him beware of him in whom reason has become the greatest and most terrible of the passions. These are the wreckers of outworn empires and civilisations, doubters, disintegrators, deiciders.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Daedalus, or Science and the Future,” speech, Cambridge (24 Feb 1923)
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Added on 28-Nov-14 | Last updated 28-Nov-14
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It’s possible to tell your mind what to do only when your mind agrees with you.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) American writer
A Family Affair, ch. 2 [Goodwin] (1975)
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I used to be very revolutionary, but now I think that nothing can be gained by brute force. People must be drawn to good by goodness.

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator
Doctor Zhivago, 8.5 (1957) [tr. Hayward & Harari (1958)]
Added on 25-Feb-14 | Last updated 25-Feb-14
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Be always displeased at what thou art, if thou desirest to attain to what thou art not.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) Christian church father, philosopher, saint [b. Aurelius Augustinus]
Sermon 169

Alt. trans.: "Ever let that displease thee which thou art, if thou wouldest attain to what thou art not."
Added on 29-Jan-14 | Last updated 29-Jan-14
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If we would amend the world, we should mend Ourselves and teach our Children to be not what we are but what they should be.

William Penn (1644-1718) English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, statesman
Some Fruits of Solitude, #214 (1693)
Added on 12-Dec-13 | Last updated 12-Dec-13
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He that attempts to change the course of his own life very often labors in vain; and how shall we do that for others, which we are seldom able to do for ourselves?

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, ch. 29 (1759)
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There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have actual experience of it.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Prince, ch. 6 (1513) [tr. Ricci (1903)]

Alt. trans.: "Nothing is more difficult to transact, nor more dubious to succeed, nor more dangerous to manage, than to make oneself chief to introduce new orders. Because the introducer has for enemies all those whom the old orders benefit, and has for lukewarm defenders all those who might benefit from the new orders. [tr. Codevilla]
Added on 24-Oct-13 | Last updated 21-Apr-17
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The virtues of society are the vices of the saint. The terror of reform is the discovery that we must cast away our virtues, or what we have always esteemed such, into the same pit that has consumed our grosser vices.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Circles,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 6-Sep-13 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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The best reformers the world haz ever seen are thoze who commense on themselves.

[The best reformers the world has ever seen are those who commence on themselves.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Nosegays” (1874)
Added on 22-Aug-13 | Last updated 5-May-19
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Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 15, epigraph (1894)
Added on 22-Mar-13 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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We are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? ch. 3 (1967)
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Added on 15-Jun-12 | Last updated 19-Jan-15
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You know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression. […] We are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until “justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Speech, Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting, Hold Street Baptist Church, Montgomery (5 Dec 1955)

Quotation is from the Bible, Amos 5:24.
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We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 Apr 1963)
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See Gladstone.
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I am unalterably opposed to communism because it exalts the state over the individual and the family, and because of the lack of freedom of speech, of protest, of religion, and of the press, which is the characteristic of totalitarian states. The way of opposition to communism is not to imitate its dictatorship, but to enlarge individual freedom, in our own countries and all over the globe. There are those in every land who would label as Communist every threat to their privilege. But as I have seen on my travels in all sections of the world, reform is not communism. And the denial of freedom, in whatever name, only strengthens the very communism it claims to oppose.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Day of Affirmation,” address, University of Capetown, South Africa (6 Jun 1966)
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Added on 12-May-10 | Last updated 19-Jul-14
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Conservatism stands on man’s incontestable limitations; reform on his indisputable infinitiude.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Conservative,” lecture, Masonic Temple, Boston (9 Dec 1841)
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We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 Apr 1963)
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Added on 28-Jan-08 | Last updated 19-Jan-15
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The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
A Tramp Abroad (1880)
Added on 16-Aug-07 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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What’s the good of being forgiven, if I have to promise not to do it again?

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Pot-Shots #1175
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First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.

Epictetus (c.55-c.135) Greek (Phrygian) Stoic philosopher
The Discourses, ch. 23, “Concerning Such as Read and Dispute Ostentatiously” (c. AD 101-108)
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God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things which cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) American theologian and clergyman
“The Serenity Prayer” (1934)

Niebuhr at one point claimed authorship (and took copyright fees from Hallmark Cards), but later on denied he had written it. It was later adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. Discussion of the actual authorship here.
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