Quotations about   restraint

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There are things in the breast of mankind which are best
In darkness and secrecy hid;
For you never can tell, when you’ve opened a hell,
How soon you can put back the lid.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) English writer
“The Sons of the Suburbs” (1916)
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On bloodthirstiness in war by previously peaceful people.

Originally written for the Christmas 1916 issue of Blighty, a magazine for servicemen. It was rejected, eventually to be published in the Sunday Pictorial (19 Jan 1936). It was never included by Kipling in any of his collections.
Added on 30-May-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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The whole country wants civility. Why don’t we have it? It doesn’t cost anything. No federal funding, no legislation is involved. One answer is the unwillingness to restrain oneself. Everybody wants other people to be polite to them, but they want the freedom of not having to be polite to others.

Judith Martin (b. 1938) American author, journalist [a.k.a. Miss Manners]
“Polite Company: A Chat with Judith Martin About Etiquette,” interview with Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today (1 Mar 1998)
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Added on 24-Jan-22 | Last updated 24-Jan-22
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Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands — and then eat just one of the pieces.

Judith Viorst (b. 1931) American writer, journalist, psychoanalysis researcher
Redbook Magazine (mid-1970s)

Attributed in many places. More information: The Big Apple: “Strength is breaking a chocolate bar into four pieces with your hands — and then eating just one”
Added on 24-Aug-21 | Last updated 24-Aug-21
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The problem isn’t that our national character is too invested in civility. It’s that a certain segment of our population is desperate to be freed from it.

Lili Loofbourow (contemp.) American essayist, critic, author
“This Is America,” Slate (19 Aug 2018)
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Added on 22-Jun-21 | Last updated 22-Jun-21
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Sometimes it’s a good thing to scare people. Sometimes fear is all that will keep them from doing stupid things.

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) American writer
Adulthood Rites, Part 2, ch. 15 (1988)
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Added on 27-May-21 | Last updated 27-May-21
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Be warned against all “good” advice because “good” advice is necessarily “safe” advice, and though it will undoubtedly follow a sane pattern, it will very likely lead one into total sterility — one of the crushing problems of our time.

Jules Feiffer (b. 1929) American cartoonist, authork, satirist
Interview by Roy Newquist, Counterpoint (1964)
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Added on 20-Apr-21 | Last updated 20-Apr-21
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We may seem angry, but anger should be far from us; for in anger nothing right or judicious can be done.

[Sed tamen ira procul absit, cum qua nihil recte fieri nec considerate potest.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 1, ch. 38 / sec. 136 (44 BC) [tr. Miller (1913)]
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Original Latin. Alternate translations:
  • "We must be sure, as was said, to avoid all anger; for whatsoever is guided by its influence and directions can never be done with any prudence or moderation." [tr. Cockman (1699)]
  • "But still, let anger be remote; for under its influence our conduct cannot be upright or deliberate." [tr. McCartney (1798)]
  • "But still, let all passion be avoided; for with that nothing can be done with rectitude, nothing with discretion." [tr. Edmonds (1865)]
  • "But still anger ought be far from us, for nothing is able to be done rightly nor judiciously with anger."
Added on 11-Jan-21 | Last updated 11-Jan-21
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The man who is master of his passions is Reason’s slave.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
(Attributed)
Added on 5-Jan-21 | Last updated 5-Jan-21
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The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States does not import an absolute right in each person to be at all times, and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. […] Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members. […] In every well ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.

John Marshall Harlan (1833-1911) American lawyer, politician, Supreme Court Justice (1877-1911)
Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (20 Feb 1905) [majority opinion]
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Added on 30-Nov-20 | Last updated 30-Nov-20
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O sacred hunger of ambitious minds
And impotent desire of men to reign,
Whom neither dread of God, that devils bindes,
Nor lawes of men, that commonweales containe,
Nor bands of nature, that wilde beastes restraine,
Can keepe from outrage and from doing wrong,
Where they may hope a kingdome to obtaine.
No faith so firme, no trust can be so strong,
No love so lasting then, that may endure long.

Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599) English poet
The Faerie Queene, Book 5, Canto 12, st. 1 (1589-96)
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Added on 3-Aug-20 | Last updated 3-Aug-20
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Was none who would be foremost
To lead such dire attack;
But those behind cried “Forward!”
And those before cried “Back!”

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Horatius,” st. 50, Lays of Ancient Rome (1842)
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Added on 12-Mar-20 | Last updated 12-Mar-20
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Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations. There were people who said, “You can’t go into space. You can’t go to the moon.” If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won’t exist because you’ll have already shut it out. Yes, you can hear other people’s wisdom, but you’ve got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.

Mae Jemison (b. 1956) American engineer, physician, astronaut
Interview, Chicago Sun-Times (May 1994)
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Added on 14-Feb-20 | Last updated 14-Feb-20
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Nations are most commonly saved by the worst men in them. The virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths which are necessary to rouse the people against their tyrants.

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English novelist, letter writer
Memoirs of the Reign of King George III, Vol. 1, ch. 12 (1859)
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Variants:
  • "The adventurer's career suggests the reflection that nations are usually saved by their worse men, since the virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths needed to rouse the people against their tyrants." (Source)
  • "The virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths that are necessary to rouse the people against their tyrants."
  • Modern paraphrase: "No great country was ever saved by good men because good men will not go to the lengths necessary to save it."
  • Modern paraphrase: "No great country was ever saved by good men, because good men may not go to the lengths that may be necessary."
Added on 7-Jan-20 | Last updated 7-Jan-20
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Anger as soon as fed is dead —
‘Tis starving makes it fat.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American poet
Poem #1509 (c. 1881)
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Added on 24-Mar-19 | Last updated 24-Mar-19
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A man who cannot get angry is like a stream that cannot overflow, that is always turbid. Sometimes indignation is as good as a thunder-storm in summer, clearing and cooling the air.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, “Man” (1887)
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Added on 3-Aug-18 | Last updated 3-Aug-18
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In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Annual Message to Congress (1 Dec 1862)
Added on 22-Mar-17 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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All of your scholarship, all your study of Shakespeare and Wordsworth would be vain if at the same time you did not build your character and attain mastery over your thoughts and your actions.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
Speech to students, Agra, in Young India (19 Sep 1929)
Added on 7-Feb-17 | Last updated 9-Feb-17
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During the greater part of the nineteenth century the significance of the opposition between the two principles of individual rights and social functions was masked by the doctrine of the inevitable harmony between private interests and public good. Competition, it was argued, was an effective substitute for honesty. Today … few now would profess adherence to the compound of economic optimism and moral bankruptcy which led a nineteenth century economist to say: “Greed is held in check by greed, and the desire for gain sets limits to 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 5-Jan-17 | Last updated 5-Jan-17
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Terror is the most effective political instrument. I shall not permit myself to be robbed of it simply because a lot of stupid, bourgeois mollycoddles choose to be offended by it.

Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) German leader
Table talk (1933)

Quoted in Hermann Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction, ch. 6 (1940). Note: I don't actually wish I'd said this, but it's a useful quotation for those who similarly think torture and terror are legitimate political tools to consider who their bedfellow is.
Added on 26-Dec-16 | Last updated 26-Dec-16
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Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) American lawyer, politician, US President (1925-29)
Foundations of the Republic (1926)
Added on 13-Dec-16 | Last updated 13-Dec-16
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Ambition is like hunger; it obeys no law but its appetite.

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
(Attributed)
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Attributed in Frank Jenners Wilstach, A Dictionary of Similes (1916).
Added on 11-Mar-15 | Last updated 31-May-17
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Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
Notebooks: 1942-1951, Notebook 4, Jan 1942 – Sep 1945 [tr. O’Brien/Thody (1963)
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Cited as "B.B."
Added on 12-Jan-15 | Last updated 16-May-22
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The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.

Orson Welles (1915-1985) American writer, director, actor
Comment to Henry Jaglom

Quoted by Jaglom in his essay "The Independent Filmmaker" in Jason E. Quire, ed. The Movie Business Book (1992). See here for more information. Sometimes paraphrased in reverse ("The absence of limitations is the enemy of art").
Added on 8-Jan-15 | Last updated 8-Jan-15
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The greatest strength and wealth is self-control.

Pythagoras (c.570 BC - c.495 BC) Greek mathematician and philosopher
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Hobart Huson, Pythagoras (1947).
Added on 25-Mar-14 | Last updated 25-Mar-14
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Therefore virtue also depends on ourselves. And so also does vice. For where we are free to act we are also free to refrain from acting, and where we are able to say No we are also able to say Yes; if therefore we are responsible for doing a thing when to do it is right, we are also responsible for not doing it when not to do it is wrong, and if we are responsible for rightly not doing a thing, we are also responsible for wrongly doing it. But if it is in our power to do and to refrain from doing right and wrong, and if, as we saw, being good or bad is doing right or wrong, it consequently depends on us whether we are virtuous or vicious.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 3, ch. 5 (3.5) / 1113b (c. 325 BC) [tr. Rackham (1934)]
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Source of the common summary, "What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do." Alternate translations:

Virtue is in our power. And so too is Vice: because wherever it is in our power to do it is also in our power to forbear doing, and vice versâ: therefore if the doing (being in a given case creditable) is in our power, so too is the forbearing (which is in the same case discreditable), and vice versâ. But if it is in our power to do and to forbear doing what is creditable or the contrary, and these respectively constitute the being good or bad, then the being good or vicious characters is in our power.
[tr. Chase (1847), ch. 7]

Virtue is in our own power, and, by parity of reasoning, so is vice. For where it is in our power to do a thing, it is equally in our power to abstain from doing it; where refusal is in our power, assent is equally so. So that, if to do such or such a thing, which is noble, be in our power, to abstain from it, which is disgraceful, will be equally in our power; and ift0o abstain from doing such or such a thing, which is noble, be in our power, then to do it, which is disgraceful, will be equally in our power. And if, in a word, it be in our power to do what is noble and what is disgraceful, it is equally in our power not to do it. Or in other words, it is in our power to be good men or bad. It rests, then, with ourselves whether we are to be virtuous or vicious.
[tr. Williams (1869)]

Virtue and vice are both alike in our own power; for where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power to refrain from acting, and where it is our power to refrain from acting, it is also in our power to act. Hence if it is in our power to act when action is noble, it will also be in our power to refrain from acting when inaction is shameful, and if it is our power to refrain from acting when inaction is noble, it will also be in our power to act when action is shameful. But if it is in our power to do, and likewise not to do, what is noble and shameful, and if so to act or not to act is as we have seen to be good or bad, it follows that it is in our power to be virtuous or vicious.
[tr. Welldon (1892), ch. 7]

Therefore virtue depends upon ourselves: and vice likewise. For where it lies with us to do, it lies with us not to do. Where we can say no, we can say yes. If then the doing a deed, which is noble, lies with us, the not doing it, which is disgraceful, lies with us; and if the not doing, which is noble, lies with us, the doing, which is disgraceful, also lies with us. But if the doing and likewise the not doing of noble or base deeds lies with us, and if this is, as we found, identical with being good or bad, then it follows that it lies with us to be worthy or worthless men.
[tr. Peters (1893)]

Therefore virtue also is in our own power, and so too vice. For where it is in our power to act it is also in our power not to act, and vice versa; so that, if to act, where this is noble, is in our power, not to act, which will be base, will also be in our power, and if not to act, where this is noble, is in our power, to act, which will be base, will also be in our power. Now if it is in our power to do noble or base acts, and likewise in our power not to do them, and this was what being good or bad meant, then it is in our power to be virtuous or vicious.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

Virtue too is up to us, then, and similarly, vice. For where acting is up to us, so is not acting, and where saying "No" is up to us, so is saying "Yes." Hence if acting, when it is noble, is up to us, not acting, when it is shameful, will also be up to us. And if not acting, when it is noble, is up to us, acting, when it is shameful, will also be up to us. But if doing noble actions or doing shameful ones is up to us, and similarly, also not doing them (which is what being good people and being bad people consisted in), then being decent or base will be up to us.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

So virtue, too, is in our power, and also vice for a similar reason. For where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act, and where it is in our power not to act, it is also in our power to act; so if to act, when it is noble, is in our power, then also not to act, which would then be disgraceful, would be in our power, and if not to act, when it is noble, is in our power, then also to act, which would then be disgraceful, would be in our power. If it is in our power, then, to do what is noble or disgraceful, and likewise not to do what is noble or disgraceful, and to act or not to act nobly or disgracefully, as stated earlier, is to be good or bad, then it is our power to be good or bad men.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

Therefore virtue lies in our power, and similarly so does vice; because where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act, and where we can refuse we can also also comply. So if is in our power to do a thing when it is right, it will also be in our power not to do it when it is wrong; and if it is in our power not to do it when it is right, it will also be in our power to do it when it is wrong. And if it is in our power to do right and wrong, and similarly not to do them; and if, as we saw, doing right or wrong is the essence of being good or bad, it follows that it is in our power to be decent or worthless.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

Virtue, then, is in our power, and so is vice. Where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act, and where saying "No" is in our power, so is saying "Yes" so that if it is in our power to act when it would be noble, it will also be in our power not to act when it would be shameful, and if it is in our power not to act when it would be noble, it will also be in our power to act when it would be shameful. Now if it is in our power to do noble and shameful actions, and the same goes for not doing them, and if, as we saw, being good and bad consists in this, then it is in our power to be good or bad.
[tr. Crisp (2000)]

Added on 14-Jan-14 | Last updated 1-Feb-22
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If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Chinese proverb
Added on 14-Jun-13 | Last updated 11-Feb-20
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Freedom for the pike is death for the minnow.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
Equality (1931)

Sometimes cited an English proverb, or attributed to Isaiah Berlin.
Added on 11-Jan-13 | Last updated 4-Sep-16
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Once killing starts, it is difficult to draw the line.

Tacitus (c.56-c.120) Roman historian, orator, politician [Publius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus]
Histories, Book I, ch. 39 (AD 100-110)
Added on 19-Mar-10 | Last updated 4-May-15
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It is easier to suppress the first Desire than to satisfy all that follow it.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (1751)
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Included in his summary piece, "The Way to Wealth" (1757).
Added on 29-Sep-09 | Last updated 8-Jul-21
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A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It’s a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.

Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) American politician, US President (1977-1981), Nobel laureate [James Earl Carter, Jr.]
“Warm Hearts and Cool Heads,” speech, Liberal Party dinner, New York City (14 Oct 1976)
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The title of the speech was from a phrase coined by Adlai Stevenson.
Added on 11-Oct-07 | Last updated 5-Jan-21
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In the midst of great joy, do not promise anyone anything. In the midst of great anger, do not answer anyone’s letter.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Chinese proverb
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Feb-20
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Miss Manners’ meager arsenal consists only of the withering look, the insistent and repeated request, the cold voice, the report up the chain of command, and the tilted nose. Also the ability to dismiss inferior behavior from her mind as coming from inferior people. You will perhaps point out that she will never know the joy of delivering a well-deserved sock in the chops. True — but she will never inspire one either.

Judith Martin (b. 1938) American author, journalist [a.k.a. Miss Manners]
“Miss Manners,” syndicated column (18 May 1980)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 23-Mar-17
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