Quotations about   worthiness

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Reproached one day because he gave alms to a good-for-nothing, he said, “It was the man that I pitied, not his conduct.”

[ὀνειδιζόμενός ποτε ὅτι πονηρῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐλεημοσύνην ἔδωκεν, “οὐ τὸν τρόπον,” εἶπεν, “ἀλλὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἠλέησα.”]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Attributed in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers [Vitae Philosophorum], Book 5, sec. 11 [tr. Mensch (2018)]

(Greek Source). Alternate translations:

On one occasion he was blamed for giving alms to a worthless man, and he replied, “I did not pity the man, but his condition.”
[tr. Yonge (1853)]

Being once reproached for giving alms to a bad man, he rejoined, "It was the man and not his character that I pitied."
[tr. Hicks (1925), sec. 17]

After he was reproached for giving money to a wretched man, he said, “It wasn’t the character, but the man I pitied.”
[tr. @sentantiq [2016)]

Once, he was reproached because he gave charity to a lowly person, so he said, "I gave charity to a man, not a way of life."
[Source, sec. 17]

Added on 20-Jul-21 | Last updated 20-Jul-21
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You can tell the man who rings true from the man who rings false, not by his deeds alone, but also by his desires.

[Δόκιμος ἀνὴρ καὶ ἀδόκιμος οὐκ ἐξ ὧν πράσσει μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐξ ὧν βούλεται.]

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 68 (Diels) [tr. Bakewell (1907)]

Diels citation "68. (40 N.) DEMOKRATES. 33." Bakewell lists this under "The Golden Sayings of Democritus." Freeman notes this as one of the Gnômae, from a collection called "Maxims of Democratês," but because Stobaeus quotes many of these as "Maxims of Democritus," they are generally attributed to the latter.

Alternate translations:

  • "A man is approved or rejected not only by what he doth, but by what he wills." [Hammond (1845)]
  • "The worthy and the unworthy man are to be known not only by their actions, but also their wishes." [tr. Freeman (1948)]
  • "One of esteem and one without it do not only act for different reasons but they desire for different reasons too." [tr. @sententiq (2018), fr. 67]
  • "Accomplished or unaccomplished we shall call a man not only from what he does but from what he desires, too." [Source]
  • "The worthy and unworthy are known not only by their deeds, but also by their desires." [Source]
Added on 2-Mar-21 | Last updated 11-May-21
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Lord have pity upon all men.
To those who are in darkness
Be their light.
To those who are in despair
Be their Hope.
To those who are suffering
Be their Healing.
To those who are fearful
Be their Courage.
To those who are defeated
Be their Victory.
To those who are dying
Be their Life.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“Prayer for All Those Who Work or Fight in the War”

One of several prayers found in Roosevelt's wallet after her death. Author unknown. Another prayer found there:

Dear Lord, lest I continue in my complacent ways, help me to remember that somewhere someone died for me today. And if there be war, help me to remember to ask, "Am I worth dying for?"
Added on 22-Feb-21 | Last updated 22-Feb-21
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Men of all races have always sought for a convincing explanation of their own astonishing excellence and they have frequently found what they were looking for.

Aubrey Menen (1912-1989) English writer
Dead Man in the Silver Market, ch. 1, opening lines (1954)
Added on 22-Jul-20 | Last updated 22-Jul-20
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The difficulty is not so much to die for a friend, as to find a friend worth dying for.

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782) Scottish jurist, agriculturalist, philosopher, writer
Introduction to the Art of Thinking, ch. 1, “Friendship” (1761)

Often misattributed to Homer. See John 15:13.
Added on 20-May-20 | Last updated 20-May-20
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The universe could have been created ugly, and would have functioned. And yet there is beauty everywhere in creation. Beauty gives us an ache, to be worthy of that creation.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
Comments at Wellesley College (20 Oct 2010)

The last phrase is frequently paraphrased, "We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it."
Added on 25-Feb-20 | Last updated 25-Feb-20
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I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure. I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. Nor do most people — all the people who believe advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumours. The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
“Equality,” The Spectator (27 Aug 1943)

Reprinted in Present Concerns (1986).

See Lincoln.
Added on 12-Feb-20 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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If your descent is from heroic sires,
Show in your life a remnant of their fires.

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
Satires, Satire 5, l. 43 (1666)
Added on 4-Sep-18 | Last updated 4-Sep-18
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Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
Disputed Questions, “The Power and Meaning of Love” (1953)
Added on 18-Oct-17 | Last updated 18-Oct-17
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Base and absurd requests he should reject, not harshly but gently, informing the askers by way of consolation that the requests are not in accord with their own excellence and reputation.

Plutarch (AD 46-127) Greek historian, biographer, essayist [Mestrius Plutarchos]
Moralia, Vol. 10 “Precepts of Statecraft” (13) [tr. Helmbold (1936)]
Added on 9-Jan-17 | Last updated 9-Jan-17
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In giving of thy alms, inquire not so much into the person, as his necessity. God looks not so much upon the merits of him that requires, as into the manner of him that relieves; if the man deserve not, thou hast given it to humanity.

Francis Quarles (1592-1644) English poet
Enchyridion, Cent. 3, cap. 38
Added on 9-Sep-16 | Last updated 9-Sep-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)
Added on 31-Aug-16 | Last updated 31-Aug-16
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Morality is not properly the doctrine [of] how we should make ourselves happy, but how we should make ourselves worthy of happiness.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) German philosopher
Critique of Practical Reason [Kritik der praktischen Vernunft], (1788) [tr. Abbott (1873)]
Added on 7-Jan-13 | Last updated 3-Feb-20
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The theater needs continual reminders that there is nothing more debasing than the work of those who do well what is not worth doing at all.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012) American novelist, dramatist, critic
“Love Love Love,” Partisan Review (Spring 1959)
Added on 20-Nov-12 | Last updated 28-Jan-20
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A man should say, I am not concerned that I have no place, I am concerned how I may fit myself for one. I am not concerned that I am not known, I seek to be worthy to be known.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 4.14 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Legge (1930)]

Alt. trans.:
  • "Do not worry if you are without a position; worry lest you do not deserve a position. Do not worry if you are not famous; worry let you do not deserve to be famous." [tr. Leys (1997)]
  • "Do not worry that you have no official position. Worry about not having the qualifications to deserve a position. Do not worry that others do not know you. seek to be worthy of being known." [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "Do not worry about having no office; rather, worry about whether you deserve to stand in that office. Do not worry about nobody knowing you; rather, seek to be worth knowing." [tr. Huang (1997)]
Added on 19-Mar-10 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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When you see a worthy man, seek to emulate him. When you see an unworthy man, examine yourself.


Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 4.17 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Leys (1997)]

Alt. trans.:
  • "When we see men of worth, we should think of equalling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves." [tr. Legge (1930)]
  • "When you meet a worthy person, think how you could become his equal. When you meet an unworthy person, turn inward and examine your own conduct." [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "On seeing a worthy man, think of equalling him; on seeing an unworthy man, examine yourself inwardly." [tr. Huang (1997)]
  • "When you see a good man, try to emulate his example, and when you see a bad man, search yourself for his faults."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Jul-20
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True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) English politician and essayist
“Some Cautions Offered to the Consideration of Those Who Are to Choose Members to Serve in the Ensuing Parliament,” sec. 16 (1695)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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