Some people don’t get much joy or fulfillment from reading quotes. I don’t really understand those individuals. Quotations on values, virtues, and phenomena such as strength, love, creativity, honor, passion, humor and fulfillment seem so, well, valuable to me. I think life would be sorely lacking in flavor if we lived in a black and white world of monotonous labor, the quest for survival, and being caught up in the consumerist desire to keep up and own more. I have smiled many times in my day, and felt temporarily lifted and a part of things when I read something someone wrote that reminds me of thoughts and feelings I have within, that moves me, that enlightens me. Such is the wisdom of reading quotations on values.
Quotes, poetry, proverbs, and lyrics are wonderful because they are, basically, a little message in a bottle from someone else to you. Most people don’t know anything about Dante, Cicero, Socrates, Francis Bacon, or Harriet Tubman. What George Washington Carver, Thomas Aquinas, Lucretia Mott, Giordano Bruno and Michael Faraday said would be esoteric in the extreme, were it not for quotations. People such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, Montaigne, and Seneca are very well-known for passing down bite-sized pieces of wisdom and knowledge to the rest of us. They shone like stars against the darkness of their times, and stood out in a crowd like a person at a Nazi rally standing with their arms at their side. We mustn’t forget what they have bequeathed to us, or lose their wisdom. Since few of us are going to read a treatise by David Hume or Albert Einstein, the best way to get a glimpse into what they were about – what occupied them, what moved them, what they studied, what they discovered is to read what they said that can be packed into 1-3 sentences. This is basically the definition of quotations on values. You can’t fit a book into a bottle and toss it into the sea for future human beings to learn from, to gain inspiration from, or to find enlightenment from, but you can do so with proverbs, maxims, aphorisms, epigrams: quotes, basically. Ask Marcus Aurelius or Jesus or Jonathan Swift or Emerson.
So, quotations are pithy, portable, and powerful. The question of truth aside, they have the potential to really provide the motivation and insight that make a person truly live the values they want to, that they have the potential to. Have you ever wanted to help someone, decided to “go for it” (a diet, a job, a romance), or had an “A-HA!” moment? You were thinking in one or two sentence thoughts. It might have even seemed “nonverbal.” But from what I know of cognition (i.e., cognitive science), in those moments our creativity, kindness, compassion, will, or ambition were urged on by our thoughts. By our internalized capacity for language and narrative. Remember the old movie Dead Poet’s Society (if not, stop reading and watch it!)? Thomas Schulman has the main character, played by Robin Williams, encourage, enliven, and awaken the youthful vigor of the boys he was teaching with this line: “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” Perhaps more succinctly, Williams encourages and promises the young students in the stolid preparatory academy that “no matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
I think they can, too. People are promoted, beaten up, wedded, and thoroughly impacted by a sentence or two that for them contains great meaning. Think about “I love you, too!” or “Screw you and your ugly wife!” and how powerful they can be. Consider the electricity of “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” or “I came. I saw. I conquered”? Think of the utter depth and magic behind “Jesus died on the cross for your sins” or “Today is a good day to die!” Though books and songs and poems can contain compelling and deep messages, I think the nugget of meaning can be communicated by something even shorter (again, truth aside). It feels – well, inspirational – to read certain quotes. It does so in two ways at least; one is that you might feel inspired and have emotion elicited, an idea might come to you or you might make a new connection. That is a great feeling. What is also great, though, is being instantly connected to someone – perhaps someone long-dead – who sees the same thing you do. That’s the beauty of poetry: recognizing yourself in something someone else felt and put words to. It creates a kind of kinship, and loneliness is briefly abated. As Sting phrased his fanciful story about a person who finds a bottle “washed up on a shore” which contains an inspiring message,
“It seems I’m not alone in being alone/ A hundred million castaways looking for a home.”
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” is a favorite quote often attributed (with questionable accuracy) to Mohandas K. Gandhi. Now there is a man who can offer a punchy and poignant saying! The meaning and force generated by just 10 words is amazing. It has been quite an inspiration to Ruth Westreich, who rose from very humble and challenging beginnings to live a long life, and not only does she positively affect thousands of people, she gives away millions of dollars a year in philanthropic contributions and just received an honorary doctorate. Yes, the art she is so enthusiastically making every week is typically a non-verbal task, but she always comes back into the world where words and ideas intermingle.
Language is simply extraordinarily important. A genius such as Stephen Hawking may have thoughts that are relatively inchoate or primal, but he always forms them into readable, understandable, communicable sentences. His books are translated from ideas and flashes of insight into words, theories, sentences and chapters. Simplicity, parsimony, clarity – the mark of the wise, not the foolish. In fact, noted scientist and philosopher Karl Popper advised: “If you can’t say it simply and clearly, keep quiet, and keep working on it ’til you can.” The erudite and courageous social critic, Michael Parenti, agreed: “One can write in an accessible and pleasant style while dealing with complex concepts and constructs.
To write clearly and understandably does not mean one is being simple or superficial. Some of the smartest and most inspirational things ever written happen to be simple quotations on values. The converse is also true: to write in a dense, dull, or convoluted manner (as one is trained to do in academia) does not mean that one is being profound and insightful.” Ask Friedrich Nietzsche, one of history’s most quotable intellectual goldmines. “The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages are perpetuated by quotations,” saidThe other night I was making love to my wife, and she said, ‘Deeper, deeper.’ So I started quoting Nietzsche to her” (
So, truth aside, quotations on values can contain great wisdom. Solomon himself, perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes, can attest to the fact that one well-worded sentence does not need to be yelled to be effective. A brief phrase can bring one to their knees with overwhelming grief (“Your father died last night”) or exuberance (“You are hereby awarded the degree of Master of Arts!”) and everything in between. I happen to be quite intrigued, motivated, and impressed by quotes on values such as truth, justice, responsibility, lightheartedness, knowledge, and risk. These are some of what I think are about 30 values and virtues that comprise what I call the values of the wise: those values and virtues that wise persons are interested in, that they seek to cultivate within themselves. It may be 20, or it may reach as high as 50, but quotations can be fitted into categories, and those classifications can be learned about, studied, and practiced.
What is the point of a quote? Well, consider what no less an intellectual treasure trove as Aristotle noted about being able to develop positive habits within oneself: “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly….” The Philosopher, as he was known in the Middle Ages, is pointing out that habits are formed by repetition, practice, and use. If you want to be courageous, get in the habit. If you want to become more knowledegable, start reading and listening. If you want to be astutely skeptical, start questioning. None are born anything but ignorant, helpless, and lonely, but some of us reach magnificent heights through insight, imagination, imitation, and reiteration.
Inherent in this is the honoring and extolling of rationality; the power of the mind to grasp, to sift through, to cogitate: “Aristotle believed that virtue, which is essential to the good life, involves living according to reason. Only by living in accordance with reason, which is our human function, can we achieve happiness and inner harmony” (Judith A. Boss). Rationality and reason are distinct from (opposed to?) other methods of knowledge acquisition, such as intuition, authority, orthodoxy, chance, and revelation. It is the way of science, not the way of mysticism.
So, habits are how virtues are formed and maintained. Practice makes perfect, yes, but it’s also true that one is always working with their native intelligence, their predispositions, their capacities. You can’t teach a monkey to write, but you can teach it to type: “wise people have an inward sense of what is beautiful, and the highest wisdom is to trust this intuition and be guided by it. The answer to the last appeal of what is right lies within a person’s own breast” (Aristotle). The Philosopher also insightfully pointed out the relationship between ideas: “The greatest thing, by far, is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned; and it is also a sign of genius.” I don’t mean to toot my own horn (cover your ears!) but I have always taken a certain amount of pride in my ability to see connections, to extrapolate, to envision, to discriminate accurately. I think it has a pitfall or two, but making quick and superficial connects is a fundamental method of discovery, wisdom-attainment, and personal growth. I don’t think I would have taken the 2,000-3,000 hours that Values of the Wise pulled from me if I wasn’t interested in understanding deeper and better the values and virtues that have driven and pulled some of humanity’s greatest minds. I have been moved by quotations on values for much of my life, and you probably have a love for them, too.
I will leave you with some glittering examples of the values of the wise. May you find inspiration in these quotations on values –and take action! These are but a minority of the thousands of quotations on values and virtues present in the Wisdom Archive!
The love of learning and the love of money rarely meet. ~ George Herbert
What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver
In a mood of faith and hope my work goes on. A ream of fresh paper lies on my desk waiting for the next book. I am a writer, and I take up my pen to write. ~ Pearl S. Buck
May there be enough clouds in your life to make a beautiful sunset. ~ Rebecca Gregory
You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. ~ Albert Einstein
While money is not a root of evil, love of money surely is. Greed or sudden wealth can stir extremes of bad behavior in people. At bottom, Rudyard Kipling’s parable is also about the worthlessness of money compared with a family, community, love, and friendship. ~ Lou Marinoff
Reading and thinking about quotations on values are a superb way to learn about what you believe, and why.
Are we inspired only by personal vengeance, not humanitarianism? Are we willing to make war in Iraq but not peace in Sudan? What moves us to action? ~ Anna Quindlen
Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values. ~ Ayn Rand
Cruel men believe in a cruel God and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly God, and they would be kindly in any case. ~ Bertrand Russell
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted – and behold, service was joy. ~ Rabindranath Tagore
Perhaps if this world were peaceful,
And love ruled as now do mere boys,
I would not be wearing these scarlet letters,
But living with my brethren amongst joy.
~ Jason Merchey
Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. ~ Thomas A. Edison
There is just one way to bring up a child in the way he should go, and that is to travel that way yourself. ~ Abraham Lincoln
People usually fail when they are on the verge of success. So give as much care to the end as to the beginning. Then there will be no failure. ~ Lao Tzu
Everyone has the capability of becoming a hero in one degree or another. Sometimes you might not realize it. To someone it could be as small as holding a door open and saying ‘hello’ to them. We are all heroes to someone. ~ Carol Depino
Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning. ~ Colin Quek
If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another. ~ Thomas Merton
If you think for a moment about real worldwide security, what do you think would be most likely to contribute to it: better weapons and a stronger army, or decent jobs and working wages for the millions of young people maturing to working age? ~ Jan Phillips
Yes, there is a Nirvana; it is leading your sheep to a green pasture, and in putting your child to sleep, and in writing the last line of your poem. ~ Kahlil Gibran
If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest. ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi
You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when. You can decide how you’re going to live now. ~ Joan Baez
We awaken in others the same attitude of mind we hold toward them. ~ Elbert Hubbard
I do not believe in prayers. I believe in work. And my work is that of an author. My pen is my weapon. ~ Taslima Nasrin
I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands. ~ Zora Neale Hurston
Quotes about values and virtues can inspire a better, fuller life! Ask Einstein: “The ideals that have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty, and truth.”
A life of purpose is the purpose of life. ~ Deepak Chopra
People wish to be poets more than they wish to write poetry, and that’s a mistake. One should wish to celebrate more than one wishes to be celebrated. ~ Lucille Clifton
Success in the ethical sense is possible right here and right now, no matter who you are and what you’re doing. If you wake up and feel passionately about one or several aspects of your life, you are already on the road to the only success that really matters. ~ Derrick Bell
In creating, the only hard thing’s to begin; a grass-blade’s no easier to make than an oak. ~ James Russell Lowell
Good friends we have had, oh good friends we’ve lost along the way
In this bright future, you can’t forget your past
So dry your tears I say
No, woman, no cry.
~ V. Ford & Bob Marley
Though we travel the world in search of beauty, we must carry it within or we find it not. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Life takes on meaning when you become motivated, set goals, and charge after them in an unstoppable manner. ~ Les Brown
Study as if you were going to live forever; live as if you were going to die tomorrow. ~ Maria Mitchell
The wise man will want to be ever with he who is better than himself. ~ Plato
Search for quotations on values – all 28 values of the wise – here!