Inspirational quotes are not all bad

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“Quotations when engraved upon the memory, give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more.”

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Winston Churchill

Even though I use quotation marks liberally in my writing, I’ve never been much of a quotation person. I’ve never purchased any plaques in the house that say ‘Live. Laugh. Sees it’. Nor have I pinned posters on my wall that had motivational quotes on them like ‘Big journeys begin with small steps’ or ‘Failure isn’t falling down, failure is staying down’.

Perhaps I’m some sort of freak of nature, but I just tend not to find inspiration in reading these things. They do nothing for me and I find them annoying.

In spite of my slight displeasure with inspirational/motivational quotes, there are plenty of people in this world – particularly on social media – who love nothing more than to share daily inspiring quotes, which apparently serve to motivate them, inspire others and possibly make them look more interesting than they actually are.

Invariably, roughly 90 per cent of these quotes are attributed to either Winston Churchill (see above) or Mark Twain. These two dead guys have pretty much cornered the inspirational quote market. They were apparently the kings of coming up with (or stealing) pithy, witty and exhilarating sentences, and both would probably have massive Twitter followings if they were alive today.

The remaining 10 per cent of quotes shared on social media seem to come from a weird amalgam of long-dead philosophers, modern-day self-help gurus and quirky athletes, people like Confucius, Tony Robbins and former Royals relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry.

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Anyway, after being a ‘quote snob’ for all these years, to my complete surprise over the past few weeks, I have stumbled across not one but two inspirational quotes that have truly and honestly impacted me and changed my perception on things, at least temporarily.

Due to the state of the world right now, I have been feeling a little bit down in dumps, as my grandmother used to say.

To try and get myself out of the aforementioned ‘dumps’, I opted for a tried-and-true method that would help distract me from those feelings of doom and gloom: I cracked open a good book.

I find pleasure in non-fiction books, so I decided to read David Pietrusza’s 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents. It is a book about – spoiler alert – the 1920 presidential election and the involvement of six past, present and future presidents during that campaign (actually seven if you include William Howard Taft, who makes a cameo appearance).

I’m not finished the book yet, but so far it’s an absorbing tale, particularly for people interested in politics, US or international history or scandal. It’s a book that also underlines the fact that politics has always been ugly, brutal and divisive. There has never really been a ‘golden age’ of friendly, collegial, harmonious political discourse where politicians picked up a guitar and sang Kumbaya. Folks running for office in the 1920s absolutely hated one another with a passion and said terrible things about each other both behind each other’s backs and in front of their faces. It was not a time of hail-fellow-well-met, let me assure you.

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Anyway, one prominent person in the book was America’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was and still is a mythical figure (at least for me), a Nobel Prize winning conservationist, a fearless ‘trust-buster’, an energetic canal-builder and a person with a real zest for life. He was America’s youngest-ever president at 43, but by 1918 he was nearly 60 and in poor health after going on an ill-advised safari.
During that time, Roosevelt’s youngest son Quentin had gone to war as a pilot during and had died in combat, a debilitating tragedy that probably hastened Teddy’s death.

Anyway, when I read an excerpt of Roosevelt’s eulogy of his child, I felt like I should put it on a poster and immediately stick it on my wall. Itread:

“Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure.

“But all of us who give service and stand ready for sacrifice are the torch-bearers. We run with the torches until we fall, content if we can then pass them to the hands of other runners… these are the torch-bearers; these are they who have dared the Great Adventure.”

The quote made me see life in terms of all of us being on our own Great Adventure – an adventure that has a beginning and inevitably an end. It made me feel strangely empowered during these dark times, and inspired me to (hopefully) do more things with my time left on this planet, since only I am capable of making my own Great Adventure better or at least more interesting and/or fulfilling .

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The second inspiring quote came randomly from social media.They were the words of noted American author Kurt Vonnegut who led a life almost as interesting as Roosevelt’s (Indianapolis native who became one of the 20th Century’s most influential authors, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, became a POW who witnessed the firebombing of Dresden). Shortly before his death in 2007, Vonnegut responded to a letter from a high school student asking for advice. In his letter of him he wrote:

“What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art—music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage—no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

In essence, Vonnegut was telling this teen to forget about the silly pressures put on their shoulders in our achievement-oriented society and to just enjoy trying new things, even if you do them ‘badly’. From warbling songs in the shower to painting ‘ugly’ paintings, the experience of doing things matters more than the final product, which in my experience is true and a wonderful thing I wished I had realized many, many decades ago.

Apologies, then, if you are a ‘quote snob’ like I previously was. But these two quotes were just too good not to share, and as a bonus neither of them is from Churchill or Twain. So you’re welcome.

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