Who said What?

Dear Reader:

I love quotes. Particularly when one thought just matches recent ideas flickering through my mind or just seem to appear at the right time like a newspaper horoscope or something…or perhaps a quotable GodWink.

But lately I have realized that so many quotes cite several different individuals as the originator of the same expression on-line. This is what happened yesterday with the title quote: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” William Shakespeare. Wrong. Another originator cited for this same quote is Pablo Picasso. Wrong.

When I started checking my sources a website popped up called: Quote Investigator. The history behind the origin is a little murky but one individual rises from the pack. 

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence linking this expression to William Shakespeare or Pablo Picasso. The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1993 book by the radio personality David S. Viscott. This citation is detailed further below.

An interesting thematically related statement was included in an 1843 essay titled “Gifts” by the prominent lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson who argued that a gift is only worthwhile if it is integrally related to the gift-giver 1

Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a stone; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing.

In 1993 the volume “Finding Your Strength in Difficult Times: A Book of Meditations” by David Viscott was published. The author was a psychiatrist who hosted a pioneering radio talk show in the 1980s and 1990s during which he provided counseling to callers. Viscott’s statement was composed of three parts instead of two: 2

The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The work of life is to develop it.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.

The connection to David Viscott was not forgotten. In 1997 an article in the “Chattanooga Times Free Press” of Tennessee placed the adage at the beginning of an article about a successful painter: 6

“The purpose of life is to discover your gift; the work of life is to develop it; and the meaning of life is to give your gift away.” — David Viscott.

The article went on to cite other public speakers who took credit for the quote but after much research this website believes that David Viscott was and is probably the authentic author.

That is not to say that he might not have gotten an idea concept about his quote from Emerson…but he was the one who created it as it is now…but with the extra line…which personally I like better.

I am not a quote snob…it doesn’t  matter to me if someone (historically famous or a celebrity) actually creates a quote. In fact, just the opposite, I appreciate the quote even more when it comes from a “Tom, Dick, or Harry” among the common people. But I do want to give credit where credit is due…to the right person.

I read once that Abraham Lincoln gets credit for more quotes incorrectly than any other President. (Advertisers or publishers must think if they give him credit for a quote, people will believe it more or something.)

* One such mistake was done deliberately by a screenwriter for the 1960 (Hayley Mills) movie-Pollyanna (one of my most favorite movies as a child.) Apparently the screenwriter put a quote (he just made up) in a locket Pollyanna’s father supposedly gives her before his death… which is attributed to Lincoln in the movie.

“If you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.” — Abraham Lincoln

Probably no one would even have questioned it but Roy Disney thought it would be a good promotional idea for the movie to sell the lockets in all the gift stores in Disney Land. When the screenwriter found out about it…he had to confess to Disney and they had them all pulled.

The same thing goes for theologian, C.S. Lewis (who I adore)…he has more incorrect quotes attached to his name than any other theologian. The sad thing about this is that he had enough of his own quotes worth repeating without people tabbing him with others un-be-known to him.

This all leads me to an essay I found (yes…still cleaning out drawers) in the den. I read it and re-read it and thought to myself that the message in the essay is as appropriate now for the times we live in as when it was written over a decade or more earlier.

For some strange reason…the essay got penned to the comedian George Carlin. (Who, by the way denied writing it several times (“Come on, you must know that isn’t my style of writing , much less being serious and not funny.“)

When I looked up the title: “The Paradox of Life” I discovered it was a pastor who wrote it. Here is the story behind the story and the essay.

The true author of the piece isn’t George Carlin, Jeff Dickson, or the Dalai Lama, nor is he anonymous. Credit belongs to Dr. Bob Moorehead, former pastor of Seattle’s Overlake Christian Church (who retired in 1998 after 29 years in that post).

This essay appeared under the title “The Paradox of Our Age” in Words Aptly Spoken, Dr. Moorehead’s 1995 collection of prayers, homilies, and monologues used in his sermons and radio broadcasts:

“The Paradox of Our Age”

We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy it less; we have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, yet less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgement; more experts, yet more problems; we have more gadgets but less satisfaction; more medicine, yet less wellness; we take more vitamins but see fewer results. We drink too much; smoke too much; spend too recklessly; laugh too little; drive too fast; get too angry quickly; stay up too late; get up too tired; read too seldom; watch TV too much and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values; we fly in faster planes to arrive there quicker, to do less and return sooner; we sign more contracts only to realize fewer profits; we talk too much; love too seldom and lie too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space; we’ve done larger things, but not better things; we’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less; we make faster planes, but longer lines; we learned to rush, but not to wait; we have more weapons, but less peace; higher incomes, but lower morals; more parties, but less fun; more food, but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort, but less success. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; drive smaller cars that have bigger problems; build larger factories that produce less. We’ve become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, but short character; steep in profits, but shallow relationships. These are times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure and less fun; higher postage, but slower mail; more kinds of food, but less nutrition. These are days of two incomes, but more divorces; these are times of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, cartridge living, throw-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies and pills that do everything from cheer, to prevent, quiet or kill. It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stock room. Indeed, these are the times!


*( There even was a story behind the essay saying an anonymous teenager who witnessed the aftermath of Columbine (Littleton) wrote the essay and people liked this idea so much that it became a popular misnomer.) *Source: Snopes: Barbara Mikkelson)

( Painting: Kelly Rae Roberts)

So until tomorrow: Let’s all remember the grammatical index we were taught in English classes. as cited below using the word today kind. 

“Let’s be positive in being kind...kinder that necessary and kindest of all to those who need it the most.” (Quote: Becky Dingle (: )

Positive        Comparative      Superlative

kind                 kinder                      kindest

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh





About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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1 Response to Who said What?

  1. Jo Dufford says:

    Wow! What a great blog! Even if unfortunately people aren’t given proper credit for their quotes, I always say, “No matter how bad something is in life, if you look hard enough you can find something good.” Just think how many more people read and benefit from these quotes because others have thought them good enough to use. And as you pointed out , many of those people didn’t intend to have the quote credited to them. The article “The Paradox of Our Age” is really good. As I watched my daughter, after a 13 hour day at school as principal, come home and have 80 emails to read and perhaps answer, I had to wonder if technology really had made her work easier. I remembered when I was an administrator of a school with the same number students and probably spent just as many hours in school, but I had no emails when I got home, no 24/7 work-related calls/texts on vacation, not nearly as many forms to check, etc. I know technology is wonderful, or otherwise, I couldn’t read and be blessed by your blog each day. Just saying, “Sometimes, the writer of that essay may have been on to some truths worth thinking about.”


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