posted 10 Nov 2010 in Volume 14 Issue 2
Straight from the horse’s mouth
He might not always reveal his sources, but an interesting and wellpositioned quote can provoke a really positive reaction, according to David Gurteen
I love quotations and have many on my website, although I only add them if they appeal to me in some way. I usually come across one or two each week, so over ten years I have accumulated approximately 1,000 quotes.
As I say on my website, quotes are extremely effective at capturing and concisely communicating thoughts and ideas. They can be inspirational but, more importantly, can help us reveal and assess the assumptions, values and beliefs that underlie the ways in which we perceive the world.
I provide a service through my site where people can receive a quote of the day either by e-mail, RSS [really simple syndication] or Twitter feed. And thus I often get questions about them.
People usually ask me to explain them. It’s usually that the quote does not make sense or that it is contradictory or counter-intuitive in some way. Quotations such as:
“Things do not change; we change,” from Henry David Thoreau; or
“All real living is meeting,” by Martin Buber
Part of me wants to tell people that asking someone else to explain a quote is not the point. It is intended to inspire or provoke one into questioning something. It is meant to get you thinking and researching for yourself.
But a question about a quote usually engages me. What was the context of the quote? Is my interpretation of what that person meant correct? And so off I go, researching the question. I nearly always dig out some interesting material. Not only do I reply to the questioner but I also update the corresponding page on my website to include the material for other visitors.
People also ask me for the original source of my quotes. Sadly, I don’t have this to hand for most of them. It is frequently difficult to find the original source as most are secondary. But I do try and, where possible, add the source or a link to other contextual material on the page I dedicate to a quote.
Often, people point out to me that I have got a quote wrong. This is rare as I do check several secondary sources for consistency. That said, quotes on the web are also often misattributed.
For example, the most popular page on my website after my home page is one of my favourite quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
But it seems that Emerson was not the one who said this. He is also often quoted as saying: “I hate quotations”. But what he really said was “I hate quotation. Tell me what you know”; and this was in the context of the unreliability of second-hand testimony.
Like all material on the web, I have learnt to be careful: to check and double check or question everything that I come across. It’s a good habit to get into.
David Gurteen is the founder of Gurteen Knowledge and a member of the Inside Knowledge editorial board. He can be contacted via his website at www.gurteen.com
Note: If you wish to learn more about any of the quotations David has mentioned above, then Google a few keywords from the quote and add Gurteen to the end of the query. If you would like to sign-up for his quote of the day, visit: http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/quotations