Not all US Presidents are equally worthy of being quoted. Some have even been downright dreadful for the country. And yet we can confuse the issue with what historians call presentism, judging historical figures by contemporary standards. With this caution in mind, and while our first three Presidents were certainly imperfect products of their times, their words continue to inspire us today.
3 Quotes from 3 Presidents
“Experience teaches us that it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves than it is to dislodge them after they have got possession.”
~George Washington (1789-1797)
It has always been easier to keep from being bit by a snake than to suck the poison out once bitten. This principle is as true of battle fields as in our personal lives. Small annoyances left unchecked become big problems.
It is easier to never smoke than to quit. It is easier to keep 100 pounds off than to lose them. It is easier to study in high school than to make up for what you didn’t learn in college. It is easier to face your fears when they first show up than later when they’re entrenched as huge obstacles to your happiness. It is easier to keep your mind clean than to clean it up after filling it with filth. It is easier to tell the truth than to swim upstream against a life of dishonesty.
It’s a bit like picking salt from flour after adding too much to a recipe. It would just be simpler to keep the wrong amount out. And while mistakes will happen (and that’s OK), we can reduce the number and frequency of those detours by getting clear on the path we want to travel at the beginning and sticking to it. There will always be enemies to our happiness trying to take possession of our lives–selfishness, fear, hate, negativity. Better to prevent them taking up residence than working to dislodge them once they’ve taken possession.
“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”
~ John Adams (1797–1801)
The mind is a muscle that atrophies just as much as an arm in a cast. And yet too many of us place our minds in casts by choice, restricting their movement, keeping them pickled in the juices of redundancy and monotony and passivity. We feed them a diet of intellectual junk food, veritable potato chips of the mind. We let them sit idle in lethargic yawns of inactivity, the equivalent of a mental coma as we watch too much TV and gulp too much intellectual high fructose corn syrup.
But your mind is the God-given instrument that allows you to explore life, understand its intricacies, figure out its mysteries, recognize its causes and effects, wrestle with important ideas, see through the fog others try to hide them in, and find clarity and illumination and sacred truth wherever it exists. But most people haven’t read Socrates or Confucius. Most people would rather watch MTV than the Learning Channel. More romance novels are sold each year than all the books on religion, philosophy, psychology and science combined. But you can do so much more with a healthy mind properly fed.
So exercise it. Build it. Take it outdoors and move it. Let it feast on the bread of intellectual challenge. Read! Learn what’s out there to learn. Get passionate about knowing. About discovering. About reaching further than your feet have ever taken you. Refuse to be satisfied on a diet of intellectual soundbites. Dig deeper. Read deeper. Think deeper. Set creativity and imagination free to see where they go. And in the process, learn wisdom as well, as a guide to the vast catacombs of knowledge out there and as counsel to its application.
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”
~ Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809)
What’s the difference between those who live their dreams and those who don’t? It might be tempting to suggest it’s all about luck and advantage. Some were born with it and some were born without, right? But then we’re faced with a stark set of realities that render such excuses hallow at best.
Oprah was abused by her father. Dr. Seuss was rejected by 27 publishers. Colonel Sanders’ chicken recipe was rejected over 1,000 times. Henry Ford failed 5 previous times at business. The Wright Brothers battled depression and family illness. JK Rowling was a depressed, divorced, single mom on welfare.
Each of these icons dangled at the end of their own ropes. The difference is that not only did they tie a knot at the end of their ropes, they began to climb again, not content to dangle indefinitely. And so they sent their work to the 28th publisher. They knocked on the door of the 1,010th restaurant. They started their 6th business. They tried something new. Life became an adventure because they were unwilling to let go, to drop into self-imposed obscurity, to take the easy path, to give up on their dreams.
How about you?