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Archive for June, 2009

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Shakespeare wrote that. And no one said it was shallow because he said it in fewer than 140 characters (27, to be precise).

When people who don’t understand Twitter whine about it, a common implication is that you can’t say much in 140 characters. So everything on Twitter must be shallow, right? I received a job application recently that touted the other social media the applicant was using but dismissed Twitter, implying that the person’s big thoughts simply couldn’t be expressed in just 140 characters.

Setting aside the fact that one of Twitter’s best uses is to distribute links to pieces of greater depth, I want to dispute the myth that short equals shallow. I have done my share of lengthy writing. I once wrote a newspaper story that ran 200 inches and my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection ran 38 pages as a pdf. But I aspire to get to the point occasionally with a nugget of wit or wisdom.

So I rounded up some wisdom, insight and humor, much of which you will recognize immediately, all of it tweetworthy.

Let’s start with Jesus, whose most famous statement fits easily in a tweet: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

And some of the most enduring statements from our presidents fit easily in tweets (I deliberately left President Obama off this list because it is just too soon to say which statements of his will endure):

Thomas Jefferson: I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Abraham Lincoln: A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Harry Truman: The buck stops here.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

John F. Kennedy: And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

Ronald Reagan: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

And, of course, leaders of other nations have been eloquent but brief as well:

Winston Churchill: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Nelson Mandela: If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

Other inspirational leaders also showed their eloquence in brief statements:

Mohandas Gandhi: An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

Patrick Henry: I know not what others may choose but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

Helen Keller: It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Douglas MacArthur: Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.

Rosa Parks: All I was doing was trying to get home from work.

Gloria Steinem: A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

A couple writers known for their pithy wisdom nearly always shared it in bursts of less than 140 characters:

Benjamin Franklin: Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

Aesop: It is with our passions as it is with fire and water, they are good servants, but bad masters.

Of course, I could go on and on. Virtually every advertising tag line (Just do it. Got milk?) would fit in a tweet, as would many lines from Shakespeare, Mark Twain and other literary giants, as well as lines from our favorite movies, songs and comedians. Not to mention such sages as Yogi Berra and Gertrude Stein. How many of your favorite “Seinfeld” lines would fit in a tweet?

Twitter leaves plenty of room to say something important. Most of us don’t take full advantage of that room, but you could say that about any communication forum.

If you’re interested in more tweetworthy wit, wisdom and inspiration, I’ve compiled other brief quotes by source (it may take me a while to post all the links). Please feel free to add more in the comments. I know I’ve just scratched the surface here:

A note on sources: I chose the quotes in this post primarily from memory, checking all of the quotes in this post in multiple sources (they all show up hundreds, if not thousands, of times on a Google search, so I won’t cite them all). The source I used most, including for most of the quotes in the related links, was BrainyQuote. Biblical quotes were checked using BibleGateway. I used the Bible translation that seemed to be the most-quoted for that passage, often the King James.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from the Bible and holy books of other faiths that would fit in tweets:

Each  of the Beatitudes fits into a tweet, a great series of tweets or a start for a sermon on a mountain:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Each of the Ten Commandments, as abbreviated for posting at courthouses and other locations, fits easily in a tweet:

I am the Lord thy God … Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long.

Thou shalt not kill.

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Thou shalt not steal.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.

A side note here: The Ten Commandments as taught to children and displayed artistically are really a condensation of their appearance in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Catholics, Protestants and Jews actually use slightly different versions of which parts of those passages constitute the Ten Commandments.

Lots of other favorite Bible verses would fit in tweets, but I’ll illustrate the point with these four:

Be still and know that I am God.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Other faiths also boil many of their important teachings down to messages that would fit in tweets:

The creed repeated as the first of the Five Pillars of Islam: There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet.

Qur’an: Praise be to Allah, Lord of Creation, the compassionate, the merciful.

Buddha: A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.

Buddha: Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.

Buddha: Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.

Buddha: There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.

Confucius: And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

Confucius: Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.

Bhagavad Gita: Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.

Bhagavad Gita: A man’s own self is his friend. A man’s own self is his foe.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Aesop that would fit in tweets:

A liar will not be believed, even when he speaks the truth.

After all is said and done, more is said than done.

Appearances are often deceiving.

Beware that you do not lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.

Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

It is in vain to expect our prayers to be heard, if we do not strive as well as pray.

It is with our passions as it is with fire and water, they are good servants, but bad masters.

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Please all, and you will please none.

Slow but steady wins the race.

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Martin Luther King Jr. that would fit in tweets:

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.

The sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.

I should acknowledge that the words we remember King most for are too long for a tweet, perhaps the most famous passage from his “I Have a Dream” speech: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Abraham Lincoln that would fit in tweets:

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

The ballot is stronger than the bullet.

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

I should acknowledge that none of these quotes comes from the Lincoln speech we remember best, renowned for its brevity but still well over 140 characters, the Gettysburg Address: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And this famous Lincoln quote also doesn’t fit under the Twitter 140-character limit. With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Thomas Jefferson that would fit in tweets:

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.

An injured friend is the bitterest of foes.

As our enemies have found we can reason like men, so now let us show them we can fight like men also.

Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government.

Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.

He who knows best knows how little he knows.

I cannot live without books.

I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.

I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.

I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.

No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will.

Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.

That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.

When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.

Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

I should acknowledge the obvious here. Jefferson’s most famous passage was too long to fit into a tweet: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Benjamin Franklin that would fit in tweets:

A penny saved is a penny earned.

A small leak can sink a great ship.

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.

Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.

He who falls in love with himself will have no rivals.

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.

The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.

There was never a good war, or a bad peace.

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.

Well done is better than well said.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Gloria Steinem that would fit in tweets:

A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after.

A woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.

Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.

I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.

Men should think twice before making widow hood woman’s only path to power.

Most American children suffer too much mother and too little father.

The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.

Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Ronald Reagan that would fit in tweets:

Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States.

Facts are stubborn things.

Government always finds a need for whatever money it gets.

I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I’m in a cabinet meeting.

I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the US Congress.

Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hit man.

It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.

Recession is when a neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.

The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.

The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.

There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.

Trust, but verify.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.

I should note that one of Reagan’s most memorable statements, paying tribute to the Challenger astronauts, was too long for a tweet: We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Helen Keller that would fit in tweets:

All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.

I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.

Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.

Love is like a beautiful flower which I may not touch, but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same.

No one has a right to consume happiness without producing it.

No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.

When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Karl Marx that would fit in tweets:

From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.

Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.

Religion is the opium of the masses.

Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man how to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.

The history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles.

The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs.

The worker of the world has nothing to lose, but their chains, workers of the world unite.

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This is related to my post, Tweeting wisdom of the ages, attempting to debunk the notion that something less than 140 characters must be shallow. These are quotations from Nelson Mandela that would fit in tweets:

Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.

I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.

We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.

There is no such thing as part freedom.

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