Social change is hard work. It can also be scary as hell – a leap of faith into the unknown, a risky challenge to the status quo. Sometimes even the most dedicated (me included) are unsure of how to realize our dreams, or are overwhelmed by seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
When tough times threaten our resolve or when a talk we're giving needs that perfect quote, we can turn to the words of great changemakers for inspiration. In the spirit of sharing, here are my top 50 quotes to inspire your inner changemaker, collected over the last 10 years. I hope they lift your spirits as much as they've lifted mine.
Why We Share
1. "We have what we need, if we use what we have."
— Edgar Cahn
2. "There is no joy in possession without sharing."
3. "Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality."
— His Holiness the Dalai Lama
4. "There is no delight in owning anything unshared."
5. "The miracle is this: The more we share the more we have."
— Leonard Nimoy
Photo by Ted Eytan. CC-BY-SA
Why We Collaborate
6. "The fundamental law of human beings is interdependence. A person is a person through other persons."
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu
7. "The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation."
— Bertrand Russell
8. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
— Margaret Mead
9. "We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own."
— Cesar Chavez
10. "Many hands make light work."
— John Heywood
11. "The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found, but made; and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination."
— Peter Ellyard
12. "The scarcest resource is not oil, metals, clean air, capital, labor, or technology. It is our willingness to listen to each other and learn from each other and to seek the truth rather than seek to be right."
— Donella Meadows
13. "Everyone needs help from everyone."
— Bertolt Brecht
14. "It is in the shelter of each other that the people live."
— Irish Proverb
How to Live
15. "Live like a mighty river."
16. "Whoever you are, whatever you are, start with that, whether salt of the earth or only white sugar."
— Alice Walker
17. "Concerning all acts of initiative there is one elementary truth: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too."
— W. H. Murray
18. "The idealists and visionaries, foolish enough to throw caution to the winds and express their ardor and faith in some supreme deed, have advanced mankind and have enriched the world."
— Emma Goldman
19. "True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one's self, but the point is not only to get out — you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand."
— Henry James
20. "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind."
— William James
21. "To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right."
22. "Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it."
23. "There is a vitality, a life force that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost."
— Martha Graham
24. "Humans enter this world and awaken to a simple truth: We must find our story with this great epic of being."
— Brian Swimme
25. "Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
— George Bernard Shaw
26. "You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand."
— Woodrow Wilson
27. "Courage is freedom, and freedom is joy. Be fully who you are, letting the world get used to you — it will! Find a loving community of friends who support your ever-flowering growth, which is a lifetime proposition."
— Doris "Granny D" Haddock
28. "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
29. "What another would have done as well as you, do not do it. What another would have said as well as you, do not say it; what another would have written as well, do not write it. Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself — and thus make yourself indispensable."
— Andre Gide
30. "Life is too precious to be a spectator sport. We are no longer merely fans, rooting for the winning team. We are the team. We are the grown-ups. Whatever you believe is true, now is the time to give your respectful, inquisitive, and compassionate self to it."
— Vicki Robin
31. "Live as though all your ancestors were living again through you."
— From the ancient Greeks
Photo by Binny V A. CC-BY-SA
The Power of Community
32. "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
33. "Ninety-nine percent of the time humans have lived on this planet we’ve lived in tribes, groups of 12 to 36 people. Only during times of war, or what we have now, which is the psychological equivalent of war, does the nuclear family prevail, because it’s the most mobile unit that can ensure the survival of the species. But for the full flowering of the human spirit we need groups, tribes."
— Margaret Mead
34. "The story of the human race is characterized by efforts to get along much more than by violent disputes, although it's the latter that make the history books. Violence is actually exceptional. The human race has survived because of cooperation, not aggression."
— Gerard Vanderhaar
35. "Without community, there is no liberation."
— Audre Lorde
36. "When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness."
— Joseph Campbell
37. "Community connectedness is not just about warm fuzzy tales of civic triumph. In measurable and well-documented ways, social capital makes an enormous difference in our lives…Social capital makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy."
— Robert Putnam
38. "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
— Lilla Watson
39. "You are never strong enough that you don't need help."
— Cesar Chavez
The Necessity of the Commons
40. "If the Internet teaches us anything, it is that great value comes from leaving core resources in a commons, where they're free for people to build upon as they see fit."
— Lawrence Lessig
41. "The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life."
— Jane Addams
42. "The commons is a framework for reconstruction. Until now we have spent more time on resistance than on reconstruction."
— Alberto Villarreal, Uruguay's Social Ecology Network co-founder
Photo by Lauren Siegert. CC-BY
Start a Revolution
43. "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
— Alan Kay
44. "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
— Mohandas Gandhi
45. "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new."
46. "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
— R. Buckminster Fuller
47. "To be cured, we must rise from our graves and throw off the cerements of the dead. Nobody can do it for another — it is a private affair which is best done collectively. We must die as egos and be born again in the swarm, not separated and self-hypnotized, but individual and related."
— Henry Miller, The Rosy Crucifixion
48. "Power does not reside in institutions, not even the state or large corporations. It is located in the networks that structure society."
— Manuel Castells
49. "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."
— Henry David Thoreau
50. "The machinery of our governance is sorely tried by rabid people on all sides poisoning the well of public discourse. We do not have to join in that foul endeavor. Do not be shy to be honest and open. Be aggressively ethical. Be insistently civil."
— Roger Mack
Top photo by Ben Townsend. CC-BY