Janet Sheridan: My quotation collection
During my teaching years, an abundance of motivational speakers tried to convince me to change my ways: an intense lady wearing fiery lipstick and cat’s-eye glasses; a fellow whose tufted eyebrows and puckered mouth gave him a vaguely owlish look, and a clown with wild hair and a rotund nose who did magic tricks to prove the impossible is possible.
Their words fled my memory long ago except for some quotes about change they sprinkled into their presentations. I’ve always appreciated the way those who are quoted can express thought-provoking ideas in few sentences, a skill I obviously find difficult. So I collect quotations, hoping their creators’ wisdom and brevity will rub off on me.
One speaker quoted John F. Kennedy: ”Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Those words convinced me to give up my geriatric typewriter, draw on my slim supply of courage, and enroll in a computer class. Though I spent the first session in a state of confusion, clicking in all the wrong places, I persisted; and eventually I managed to slog along in the slow lane of the technology freeway quite nicely.
Another speaker quoted a Yiddish proverb to illustrate our tendency to blame others rather than changing ourselves: “The girl who can’t dance says the band can’t play.” This quote took me back to my junior-high dances where none of the boys who asked me to dance knew how to lead. When I realized they had no clue as to their role in our mutual endeavor, I took control; a move they instinctively resisted. So my partners and I struggled across the floor like entangled combatants and fled one another as soon as the music ended. He to seek a more compliant partner; and I to complain to my friends about the unskilled hoofers who asked me to dance.
A quotation about being afraid of change came from a small man with a big voice, who recited a dialogue poem by a French poet, Gaillaume Appolinaire. “”Come to the edge,” he said. “We can’t; we’re afraid!” they responded. “Come to the edge,” he said. “We can’t; We will fall,” they responded. “Come to the edge,” he said. And so they came.””
At this point, the speaker paused dramatically and then made a violent, shoving motion with his arms and bellowed, “And he pushed them!” Then, as the startled gasps from the audience subsided, he extended his arms toward heaven and boomed like a clap of thunder, “And… they… FLEW!”
While the speaker settled himself down and accepted spontaneous applause from his audience, I worried that my principal, a literal man also in attendance, would hold the next staff meeting on the school’s roof and tell us if we didn’t immediately implement the new reading curriculum, he’d push us off.
Another speaker encouraged his audience of teachers to stop dilly-dallying and get busy doing what needs to be done by quoting an unattributed story: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle— when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
I enjoyed the story, but wondered why the speaker thought it necessary to tell teachers to spend their days running. In my experience, that’s what teachers do in order to teach their students the difficult, complex skills of reading, the concepts and patterns necessary for manipulation of numbers, the intricate wonders of the world and nature, the checkered histories of nations and civilizations, and the personal enjoyment and fulfillment of physical activity and the arts.
That’s my best original thought of the day; I think it would be quotable if it weren’t so verbose.