Someone once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
That someone was Michael Jackson.
We all probably know stories about misattributed quotes. If nothing else, any middle schooler can fudge their way through a classic misattribution — George Washington, on bended knee betwixt his father and a dying cherry tree, saying that he “cannot tell a lie.”
In reality, Washington most likely never uttered these words, and especially not to his father, who passed away when Georgie was 11.
In some cases, misattributed and reconstructed quotes can be the letdown of a lifetime. I found out recently that one of my favorite quotes — from none other than that lovable anthropomorphic teddy bear known as Winnie the Pooh — is actually a conglomeration of a conversation between Pooh and Christopher Robin, edited to create timeless proverb-esque expression. The quote, as I learned it (and consequently quoted at my high school graduation ceremony), goes like this: “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.”
This passage, attributed to A. A. Milne, can be found all over the Internet. But, funny story, it is nowhere to be found in Milne’s books (all of which I own), nor any of the animated Winnie the Pooh movies. As near as I can tell, the quote is adapted from this conversation between Pooh and Christopher Robin in “House at Pooh Corner.”
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
“I promise,” he said.
While still an adorable excerpt, this passage lacks the snippy timelessness of Pinterest proverbs. I struggled with this discovery for some time, before finally accepting the reality of the situation, which is this: not everyone is a journalist. Quotes will be misattributed, including mine, probably from this very column. And that is okay, because what is important is not necessarily the accreditation.
The words themselves are what catch us, move us and change us.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We claim that Ghandi first uttered these words, but what if, instead, he had said something like, “There are people dying, (so) if you care enough for the living, make it a better place for you and for me.” Ghandi, MJ, Rebecca Black — it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the words are out there, permanently, to make a difference for generations to come.
As a writer, I ask for no more than that. Words are powerful, among the most powerful mediums known to man. They heal. They inspire. They last.
Ultimately, without words, we would not have the timeless quotations that fill our Pinterest feeds every day with classics like, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Michael Scott said that. Also Wayne Gretzky