Always Remember That You Are Absolutely Unique. Just Like Everyone Else

Margaret Mead? Jim Wright? John Peers? Meade? Red Green? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

snow09Dear Quote Investigator: A very funny quotation about individuality has been attributed to the influential anthropologist Margaret Mead:

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

I would like to include this in a book I am preparing, but I have not been able to find a good citation, yet. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the assertion that this remark was made by Margaret Mead. In fact, QI conjectures that the ascription was constructed based on the misreading of a passage in the 1979 citation presented further below.

The earliest evidence located by QI of a similar type of quip appeared in 1971 and was written by an assistant editorial director for the “The Dallas Morning News” named Jim Wright. Wright criticized a best-selling book from the 1970s called “The Greening of America” by a Yale academic. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

In other words, the Yale professor’s best-selling work answers the burning question that every teen-age youth revolutionary is asking today: “How can I be unique just like everybody else?”

Because this joke can be expressed in many ways it has been difficult to trace, and the existence of instances before 1971 would be unsurprising to QI.

An exact match for the saying under investigation was printed in a 1979 compilation from John Peers with a remarkably long title: “1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Trusty Truisms, Homey Homilies, Colorful Corollaries, Quotable Quotes, and Rambunctious Ruminations for All Walks of Life”: 2

Meade’s Maxim:
Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

Note that Peers labeled the adage “Meade’s Maxim” and not “Mead’s Maxim”. In addition, sometimes Peers selected a label for comical effect, e.g.: 3

The Skier’s Rumination:
Don’t ever eat yellow snow.

So, the saying may not even be solidly linked to someone named Meade.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

By 1989 an entry in a collection titled “The New Official Rules: Maxims for Muddling Through to the Twenty-First Century” ascribed a version of the saying with the word “totally” instead of “absolutely” to Margaret Mead: 4

Mead’s Distinction. You are totally unique, just like everyone else.
— Margaret Mead; from Catherine Pfeifer

In December 1989 a columnist in the “St. Petersburg Times” discussed the “The New Official Rules” and printed a set of examples from the book which included the adage attributed to Margaret Mead; however, her name was misspelled as “Margaret Meade”: 5

Louis XIV: Has God forgotten all I have done for him?
Margaret Meade: You are totally unique, just like everyone else.
Henry Morgan: The average man is a little below average.

In 1997 a columnist in a Paris, Texas newspaper printed a group of jokes with uncertain attributions that had been circulating via email. Here were three: 6

Make it idiot proof and someone will make a better idiot.
Always remember you’re unique. Just Like everyone else.
Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.

In 2001 the joke was included in a column with the byline of “Red Green” who was a character in a television show: 7

Quote of the Day: “Always remember you’re unique, just like everyone else.” —Red Green

Red Green is the star of “The Red Green Show,” a television series seen in the United States on PBS and in Canada on the CBC Network…

In conclusion, QI thinks the version of the joke in the 1971 citation can tentatively be ascribed to Jim Wright. The attribution to Margaret Mead was unsupported and apparently was the result of confusion between “Meade” and “Mead”. The comedy team behind “The Red Green Show” employed the quip when it was already in circulation.

Image Notes: Portrait of Margaret Mead in 1948 from the Smithsonian Institution Archives. The image was placed in Flickr’s The Commons and copied into Wikimedia Commons. Snowflake crystals from OpenClips on Pixabay. Fingerprints from OpenClips on Pixabay. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Twitarioo whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1971 March 13, Dallas Morning News, On Second Thought: By the Numbers: I, II, III, Nonconform! by Jim Wright, Section: D, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1979, 1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Compiled by John Peers, Edited by Gordon Bennett, Quote Page 155, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1979, 1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Compiled by John Peers, Edited by Gordon Bennett, Quote Page 85, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1989, The New Official Rules: Maxims for Muddling Through to the Twenty-First Century, Compiled by Paul Dickson, Quote Page 146, Published by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1989 December 17, St. Petersburg Times, Move over Murphy, Addis is here by Don Addis, Section: Perspective, Quote Page 5D, St. Petersburg, Florida. (NewsBank Access World News)
  6. 1997 January 31, The Paris News, Consciousness: That annoying time between naps by Allan Hubbard (News Columnist), Quote Page 4A, Column 5, Paris, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 2001 March 18, The Index-Journal, Optimists seem to have fallen in hard times by Red Green, Quote Page 5D, Column 6, Greenwood, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com)