Tag Archives: Matthew Kelly

Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid

Albert Einstein? Amos Dolbear? Matthew Kelly? Apocryphal?

mudskipper02Dear Quote Investigator: The following saying is popular on Facebook where it is credited to Albert Einstein. I have also seen it on numerous websites:

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Sometimes “everybody” is used instead of “everyone”. Did Einstein really say this?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. It does not appear in the comprehensive collection of quotations “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest evidence of a close match known to QI appeared in 2004, and that is decades after the death of Einstein in 1955. The self-help book “The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose” by Matthew Kelly contained a chapter titled “Everybody is a Genius” which began: 2

Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”

This quotation alludes to a long-standing allegorical framework. It is inappropriate to judge an animal by focusing on a skill which the creature does not possess. A fish is specialized to swim superbly, and its ability to climb a tree is non-existent or rudimentary. In the domain of education this allegory has been employed repeatedly for more than one hundred years. Hence, this quotation is built on ideas that have been in circulation among educators for many decades.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  2. 2004, “The rhythm of life: living every day with passion and purpose” by Matthew Kelly, Quote Page 80, Fireside, New York. (Google Books Preview)