It Takes Courage for a Person to Listen to His Own Goodness and Act On It

Pablo Casals? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am hoping you will be interested in researching the following quote:

Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what the world needs most. It is not complicated but takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.

It’s all over the web and is attributed to Pablo Casals.

Quote Investigator: The common modern version of the quotation provided by the questioner has been slightly modified from the original statement which was indeed spoken by the renowned cellist Pablo Casals. In December 1959 a profile and interview of Casals by the journalist and activist Norman Cousins was published in The Saturday Review magazine. In the article Casals was referred to as Don Pablo, and the quotation used the word “man” instead of “person”. Here is an excerpt with more context: 1

“The answer to helplessness is not so very complicated,” Don Pablo said. “A man can do something for peace without having to jump into politics. Each man has inside him a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a man to listen to his own goodness and act on it. Do we dare to be ourselves? This is the question that counts—and not, must a man be helpless?”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

This quotation attracted the interest of an editor at a Maryland newspaper, and it was reprinted in an editorial titled “Goodness” a few days after its publication in The Saturday Review. The full quote above was given, but it is truncated here: 2

Pablo Casals, the great Spanish cellist who lives self-exiled in Puerto Rico as a protest against the Franco regime, had wise comment on this matter in a recent interview. “We quote what he told Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review: “The answer to helplessness is not so very complicated. …

In 1974 Norman Cousins was profiled and interviewed in the Christian Science Monitor newspaper. Cousins recalled his discussion with Casals, and the quotation was reprinted. The words were the same as the 1959 version, but the final phrase “and not, must a man be helpless?” was omitted: 3

Finally Mr. Cousins told of a 1959 visit with cellist Pablo Casals. Casals said that the central barrier to world peace is that the individual is burdened in our time by feeling that he has no effect. “Casals said, ‘The answer to helplessness is not so very complicated. …

In 1982 a letter to the student newspaper of Vassar College was printed with the title: “A Challenge to ‘Be Ourselves’ from Pablo Casals”. A shortened version of the quote was included: 4

To the Editor: I would like to share a thought with the entire Vassar community. The cellist Pablo Casals once wrote:

Each man has inside him a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a man to listen to his own goodness and act on it. Do we dare to be ourselves? That is the question that counts.

Let us dare!

In conclusion, Pablo Casals did deliver a morality-based call-to-action when speaking with Norman Cousins in 1959. The wording has been slightly altered in some modern presentations of his statement.

(Thanks to Gigi H who asked about this quotation.)

Notes:

  1. 1959 December 12, The Saturday Review, Don Pablo: An Editorial, [Interview of Pablo Casals by Norman Cousins], Start Page 24, Quote Page 46, Column 1, Saturday Review, Inc., New York. (Unz)
  2. 1959 December 15, Cumberland Evening Times, Goodness, Page 10, Column 1, Cumberland, Maryland. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1974 November 5, Christian Science Monitor, “Norman Cousins in person: Saturday Review editor talks about his new book” by William Marlin, Quote Page 5, Column 3 and 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  4. 1982 November 19, The Miscellany News, Volume LXXII, Number 10, “A Challenge to ‘Be Ourselves’ from Pablo Casals”, [Letter to the editor from Lisa Dorfman], Quote Page 6, Published weekly by the students of Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York. (Online Archive at newspaperarchives.vassar.edu; Accessed November 10, 2012)