Forgiveness Is Giving Up All Hope of a Better Past

Anne Lamott? Don Felt? John A. MacDougall? Gerald G. Jampolsky? Gina Berriault? Dorothy Bullitt? Lily Tomlin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is not possible to change the past. Yet, enduring grievances are often emotionally rooted in an irrational hope that somehow past actions can be altered, and a disheartening event can be excised. Here is a popular adage based on this insight:

Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.

The author Anne Lamott has received credit for this saying. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Anne Lamott did include an instance in her 1999 book “Traveling Mercies”; hence, she helped to popularize the saying; however, she disclaimed credit, and the remark was already in circulation.

The earliest match located by QI occurred in a speech reported in “The Los Angeles Times” in 1991. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

As the Rev. Don Felt, pastor of the Iao Congregational Church, Maui, explained to those attending an interfaith memorial service on Nagasaki Day, Aug. 9, this year, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.”

QI does not know whether Don Felt coined this saying. The expression has been credited to others, and it also has been associated with twelve-step programs. This article presents a snapshot of current research.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Forgiveness Is Giving Up All Hope of a Better Past


  1. 1991 December 2, The Los Angeles Times, Perspectives on Pearl Harbor: Apologies Across the Pacific by Brien Hallett, Quote Page B11, Column 4, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)

Even If You Win the Rat Race, You’re Still a Rat

Lily Tomlin? Jackie Gleason? Bill Cunningham? William Sloane Coffin? Russell Baker? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular quip about the competitive daily grind of the working world. Here are two versions:

1) Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat
2) So you’ve won the rat race. You’re still a rat.

The influential comedian Lily Tomlin employed a version of this joke. Would you please explore its origin?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that Lily Tomlin used this gag by the 1970s, and a citation is given further below. Yet, the earliest appearance known to QI occurred in a book about the life of another famous comedian.

In 1956 “The Golden Ham: A Candid Biography of Jackie Gleason” by Jim Bishop was published. Gleason wrote a letter to his estranged wife Genevieve that was reprinted in the volume. He used a version of the witticism particularized to the television broadcasting industry. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Television is a rat race, and remember this, even if you win you are still a rat.

In August 1956 a sports columnist named Bill Cunningham writing in “The Boston Herald” employed an instance of the joke, but he did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an anonymous “fellow”. The topic of the column was the perennial baseball conflict between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees: 2

It’s still a job lot pitching staff—like the fellow said, “You can win the rat race, but you’re still a rat”—but, oooooh, that Yankee hitting, especially in the clutch!

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who located the two citations above and other valuable citations. 3

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Even If You Win the Rat Race, You’re Still a Rat


  1. 1956, The Golden Ham: A Candid Biography of Jackie Gleason by Jim Bishop, (Undated letter from Jackie Gleason to Gen (Genevieve, estranged wife Gleason)), Quote Page 258, Published by Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1956 August 11, Boston Herald, Section: Sports, Bill Taking Off for Conventions: Leaves Sox, But He Saw Them Hit Second Place by Bill Cunningham, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  3. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win you’re still a rat”, Date on website: November 05, 2012, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed on October 1, 2014) link