Category Archives: Mohandas Gandhi

Be the Change You Wish To See in the World

Mohandas Gandhi? Arleen Lorrance? Ernest Troutner? Diane Kennedy Pike? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Often you cannot convince someone via speech alone to constructively alter a behavior, but you can provide a model for emulation by changing your own behavior. Here are three versions of this notion:

  • Be the change you wish to see in the world.
  • Be the change you want to see happen.
  • We must be the change we wish to see in the world.

This saying has been attributed to the famous Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Gandhi died in 1948, and the earliest close match known to QI appeared many years later in 1974 within a book chapter written by educator Arleen Lorrance. She described her unhappiness while employed at a high school in Brooklyn, New York: 1

For seven years I served my sentence and marked off institutional time; I complained, cried, accepted hopelessness, put down the rest of the faculty for all the things they didn’t do, and devoted all my energies to trying to change others and the system.

Lorrance’s approach changed radically when she achieved a crucial insight about the most effective way to achieve change:

It came in on me loud and clear that I was the only one who could imprison (or release) me, that I was the only one I could do anything about changing. So I let go of my anger and negativism and made a decision to simply be totally loving, open and vulnerable all the time.

Her book chapter was titled “The Love Project”, and Lorrance was the initiator and facilitator of the project. The saying under examination was a core principle. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

One way to start a preventative program is to be the change you want to see happen. That is the essence and substance of the simple and successful endeavor known as THE LOVE PROJECT.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1974 Copyright, Developing Priorities and a Style: Selected Readings in Education for Teachers and Parents, Editor: Richard Dean Kellough (California State University, Sacramento) Second Edition, Chapter: The Love Project by Arleen Lorrance, Start Page 85, Quote Page 85, Publisher: MSS Information Corporation, New York. (Google Books Preview)

First They Ignore You, Then They Laugh at You, Then They Attack You, Then You Win

Mohandas Gandhi? Jean Cocteau? Robbie Williams? Julian Beck? Earl B. Morgan? Tony Benn? Peter D. Jones? Louis Agassiz? Arthur Schopenhauer?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mahatma Gandhi famously employed nonviolent strategies during the struggle for Indian independence. A quotation often attributed to him asserts that popular movements pass through four stages:

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I have been unable to find a good citation. Are these really the words of Gandhi?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have attempted to find these words in Gandhi’s oeuvre without success. The saying was ascribed to him by 1982, but Gandhi died decades earlier in 1948.

The earliest known substantive match occurred in a speech delivered by Nicholas Klein at a convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1918. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.

And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.

Typically, a successful social movement is based on a proposition extolled as a truth. For example, the Gandhian movement was based on the assertion that India should be an independent nation. These propositions face opposition and a harsh reception. QI believes that the saying under analysis fits into a large and evolving family of statements about the multi-stage difficulties obstructing new ideas and truths.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1918, Documentary History of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America: 1916-1918, Proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, (Held in Baltimore, Maryland on May 13 to May 18, 1918), Address given in Fourth Session on Wednesday, May 15, 1918, Address of Nicholas Klein, Start Page 51, Quote Page 53, Published by Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. (Special note on dating: The dating on the document was confusing. In some locations the year 1919 was listed. In other locations 1918 was listed. I checked the day of the week for May 15, 1918 and May 15, 1919 and only the earlier date matched the specified weekday of Wednesday) (Google Books Full View) link

If You Are Going To Be a Bear, Be a Grizzly

Mohandas Gandhi? George Hyde Preston? Lynda Bird Johnson? Apocryphal?

gbears08Dear Quote Investigator: The Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi who famously employed nonviolent strategies has implausibly been credited with the following piece of folk wisdom:

If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Mahatma Gandhi spoke or wrote this statement.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a short story called “An Inside Tip” by George Hyde Preston published in “Cosmopolitan Magazine” in 1908. Within the tale the leader of a brokerage firm was planning to drive down the price of a stock, and he expressed his attitude by proclaiming the adage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI. 1

“Let me see; how many points did the stock go off in the last hour yesterday?”

“Seven, and it closed very weak.”

“Quite so Blair. Now today the word is, hammer it! We have them on the run. Order our brokers to raid the stock. No half measures! If you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly! The sooner it is over the better. The Barnard & Wilkes outfit tried to deceive us, and they have brought it on themselves.”

Preston may have coined the expression; alternatively, the colorful saying may have already been circulating. QI is unsure.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1908 June, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Volume 45, Number 1, An Inside Tip by George Hyde Preston, Start Page 91, Quote Page 91, (Quotation appears in text and as a caption), International Magazine Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

“What Do You Think of Western Civilization?” “I Think It Would Be a Good Idea”

Mohandas Gandhi? Apocryphal?

Gandhi01Dear Quote Investigator: Mahatma Gandhi is credited with a brilliantly acerbic remark made in response to a question from a self-satisfied journalist:

Journalist: What do you think of Western civilization?
Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any solid citations for this sharp exchange. The best I have located is second-hand information in the 1970s. Is there any good support for this quote?

Quote Investigator: Mohandas Gandhi died in 1948, and the earliest evidence QI has located appeared many years later in January 1967. The Seattle Times newspaper stated that the exchange was mentioned in a television documentary on a major U.S. network: 1

Quote of the week from the superb C.B.S. documentary, “The Italians”: Mahatma Gandhi, on being asked, “What do you think of Western civilization?,” was reported to have answered, “I think it would be a good idea”.

According to the website of the Paley Center for Media the documentary “The Italians” was broadcast as a CBS News Special on January 17, 1967. The program was adapted from a book, and the author acted as the host: 2

A documentary freely adapted from Luigi Barzini’s book “The Italians.” Barzini presides over a selective tour of Italy, discussing the Italian people, their culture, customs, and history.

In September 1967 the dialog was disseminated in the mass-circulation periodical Reader’s Digest. The words were once again connected to a documentary on CBS: 3

MOHANDAS GANDHI was once asked: “What do you think of Western civilization?” “I think it would be a good idea,” he replied.
— CBS News Special, “The Italians”

Here are additional selected citations and commentary.

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  1. 1967 January 23, Seattle Times, “Ad Paid Off For Swedish Beauty” by C. J. Skreen, Quote Page 6, Column 7, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  2. The Paley Center for Media website, Webpage on documentary: CBS News Special: The Italians (TV), Broadcast Date: January 17, 1967 Tuesday 10:00 PM, Running Time: 1:00:00, Color/B&W: Color, Executive Producer: Perry Wolff, Producer: Bernard Birnbaum, Adapted by: Luigi Barzini. (Accessed on April 23, 2013) link
  3. 1967 September, Reader’s Digest, Answer Men, (Set of five miscellaneous quotations), Page 52, Volume 91, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on microfilm)

The Customer is Not an Interruption in Our Work; He Is the Purpose of It

Mohandas Gandhi? L. L. Bean? Kenneth B. Elliott? Great Western Fuel Company? Ray Noyes? Paul T. Babson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular business motto that is used by corporate departments of Customer Relations and Human Resources:

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.

I have seen these words attributed to the New England businessman Leon Leonwood Bean (L. L. Bean) and Mahatma Gandhi. Did Gandhi have a secret life as a business/motivational consultant? Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest attributions currently known to Mohandas Gandhi appeared in the 1970s. Since Gandhi died in 1948 these attributions are very late, and they do not provide compelling evidence. Top quotation expert Ralph Keyes writing in “The Quote Verifier” grouped the saying together with other items that have been ascribed to Gandhi with inadequate supporting evidence [QVGN].

There are many versions of this passage, and it has been evolving for decades. The earliest instance known to QI appeared in 1941 in “Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers”. The magazine published an interview with Kenneth B. Elliott who was the Vice President in Charge of Sales for The Studebaker Corporation, an automobile company. Elliott ended the interview by stating the following set of five principles which he may have formulated. Alternatively, he may have been repeating pre-existing principles [KEPI]:

It is, of course, not possible to state with any practical exactitude what the customer is. But there are several common denominators to be found when we consider the customer in terms of what he is not. These things, I think, are fundamental to intelligent customer relationship and, it may be added, most of them apply pretty well to the vast majority of prospects as well.

1. The customer is not dependent upon us—we are dependent upon him.

2. The customer is not an interruption of our work—he is the purpose of it.

3. The customer is not a rank outsider to our business—he is a part of it.

4. The customer is not a statistic—he is a flesh-and-blood human being completely equipped with biases, prejudices, emotions, pulse, blood chemistry and possibly a deficiency of certain vitamins.

5. The customer is not someone to argue with or match wits against—he is a person who brings us his wants. If we have sufficient imagination we will endeavor to handle them profitably to him and to ourselves.

A variety of companies reprinted and embraced the principles, e.g., the Morris Plan Bank of Virginia in April 1943 and the Great Western Fuel Company in June 1943. In 1944 a version was attributed to Ray Noyes. In 1946 a version was credited to Paul T. Babson of Standard & Poor’s Corporation. In 1955 a version was ascribed to Leon Leonwood Bean of L. L. Bean. By 1970 a version was being attributed to Mohandas Gandhi. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind

Mohandas Gandhi? Louis Fischer? Henry Powell Spring? Martin Luther King?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mohandas Gandhi’s policy of non-violence was famously used during the campaign for independence in India.  There is a well-known quotation that helps to express the rationale for this non-retaliatory philosophy:

An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind.

I have read that Gandhi spoke this statement or something similar, but I haven’t yet found a precise citation for this. Could you find out when and where Gandhi said this?

Quote Investigator: One of the world’s top quotation experts, Fred R. Shapiro editor of the Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ), has examined this question. This is what the YBQ says [YQG]:

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” is frequently attributed to M. K. Gandhi. The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence states that the Gandhi family believes it is an authentic Gandhi quotation, but no example of its use by the Indian leader has ever been discovered.

The YBQ notes that an important biographer of Gandhi, Louis Fischer, used a version of the expression when he wrote about Gandhi’s approach to conflict. However, Fischer did not attribute the saying to Gandhi in his description of the leader’s life. Instead, Fischer used the expression himself as part of his explanation of Gandhi’s philosophy. QI thinks some readers may have been confused and may have decided to directly attribute the saying to Gandhi based on a misreading of Fischer’s works.

The epigram is a twist on a famous Biblical injunction in the Book of Exodus [21:24]: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. These words appear in the King James English translation. There is a more elaborate version of the clever maxim based on these two phrases:

An eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth would lead to a world of the blind and toothless.

QI has located relevant variants for this longer expression in 1914 and 1944. Below are selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading