If You Are Born Poor It’s Not Your Mistake, But If You Die Poor It’s Your Mistake

Bill Gates? Muriel Strode? Ella Wheeler Wilcox? Joey Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, is one of the richest people in the world. A provocative remark about poverty has been ascribed to him:

If you are born poor it’s not your mistake but if you die poor it’s your mistake.

I have been unable to find a solid citation, and I am skeptical of this ascription. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Bill Gates made this statement. His philanthropic endeavors via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce hunger and extreme poverty suggest that Gates is aware of the major obstacles facing many people who are born into harsh circumstances.

In 1997 a strong match appeared in a message posted to the discussion system Usenet within the newsgroup news.newusers.questions. The statement appeared in a get-rich-quick chain-letter message which used the word “fault” instead of “mistake”. No attribution was specified. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT THAT YOU WERE BORN POOR…AND IF YOU DIE POOR, IT’S YOUR BIGGEST FAULT !!!!

The remark attributed to Gates appeared as a message in the Google Group CETAA67 by 2008, but no supporting citation was provided. The word “you’re” was written as “you”: 2

If you born poor, it’s not your mistake.
But if you die poor it’s your mistake
• Bill Gates

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Are Born Poor It’s Not Your Mistake, But If You Die Poor It’s Your Mistake

Notes:

  1. 1997 February 21, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: news.newusers.questions, From: BentAyu @pc.jaring.my, Subject: DON’T DIE POOR…….read this !!! (Google Groups Search; Accessed August 5, 2018) link
  2. 2008 June 1, Google Groups discussion message, Group: CETAA67, From: Usha Mohan @yahoo.com, Subject: Fw: Thoughts for the day, Forwarded Email From: Deepak @mcdermott.com, Forwarded Date: 2008 May 28, Forwarded Subject: Fw: Thoughts for the day. (Google Groups Search; Accessed August 2, 2018) link

We Cannot Direct the Wind, But We Can Adjust the Sails

Cora L. V. Hatch? Thomas Sheridan? George Whyte-Melville? A. B. Kendig? Ella Wheeler Wilcox? Bertha Calloway? Jimmy Dean? Dolly Parton? Thomas S. Monson?

Dear Quote Investigator: We are buffeted by events that are beyond our control, but we can still react constructively. A popular adage highlights this flexibility:

We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.

This saying has been credited to Dolly Parton, Thomas S, Monson, Bertha Calloway, Jimmy Dean, and several others. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In 1859 the well-known spiritualist Cora L. V. Hatch delivered a lecture at the Cooper Institute while in a trance as reported in “The Cleveland Plain Dealer”. Hatch employed a version of the expression: 1

You could not prevent a thunderstorm, but you could use the electricity; you could not direct the wind, but you could trim your sail so as to propel your vessel as you pleased, no matter which way the wind blew.

This was the earliest close match known to QI. Other oft-mentioned candidates for crafters of this adage were born after it was in circulation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading We Cannot Direct the Wind, But We Can Adjust the Sails

Notes:

  1. 1859 January 15, Daily Plain Dealer, Mrs. Cora L. V. Hatch on Spiritualism: The Law of God a Unit, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)