Maya Angelou? Oprah Winfrey? Phil McGraw? Gary Zukav? Ernest Rogers? Anonymous?
Question for Quote Investigator: Life requires a complicated incremental process of learning. Agonizing mistakes are inevitable. Here are two versions of a heartfelt response to setbacks:
(1) You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.
(2) Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
This saying has been attributed to prominent memoirist and poet Maya Angelou and to famous television producer and entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey. Would you please explore this topic?
Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1995 Oprah Winfrey’s television program featured a guest who discussed her drug abuse problems. The frank confession from the guest inspired Winfrey to make her own revelation. Oprah stated that she had smoked crack cocaine when she was in her twenties. An article in “The Washington Post” about the television episode described Oprah’s remarks. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1995 January 13, The Washington Post, How Oprah’s Confession Tumbled Out by Patrice Gaines (Washington Post Staff Writer), Quote Page B1, Column 4, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
Winfrey spoke to the audience of the shame she felt about her “dark secret” and how her friend, poet Maya Angelou, had once said to her, “You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.”
Thus, Oprah Winfrey ascribed the memorably empathetic guidance to her friend and mentor Maya Angelou. There is a long history before 1995 for the general saying: if you know better, do better.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
|↑1||1995 January 13, The Washington Post, How Oprah’s Confession Tumbled Out by Patrice Gaines (Washington Post Staff Writer), Quote Page B1, Column 4, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)|