We Judge Ourselves by What We Feel Capable of Doing, While Others Judge Us by What We Have Already Done

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? William Nevins? Stephen M. R. Covey? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The way we judge ourselves often differs markedly from the way others judge us. We tend to evaluate ourselves based on what we are capable of doing, or what we intend to do, or what we say we will do. However, no one else has access to our internal thoughts and dreams. Hence, others judge us by what we have actually accomplished.

I believe this idea has been eloquently and compactly articulated in the past. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The eminent poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published a novel in 1849 titled “Kavanagh” that included the following statement:

. . . we judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.

One character in the story was a school teacher named Churchill. The text above appeared on the first page of the tale. Here is a longer excerpt starting with the first words of the book. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

Great men stand like solitary towers in the city of God, and secret passages running deep beneath external nature give their thoughts intercourse with higher intelligences, which strengthens and consoles them, and of which the laborers on the surface do not even dream!

Some such thought as this was floating vaguely through the brain of Mr. Churchill, as he closed his school-house door behind him; and if in any degree he applied it to himself, it may perhaps be pardoned in a dreamy, poetic man like him; for we judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done. And moreover his wife considered him equal to great things.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Judge Ourselves by What We Feel Capable of Doing, While Others Judge Us by What We Have Already Done

Notes:

  1. 1849, Kavanagh: A Tale by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Quote Page 3, Published by Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, Boston, Massachusetts. (University of Virginia Library: Ebooks) link