You Are Not a Human Being Having a Spiritual Experience. You Are a Spiritual Being Having a Human Experience

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? Wayne W. Dyer? Stephen R. Covey? Georges Gurdjieff? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Antimetabole is a powerful rhetorical technique in which a phrase is repeated, but key elements are reordered. A popular statement about spirituality uses this strategy:

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

French philosopher and priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has received credit for this remark, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have not found this quotation in the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who died 1955.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an advertisement in “Time” magazine in 1988. The automobile company Volkswagen invited the bestselling motivational author Wayne W. Dyer to craft “A Letter to the Next Generation”, and Dyer included the following rhetorical question aimed at people of the future. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Can you see yourselves as spiritual beings having a human experience, rather than human beings who may be having a spiritual experience?

Dyer elaborated on the question by discussing his three-year-old daughter who served him make believe food on toy dishes. She was expressing her love and caring for her father via invisible substances. He highlighted the importance of her beautiful thoughts and feelings which were also invisible. Dyer suggested that the father and daughter were spiritual beings.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Are Not a Human Being Having a Spiritual Experience. You Are a Spiritual Being Having a Human Experience


  1. 1988 October 17, Time, Volume 132, Number 16, Section: Special Advertising Section for Volkswagen, A Letter to the Next Generation From Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, Start Page 2, Quote Page 2, Times Inc, New York. (Verified with microfiche)

Between Stimulus and Response There Is a Space. In That Space Is Our Power To Choose Our Response

Viktor E. Frankl? Stephen R. Covey? Rollo May? Thomas Walton Galloway? Sheldon P. Stoff? B. F. Skinner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is possible to control ones reactions and feelings even when one is faced with frightening hardships. The psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl has been credited with the following:

Between stimulus and response there is space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

I doubt this ascription because no one provides a proper citation. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have been unable to find this passage in the works of Viktor E. Frankl.

Instead, the words were popularized by the influential motivational author Stephen R. Covey; however, he disclaimed authorship. Covey stated that he read the passage in a book while he was on sabbatical in Hawaii, but he was unable to recall the name of the book or the author. Also, the precise phrasing employed by Covey varied over time. He may have been reading an article by the influential psychologist Rollo May. Details for this hypothesis are given further below.

An intriguing thematic precursor appeared in the 1917 book “The Use of Motives in Teaching Morals and Religion” by Thomas Walton Galloway. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Personality has three main parts: (1) the receiving portion (receptors) that looks out on stimuli (attention and appreciation are its great functions); (2) a responding side (effectors) that looks toward behavior or response; and (3) that which lies between stimulus and response whose function is to correlate and adjust behavior to stimulus. This third region is where our real personal values lie. This is where we grow most.

QI believes that the top candidate for Covey’s reading material was an article within a 1963 collection called “Behavioral Science and Guidance: Proposals and Perspectives”. The article titled “Freedom and Responsibility Re-Examined” was authored by the psychologist Rollo May. The following passage discussed “freedom” and a “pause”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Freedom is thus not the opposite to determinism. Freedom is the individual’s capacity to know that he is the determined one, to pause between stimulus and response and thus to throw his weight, however slight it may be, on the side of one particular response among several possible ones.

The words above differed from Covey’s, but an inexact recollection may have led Covey to paraphrase May’s notion.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Between Stimulus and Response There Is a Space. In That Space Is Our Power To Choose Our Response


  1. 1917 Copyright, The Use of Motives in Teaching Morals and Religion by Thomas Walton Galloway (Professor of Zoology, Beloit College), Chapter 3: Some Essential Natural Elements in Education, Discussion of Figure 3, Quote Page 40, The Pilgrim Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1963, Behavioral Science and Guidance: Proposals and Perspectives edited by Esther Lloyd-Jones and Esther M. Westervelt, Article: Freedom and Responsibility Re-Examined by Rollo May, Start Page 95, Quote Page 103, Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

As You Climb the Ladder of Success, Be Sure It’s Leaning Against the Right Building

Stephen R. Covey? Thomas Merton? Allen Raine? Anne Adaliza Evans? Mae Maloo? H. Jackson Brown? Sarah Frances Brown? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The metaphorical notion of climbing a ladder of success was in use by writers in the nineteenth century. Here is an intriguing cautionary twist about faulty objectives:

When you get to the top of the ladder you may find it is propped against the wrong wall.

This thought has been credited to the educator and best-selling author Stephen R. Covey and to the theologian and activist Thomas Merton. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Tracing this expression has been difficult because of its variability. The earliest evidence found by QI appeared in “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” of New York in 1915. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“You may get to the very top of the ladder, and then find it has not been leaning against the right wall.”—Allen Raine.

This quotation did not explicitly mention a “ladder of success”, but the allusion was clear. “Allen Raine” was the pseudonym of a popular Welsh novelist named Anne Adaliza Evans, but QI is not certain whether the newspaper intended to attribute the quote to her or to some other Allen Raine.

The citation above reveals that neither Thomas Merton who was born in 1915 nor Stephen R. Covey who was born in 1932 originated this extended metaphor. In fact, QI has not yet found any substantive evidence linking the notion to Merton. On the other hand, Covey did employ it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading As You Climb the Ladder of Success, Be Sure It’s Leaning Against the Right Building


  1. 1915 December 30, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Section: Picture and Sporting, (Filler item in a box), Quote Page 4, Column 6, Brooklyn, New York. (Newspapers_com)

We Are Too Prone to Judge Ourselves by Our Ideals and Other People by Their Acts

Dwight Morrow? Harold Nicolson? Harold Nicholson? William Nevins? Tryon Edwards? Edward Wigglesworth? Stephen R. Covey?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a pervasive problem in human psychology of a self-serving double-standard that can be stated as follows:

We judge ourselves by our ideals, but we judge others by their actions.

This remark has been attributed to the American diplomat Dwight Morrow and the British diplomat Harold Nicolson. Sometimes “Nicolson” is misspelled as “Nicholson”. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The compelling notion of two disparate standards has engaged a wide variety of speakers and writers for more than 170 years. The language of expression has evolved during this long period. For example, one version of the saying in 1892 contrasted the internal “intentions” of the self with the externally visible “actions” of others. An instance in 1997 contrasted the “motives” of the self with the external “behavior” of others. Here is a summary of the shifting vocabulary:

1836 motives / actions
1885 intentions / doings
1892 intentions / actions
1909 motives / acts
1915 intentions / performance
1930 ideals / acts
1932 ideals / deeds
1932 intentions / acts
1932 ideals / conduct
1997 motives / behavior

The Reverend William Nevins was a minister and religious writer who preached to congregations in the northeast United States. In 1836 a posthumous compilation of his writings was released that included the following adage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

In judging ourselves, we cannot be too severe; in judging others, we cannot be too candid. We should judge ourselves by our motives, but others by their actions.

The semantics of this early version of the saying differed from popular instances in modern times. The word “should” signaled the difference. The reader was supposed to embrace an attitude of self-criticism regarding his or her motivations, and the reader was supposed to be objective and forgiving when evaluating the actions of others.

The common instances in circulation today do not use the word “should”. Indeed, judging oneself based on “ideals” or “motivations” has been depicted as self-serving or self-centered.

Dwight Morrow did employ an instance of the saying during a speech reported in “The New York Times” in 1930. Harold Nicolson wrote a book about Morrow in 1935, and in that work he ascribed the saying to Morrow not himself. Detailed information is given further below.

Here is a chronological series of additional citations that trace the metamorphosis of the saying.

Continue reading We Are Too Prone to Judge Ourselves by Our Ideals and Other People by Their Acts


  1. 1836, Select Remains of the Rev. William Nevins with a Memoir, Quote Page 383, Published by John S. Taylor, New York. (Google Books Full View) link