Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.

Eleanor Roosevelt, age 8, by her father Elliott. Brothers Elliott Jr and Gracie Hall are on the far right and left

Eleanor Roosevelt, age 8, by her father Elliott. Brothers Elliott Jr and Gracie Hall are on the far right and left

Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandson David Roosevelt says, “Although erroneously attributed to Grandmère, it offers what might well have been her insight on friendship and her unique approach to life.”

It’s one of those email forwards that warms the heart, whoever wrote it.

Many people will walk in and out of your life,
But only true friends will leave footprints
in your heart.
To handle yourself, use your head;
To handle others, use your heart.
Anger is only one letter short of danger.
If someone betrays you once, it is his fault;
If he betrays you twice, it is your fault.
Great minds discuss ideas;
Average minds discuss events;
Small minds discuss people.
He who loses money, loses much;
He who loses a friend, loses much more;
He who loses faith, loses all.
Beautiful young people are accidents of nature,
But beautiful old people are works of art.

Learn from the mistakes of others.
You can’t live long enough to make
them all yourself.
Friends, you and me…
You brought another friend…
And then there were 3…
We started our group…
Our circle of friends…
And like that circle…
There is no beginning or end…
Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is mystery.
Today is a gift.

Unknown, not Eleanor Roosevelt
Quoted by Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandson David Roosevelt in the book Grandmère: A Personal History of Eleanor Roosevelt

About Things Unsaid

“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art,” could have been said by any number of people who had Eleanor Roosevelt’s spirit. We may like the idea of attributing it to someone with her special place of substance in recent history, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those feelings. I do, however, object to false information presented as fact, and that’s part of why I started this site.

A few lines from this poem are widely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt in books and on quote databases, and they are beautiful, but they are not Eleanor Roosevelt. I got suspicious when searching for references to quotes that came from Eleanor Roosevelt’s lifetime. When there aren’t any, you start to wonder.

The Importance of Context

Everything has at least two sets of contexts, specifically who we are in the here and now, as well as the perspective of where a thing came from. Seeing a thing from the perspective of its origin gives us access to the depth of history and other people’s perspectives. Without context, we have only what we imagine or hope to be true. Giving and getting life lessons from falsely attributed quotes robs us of both.

I want more from myself in both contexts, and I want to encourage that hunger and curiosity in others. If a quote makes me stop and think, I don’t want to stop there. I want to look at the why of how it hits me, for myself, as well as, if I can, the perspective of the author’s own writings and experience.

This isn’t just out of respect for the original author.

Valuing the Now

If there is something within me that needs to read “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art,” and attribute it to Eleanor Roosevelt, what does that mean? Maybe I need to commune with my inner (imagined) Eleanor, or get a more beautiful appreciation for my gray hairs. I don’t want to miss out on either.

As we imagine and personalize, I think we should give ourselves credit for whatever depth we stir up, especially if we’re having the kinds of insights we’d like to credit to a hero of substance. A hero’s quotes may inspire, but we are the ones living in our own here and now. Being there here and now is our “gift,” our blessed once-only reality.

| More

5 Responses to “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

  1. February QuoteSnack News | Quote Snack Says:

    [...] Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art [...]

  2. Kim Says:

    Happy to read this post! So informative & interesting!

  3. Elizabeth Able Says:

    Thank you! It was a joy to write.

  4. sui Says:

    Hey! I know that at least this part of the quote
    “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people”
    is by Laurence Peter!!!
    Maybe the whole quote is attributed to him?

  5. Elizabeth Able Says:

    I suspect it’s a little like quote soup, with a proverb or three grafted on. :)

    I haven’t quoted anything from “Peter’s Quotations,” yet. I should look into it!

    Thanks, Sui.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Stop SOPA