Derek Medhurst


A commonplace is a book in which someone records quotes or passages to remember or refer to - for their personal use. Over the years I have collected a number of quotes that have seem interesting - and relevant to work and other interests. Whilst you can buy books of quotations galore, I'm sharing a few here. At various times they have seemed very relevant! (If there are any misquotes, then the fault is mine.)

Some values

"Power is the ability to do good for others." Brooke Astor

"A man's true worth is the good he does in the world." Mohammed

"People would come and take photographs of us and ask about our terrible life ... We thought they would help. Then one day we had to run. We had nothing. Nobody came back to help ..." Bor Alier, age 17, Sudanese, but in Kakuma refugee camp. Comment explaining his painting of photographers in his village (in exhibition at 198 Gallery, Herne Hill, arranged by RefAid, UK for United Nations High Commission for Refugees).

"The worst situation .... is the person who does nothing because he thinks he can only do a little." Ian Spratt, photographer (seen in the same exhibition).

Work and business (but not exclusively)

"We trained hard ... every time we began forming up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing ... and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralisation." Gaius Petronius (died c66AD)

"Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan." John F Kennedy

"My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there." Indira Gandhi

"Man can learn little from success but much from failure." Arabic proverb

"Exploring the question brings more wisdom than having the answer." Unknown

"Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first call 'promising'." Jan Carew

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well." Martin Luther King

"Not a particle of evidence, Pip ..... Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule." Mr Jaggers to Pip in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (first appeared 1861)

"All models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful." George E P Box


"Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exupery

If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough." Robert Capa, photographer, 1913-1954

"I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." Oliver Wendell Holmes

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Unknown

"Power concedes nothing without demand, it never has and never will." Frederick Douglass

"I'm sorry this is a long letter, I did not have time to write a short one." Attributed to various people (incl George Bernard Shaw & Blaise Pascal) in slightly different words