What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my last post, I posed a challenge to my readers.

You tell me about these lies that Ralph Waldo presents in his 18 word quote!

There was a link that took you to a four question SurveyMonkey survey.  Answer one or two, or all; it was your choice; it was — is — anonymous.  (If you haven’t and you’re so inclined, you can still weigh in here…)

Oh boy did you respond to the challenge!  Some of you should be thinking seriously about authoring your own blog … !

I’m going to exercise editorial license here, but you can see all the responses received within the first 36 hours here.

What lies behind us?

You said —

  • Past educational opportunities, experiences, and mistakes.
  • Hazy memories.
  • Our past, our successes, our failures, our baggage.
  • What lies behind us is the past, finished projects, good and bad choices, our childhoods, our former jobs, our baggage, our lost loves and relationships, our assumptions, our jumps to inappropriate conclusions, perceived opportunity cost, our patterns – the stuff of memory.

What lies before us?

You said —

  • The future is before us.
  • Pipe dreams.
  • Our possibilities, our future.
  • Possibility.
  • The future, inevitable change, travels to new places, opportunities for improvement, new faces, new methods, new ways of doing, our destiny, growth, potential, maturity, possibility, dreams, hopes.

What lies within us?

You said —

  • Ideally, what lies inside of us are the tools we need to focus on the steps we are currently taking and the mindfulness of the now.
  • The courage to get up every day and work to make pipe dreams into reality.
  • Our will, our hearts, our minds, our souls.
  • Memory, thought, perspective, the ability to analyze, feelings, connections, synapses firing, the lessons from the past, the hopes for the future, plans, goals, understanding of patterns, the ability to think about cause and effect in systems, purpose, mission, vision, strategy, original thought, desire to refine or improve, love, strength, resilience, caring, compassion, mercy, dreams, heart, mind, ideas, words, art.

What is your main take away?

  • We shall overcome!
  • To my mind it means, your focus should be on your inner journey, disregarding what was or will be, making living your life in a mindful way the destination.
  • Don’t dwell on the past because it isn’t what you remember and you can’t change it; don’t moon over the future because it isn’t likely to be what you imagine. Work on today because what you do every day is your life.
    Our will, our hearts, our minds and our souls are what really matter. Focus on those and the rest with follow.
  • You are in control of you destiny. We all have great potential.
    What lies inside of us is more valuable than what lies behind or before us, because what lies inside of us gives understanding, meaning and purpose to the things that we’ve seen and will see. Inside of us is the artist, the thinker, the professional, the leader, the family member, the lover, the friend, and the combined knowledge that we’ve acquired over the years in our experience on this earth. What lies inside of us is also the strength and the resources to navigate tough times, the capacity for caring and compassion, and that which makes us human.

*     *     *     *     *

Ummm; wow.

And yes!

Nicely done readers/contributors!

Emerson’s 18 words — geez, it could’ve been a tweet! — as well as your interpretations are simply stunning.

What lies behind us is a tiny matter compared to what lies within us.  What lies before is also a tiny matter compared to what lies within us.

We shall overcome!


Yet … there’s something about this quote that mystifies.  The source of the mystery, I think, is in Emerson’s curious choice of words.

Not all 18 though.  Just three.


And “tiny matters.”

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