Tao Te Ching
THE TAOISM OF LAO TZU
Fake Lao Tzu Quote
"Watch your thoughts..."
This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:
"Watch your thoughts, they become your words;
watch your words, they become your actions;
watch your actions, they become your habits;
watch your habits, they become your character;
watch your character, it becomes your destiny."
This long quote, often accredited to Lao Tzu, has a simplistic and repetitious style that is similar to his writing, and at least the first two lines would fit within Tao Te Ching — but the concepts of habits, character, and destiny much less so.
Lao Tzu certainly described human behavior that could be categorized as habits, but he would not explain them that way. According to him, people do what they do mainly out of ignorance. Character is also something distant from Lao Tzu's view that people are really the same, they just act differently. It's not a question of personality, but again of ignorance versus wisdom. It's not about how people are, but what they do or don't do.
And destiny is a far too deterministic expression of the simple fact that actions have consequences. To Lao Tzu, everything would be possible to correct, usually by avoiding action. Then problems would be solved by themselves, because that is how nature works.
Garson O'Toole has thoroughly tracked down the history of this quote on his website Quote Investigator. A very similar wording was accredited to Bishop Beckwaith (probably a misspelling of John W. Beckwith, 1831-1890) in a newspaper from 1885:
As for accrediting the quote to Lao Tzu, the earliest example Garson O'Toole found is from the website Goodreads in 2010, the date deducted by the first comment on the quote there being from January 2, 2010. That link seems to fail now (August 2020), probably due to Goodreads site changes. The present web page with the quote only has likes since March, 2017. On Internet Archive the 2010 webpage remains, though without dates on the likes.
On Facebook I found the first post of the quote already from November 17, 2005, giving no source to it. The first Facebook quote accrediting it to Lao Tzu was October 14, 2009.
In printed books, I found the earliest crediting to Lao Tzu of this quote in My life with the green & gold from 2013, by the sportscaster Jessie Garcia (page 186).
September 22, 2020.
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