Maxims and Mormons

by Ed Snow

A snappy statement is a crease in the pants of a speech. Numerous, and sometimes overlapping, literary categories[1] exist for the many forms of such a zinger: maxim, aphorism, apothegm, epigram, quip, proverb, witticism. Affected Americans like me sometimes call it a bon mot, reminiscent of a tasty bit of chocolate. Once a saying gets a following it becomes an adage. If it’s really successful it becomes a cliche. Everyone wants to author, but no one wants to use, a cliche.

I ask you to help me come up with the top 10 Mormon one liners.

But first, here are a few of my favorite non-Mormon quips:

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society. [Mark Twain]

I can resist everything except temptation. [Oscar Wilde]

Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. [Groucho Marx]

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. [H.L. Mencken]

We are never as happy or unhappy as we think. [La Rochefoucauld]

You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think. [Dorothy Parker][2]

As for Mormon bon mots, the earliest collection of “The Prophet’s Maxims” was less than … maximized. It was more like reproducing everything available from Joseph Smith’s journals as if all of it had been written on gold[3]. More like brass plates in this case:

The man who willeth to do well, we should extol his virtues, and speak not of his faults behind his back.

A man who wilfully turneth away from his friend without a cause, is not easily forgiven.

The kindness of a man should never be forgotten.

That person who never forsaketh his trust, should ever have the highest place of regard in our hearts, and our love should never fail, but increase more and more, and this is my disposition and these my sentiments.

Not that there’s anything wrong here, it’s just not exactly Oscar Wilde. These statements seem to be mere notes, rough drafts, maxims in progress perhaps. As Mark Twain said, “It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.”[4] A better considered collection of Joseph Smith’s bon mots appears in a speech by B.H. Roberts (circa 1908) that included some of Joseph’s scriptural contributions, in addition to his more personal statements. Says Roberts without hesitation: “They are destined to become generally accepted principles of truth. They will become household aphorisms.”[5] I can’t argue with him about the following examples he cites:

The glory of God is intelligence.

A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.

Adam feel that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.

Wickedness never was happiness.

I teach men correct principles and they govern themselves.

What else belongs in the top 10 Mormon Sayings? Naturally we’d want to include everything we can from J. Golden Kimball. The problem is most of J. Golden’s quips can’t be divorced from the context of a story. But certainly his, “I’d rather be a Mormon going to hell than not be a Mormon and not know where the hell I’m going,” stands on its own, as do several others. And, just because it is a mere couplet, let’s not exclude Lorenzo Snow’s, “As man is God once was, as God is man may become,” from the top 10 Mormon aphorisms. Any others?


[1] See any edition of C. Hugh Holman’s A Handbook to Literature for definitions of these terms.

[2] This zinger was the result of a challenge posed to Parker to produce a sentence with the word “horticulture” in it, which she did instantly. See The Best of Dorothy Parker, Folio Society, 14.

[3] See TPJS, 31; HC 1:444. A later collection published by George Q. Cannon was an improvement, but still underwhelming–see his biography Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet, Deseret Book, 527-532.

[4] Yet Twain also said, “It is noble to be good; it is still nobler to teach others to be good — and less trouble.” Perhaps it is easy to tell others to do right, harder to do right, hardest to tell, with style, others to do right.

[5] Joseph Smith, The Prophet-Teacher, by Brigham H. Roberts, with an introduction by Sterling M. McMurrin, published by the Princeton Club of Princeton University, 1967.


  1. anothernonymous says:

    I’ve never heard that one about Adam feeling. Come to think of it, it makes perfect sense as without feelings, Adam’s inclinations toward Eve probably wouldn’t have resulted in posterity.

  2. No success can compesate for failure in the home.

  3. Forget yourself and get to work.

    No success can make up for failure in the home (or whatever it is).

  4. Anonymous says:

    That one about “When the Brethren speak, the thinking has been done.”

  5. Mark Butler says:

    “There is no such thing as immaterial matter”

  6. Mark Butler says:

    “Getting anything into the heads of this generation has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge and a pumpkin for a beetle.” (paraphrased)

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    How about the Kimballisms “lengthen your stride” and “do it!”

  8. Mark Hanzel says:

    As an ex-Mormon, here’s my favorite:

    “People can leave the church, but they can’t leave the church alone.”

  9. “Every member a missionary.” A catchy slogan, in its way, and it’s stuck around for decades.

  10. As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.

    Also, “There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of human who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. They may have been the architects of the great pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive far, far away, amongst the stars.”

  11. But as for myself, to me he doth not stink.

  12. I like them all, except some are a bit too long for the typical aphorism style.

    I guess I’ll have to correct the typo about Adam having feelings (at least I didn’t claim scriptural support for him having to share them). Or not–let it stand uncorrected so that future generations may get the joke in #1 above.

    Kevin, I also like the combined Kimballsism: “Do It, Dammit!”

    Steve, I mentioned the couplet at the end–kind of tucked away. And, I’d ordinarily only include Battlestar quotes if they improve upon LDS quotes, but we’ll let this one slide.

  13. To live with the saints in heaven is bliss and glory;
    To live with the saints on earth is quite a different story.

    Brigham Young

  14. And, just because it is a mere couplet, let’s not exclude Lorenzo Snow’s, “As man is God once was, as God is man may become” from the top 10 Mormon aphorisms.

    Should this be included? Didn’t President Hinckley sort of claim that this really isn’t being taught any more?

  15. Well Mark N., he said it was a mere couplet, which, for me, is good enough to include here. Whether it’s doctrine or not, whether there was a wink in his eye when he hemmed and hawed, whether whatever, it is still one of the best Mormon one liners around. I defer to apologists on both sides as to its doctrinalness.

  16. As a man thinketh, so is he

    This was big among the McKay-Kimball eras. Made me go back and look at the chapter titles to The Miracle of Forgiveness. There are a lot of witicisms there, but most aren’t sufficiently appropriated my Mormonsim to lay claim on them.

    Perhaps, we should collect all these great suggestions and start a Mormon fortune cookie company. I mean, we have an equal historical claim to the fortune cookie as do the Chinese.

    Mormon Prophet says: if you follow commandments you will prosper in the land

  17. Costanza says:

    “There are some things that are true that aren’t very useful” Boyd K. Packer

  18. J. Stapely–I like it: Mormon Prophecy Cookies.

    And, S. #2 above, I remember now that the original version of your quote came out like this:

    “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

    Since this rendition sounded like failure in the home was a success, it was revised by deleting the word “other.” I heard this in a BYU Shakespeare class, therefore I know it to be true.

  19. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 10
    Isn’t that from the opening sequence of the original Battlestar Galactica ?? Cool! They really took a lot of the Mormon themes out of the new series, imo. I always get a kick out of the swearing-in-code on the new Battlestar, though. That is fairly unique to the LDS subculture. What the frack is up with that, anyway? Any discussion of Mormon Maxims should include some of those.

  20. Ed, I didn’t know that. Thanks for the clarification!

  21. I also like the one that The Spinozist has on his banner, from Brigham Young:

    The Mormon creed: Mind your own business.

  22. Ed Snow says:

    Mark IV, I saw the “Mormon Creed” in the Church History exhibit (circa 1990) embroidered on a quilt hanging from the ceiling (is it still there?) and wondered how that applied to temple recommend interviews.

  23. “Obedience is the first law of heaven.” (And Auschwitz.)

  24. Elouise says:


    Wonderful blog! And the Mormon Fortune Cookie business will go, believe me. Think of all the birthday parties, all the Primary parties, and all those the lunchboxes! Let me know about the IPO!

    As to other maxims, there are so many, I want to muse on them a bit before giving my 2nd and later faves, but top of the list for now is one an Orem sister had emblazoned on her T-shirt. It may not be original with Mormons, but surely it is nowhere more zealously followed than among the Saints:


  25. One I absolutely HATE, but I think it has to be included due to its ubiquity:

    “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it…”

    And how about

    “tight like unto a dish”

  26. “These pretzels are making me thirsty!”

    Sorry, couldn’t resist…

  27. Ed Snow says:

    All of you make me laugh.

    Ed (uh, that’s not a maxim, but a comment to your comments)

  28. Mark Butler says:

    So, perhaps reduce those to:

    “Obedience is better than sacrifice”


    “That which is governed by law is perfected and sanctified by the same”

    There are also lots of general biblical ones that I really like, such as:

    “Where there is no vision the people perish”

    One more definitely Mormon one:

    “the Holy Ghost goes to bed at midnight”

  29. seven bohanan says:

    “when the wicked rule, the people mourn.”

  30. Many of these can come from distinctively Mormon hymns.

    “Do what is right let the consequence follow.”

  31. Mark Butler says:

    “I do not think that word means what you think it means”

  32. Elouise says:

    Ed– Clearly, my “fabric” maxim was a cultural saying rather than a religious or scriptural one.
    There’s another “general wisdom” axiom I heard Elder Richard L. Evans expound once, and have cherished ever since: “Make it a habit to go to bed the same day that you got up.”

    I’d like to add two remarks by former BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, neither a maxim, but both examples of good repartee, which is in some ways related to the pointed maxim. Ernie was a workaholic seven days a week, and grew tired of being admonished to keep the sabbath. Finally, one BYU colleague too many asked him when he was going to start obeying Exodus 20: 10. He snarled, “I’m waiting for the faculty to start keeping the first part: ‘Six days shalt thou labor!’ ”

    Earlier in his life, Wilkinson had represented the Ute tribe before the U.S. Supreme Court, and won a huge settlement. The photographers were eager for a picture, and put Wilkinson between the two opposing lawyers. The other men happened to be very tall; Wilkinson was perhaps 5’5″ in his lifts. One unwise photographer quipped, “Well, Mr. Wilkinson, how do you feel between these two tall gents?” With the speed of a bullwhip, Ernie snapped, “Like a DIME between two NICKLES!”

  33. Ed Snow says:

    Elouise, I didn’t know Ernie had that in him, what with all the bad publicity he often gets.

    Reminds me of a reverse axiom from Yogi Berra: “A nickle isn’t worth a dime anymore.” It works as well the other way: “A dime isn’t worth a nickle anymore.”

  34. I hate the one that says something like God never gives you more than you can handle. What a crock. I also loathe the no success quote. I bet David O. McKay is really sorry he said that now that he knows all the good people it makes feel bad. Not counting me, but the others.

    I like this one: “I love that man better who swears a string as long as my arm and deals justice to his neighbor, than the long faced hypocrite.” Joseph Smith, not exactly, but pretty close. I love to pull that out when the teacher in Relief Society starts going on about bad words.

  35. I’m with annegb; it’s a bit long for a maxim, but meets every other criteria. Here the full quote (I think):
    “I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm yet deals justice to his neighbors, and mercifully deals his substance to the poor, than the long, smooth-faced hypocrite.”

  36. A single man over 25 is a menace to society

    Choose the Right (CTR)

    The Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth

    The book of mormon is the keystone of our religion

    I looked out the window and what did I see? Popcorn popping on the apricot tree.

  37. A little story, if you’ll indulge me. Once a couple of years ago in sacrament meeting someone giving a talk was going on about the Barbara Bush bio she’d just read, and talking about what a wonderful, accomplished woman she was. My wife leaned over to me and mutter, “On the other hand, no success can compensate for failure in the home…”

    Other favorite Mormon bon mots, though both difficult to extricate from context, and both, alas, paraphrased as best I can remember them:

    1) The one where somebody comes up to a group of men, including Joseph Smith, and tells them of a brother who had just lost his possessions in a fire. Everyone says how sorry they are, but Joseph pulls reaches into his pocket and says “I’m sorry for this brother to the tune of five dollers. How sorry are you for him?”

    2) The (possibly apocryphal?) one where Brigham is on a boat with some brethren and they get stuck on some rocks. Someone suggests they say a prayer, to which Brigham responds “I said my prayers this morning. I’m getting out nd pushing the boat.”

  38. All the really obvious ones seem to be covered (#26), but D&C 121 has three in the space of a few verses which should be up for consideration:

    We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

    No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood

    Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy

  39. From my Father in law, a mormon, ” Remember to counsel with the Lord in all you doings, and while waiting for the answer, realize, sometimes he just doesn’t care.”

    from the Other Side of Heaven, “Today I will be the Lord’s wind.”

    New York Doll, “It was like an LSD trip from the Lord.”

    Napolean Dyanamite, “sweet.”

    D&C 76, “and after the many testimonies that have been given of him this is the testimony we give last of all, that he lives!, for we saw him and heard the voice bearing record that by him and through him and of him the worlds are and were created and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters of God.”

    “If you could Hie to Kolob, in the twinkling of an eye and then continue onward at that same speed to fly.” an underapreciated gem. ;)

    Johnny Lingo, “Mahonna you ugly, get down out of that tree.”

    Heber J Grant, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not because the nature of the thing has changed, but our ability to do has increased.”
    (beats the heck out of you get better with practice.) ;)

  40. No death before the fall.

    Or in Ed’s case:

    No feelings before the fall. :-)

  41. “The Kingdom or nothing!” (John Taylor)

    Comments #14 and 15: is this is just a “couplet”, as said by president Hinckley, then the whole idea of exaltation is not doctrinal either. Perhaps this kind of attitude can be better understood through Brigham’s explanation:

    Do you know why some men give counsel [or teach doctrine] different one from another? Because they undertake to give counsel without the Spirit of the Lord to dictate them. But when the Spirit dictates, then each one knows what to do, and their counsel will be the same. Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, all the Patriarchs and Prophets, Jesus and the Apostles, and every man that has ever written the word of the Lord, have written the same doctrine upon the same subject; and you never can find that Prophets and Apostles clashed in their doctrines in ancient days: neither will they now, if all would at all times be led by the Spirit of salvation. (Journal of Discourses 5:329)

    This is what happens when we refuse the knowledge revealed in the past:

    And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

    And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10-11)

    Will you guys say that when the First Presidency talks to the media they are preventing the non-members to know the misteries plainly taught to the members of the Church? :)

  42. I don’t have anything to add to this great list, but perhaps someone could start a new post about oft-used stories or oft-quoted literature in church or general conference. For example, the big boy taking the lickin’ for the scrawny boy who stole his lunch (in the mountains of Virginia, blah, blah). Or, how people quote only the opening paragraph of “A Tale of Two Cities.”

  43. Ed Snow says:

    Joanne, I like your idea. Perhaps a “Fractured Fairy Tales” (remember from the Bulwinkle cartoons) version of Specially for Mormons stories that get rehashed over and over and over again.

  44. Here’s one (possibly apocryphal, and a bit of a paraphrase) from Brigham Young:

    Mormons are like manure, when you spread them out they do a lot of good, but when you pile them in one place they stink.

  45. #44 That wouldn’t contradict the doctrine of gathering? Or the stinking would be a side effect to deal with?

  46. Antonio – Who can say what mysterious thoughts lived in the mind of Brother Brigham? Not I.

  47. Mark N. says:

    31: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

    Well, there’s always, “My name is Porter Rockwell. You killed my prophet. Prepare to die.”

  48. Ryan Bell says:

    We mustn’t forget:

    What e’er thou art, act well thy part.

    Not coined by a Mormon, but popularized by one.

    This is a great list, everyone.

    (And by the way, I’m no French speaker, but I believe the plural is bons mots, not bon mots. Am I right?)

  49. Mark N. says:

    Ryan, vous avez raison.

  50. Mark N., LOL on the Porter Rockwell!

    Fifty comments deep, and so far nobody has mentioned:

    Families are Forever

    The corollary:

    Housework is forever

    And at this time in July:

    This is the place. That isn’t a bon mot in itself, but sometimes the way we use it is. I’ve been at camps with other LD Saint men and boys and there is sometimes a paper plate tacked to the camp kitchen with the words “This is the place to feed your face”. Juvenile and sophomoric, yes, but BY would probably have gotten a chuckle from it.

  51. 16.

    As a man thinketh, so is he.

    Pres. Kimball quoted this in “Faith Precedes the Miracle” and then followed with it’s opposite, which has become one of my favorite maxims:

    How could a man possibly become what he is not thinking?

  52. Mark Butler says:

    As popularized:

    “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without”

  53. I found my friend

  54. Oh my heck!


    Oh my freakin’/flippin’/fetchin’ heck!

  55. Or, as someone told me recently:

    “You know, they never finish Brigham Young’s quote. What he said was: ‘This is the place. Move on.'”

    I think a Californian told me that.

  56. Bons mot! That wasn’t a typo, just ignorance.

  57. rleonard says:

    There is one week left in the month. Have you done your home teaching?

  58. What about
    “Thriftyness is next to Godliness” (ha ha ha).

    Lethe means ‘always to remember, never to forget'” (from The Mailbox)

    “Bein’ different is bein’ great” (LDS commercial)

    “Family: Isn’t it about time?”(LDS commercial)

    “Time? I’ve got as much as anyone.”(LDS commercial)

    Family first.

    Soldier of Love or ‘I’m a little bit country, I’m a little bit rock n’ roll’

    ‘I made like a thousand of those at scout camp'(Napoleon)

    WKRP in Cin-ci-na-a-ti (a tribute to Gordon Jump)

  59. “I hope they call me on a mission”

    “The best two years of my life”

    In testimonies:

    “…beyond a shadow of a doubt”

    “…with every fibre of my being”

    For kids:

    “I’d like to bear my testimony. I know the Church is true. I love my family. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

  60. Here are a couple more:

    # # # # #

    I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.
    – 2 Ne 33:6

    Work becomes service when it is given gladly.
    – Barbara B. Smith, GenCon 3 Oct 1981

    Pain brings you to a humility that allows you to ponder.
    – Robert D. Hales, GenCon 3 Oct 1998

    Sometimes guilt controls our minds and takes us prisoner in our thoughts. How foolish to remain in prison when the door stands open.
    – Boyd K. Packer, GenCon 2 Oct 1999

    One of the neatest thins about personal revelation is that the timing always is impeccable.
    – David Ogden (Milpitas Ward) 11 Feb 2001

    We cannot have the companionship of the Holy Ghost – the medium of individual revelation – if we are in transgression or if we are angry.
    – Dallin H. Oaks, “The Lord’s Way”

    Priesthood is not the authority over people: it is the power to bless people.
    – Karen Wright (Crestridge Ward) 11 Mar 2001

    The secret to solve problems in your life will be found in understanding and in using the eternal beneficial interaction of your agency and His truth.
    – Richard G. Scott, GenCon 4 Oct 1992

    Sometimes in our perfection, we stop our growth because we feel that if we can’t be perfect, we can’t make it. We forget that it’s a step at a time.
    – Nancy Martin (Yorba Linda 4th Ward) 9 Jun 1996

    One day there will be no other unit than the family. It’s time to model our lives now.
    – Pres. Bollard, 18 Aug 1996

    I think that in the Lord’s definition of “blessing,” He includes anything that brings us closer to Him (including trials and chastenings).
    – Sue Mitchell (Sierra Vista Ward) 5 July 1998

    When you are angry, you no longer are seeking the truth – you are seeking to defend your own actions.
    – Terri Ogden (Park Victoria Ward) 30 Aug 1998

    The gospel of Jesus Christ is to give us peace in the midst of our afflictions, not instead of our afflictions.
    – Allen Izu (Park Victoria Ward) 22 Nov 1998

    How wonderful to be able to give our sins to Someone who is willing and able to take them.
    – Bro. Warner (Crestridge Ward) 16 July 2000

    The putting-off of the natural man makes possible the putting-on of the whole armor of God, which would not have fit before.
    – Neal A. Maxwell, GenCon 1 Apr 2001

    By the way, let us not – as some do – make the mistake of thinking the chips we place on our own shoulders are crosses.
    – Neal A. Maxwell, GenCon 1 Apr 2001

    Mark it down, brothers and sisters, people too caught up in themselves will inevitably let other people down!
    – Neal A. Maxwell, GenCon 7 Oct 2000

    Not that I would speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
    – Apostle Paul, Phil 4:11

    I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
    – Apostle John, 3 John v. 4

    Humility is the foundation of self-control, and when you have self-control, you have everything.
    – Elder Stephenson (Missionary serving in Yorba Linda 3rd Ward) 17 Feb 2002

    When we have a sincere desire to share the gospel with others, and when we have sought divine assistance in our efforts, what should we do? How do we proceed? We begin by beginning. We should not wait for a further invitation from heaven. Revelation comes most often when we are on the move.
    – Dallin H. Oaks, GenCon 10/2002

    The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
    – Ps 27:1

    When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes a quest, in that moment the Lord will endow us with power.
    – Gordon B. Hinckley

    We often view repentance as a slow process. It isn’t. Change is instantaneous. It is *not* changing that takes so much time.
    – “Why I Believe,” p. 92

    True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.
    – Boyd K. Packer, GenCon 4 Oct 1986

    A stumbling block appears when we serve God generously with time and checkbooks but still withhold portions of ourselves, signifying that we are not yet fully His!
    – Neal A. Maxwell, GenCon 6 Apr 2002

    If you follow the prophet, you will arrive where he is going.
    – Spencer W. Kimball

    I have learned that selfishness has more to do with how we feel about our possessions than how much we have […] A poor man can be selfish and a rich man generous, but a person obsessed only with getting will have a hard time finding peace in this life.
    – James E. Faust, GenCon 5 Oct 2002

    Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?
    – Al 26:17

    Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
    – 2 Ne 31:20

    Wise is the man who says all that needs to be said, but not all that could be said.
    – Marvin J. Ashton, GenCon 10/1976

    No one can be classed as a true follower of the Savior who is not in the process of removing from his heart and mind every feeling of ill will, bitterness, hatred, envy, or jealousy toward [others].
    – H. Burke Peterson, GenCon 10/1983

    A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.
    – Joseph Smith, Jr.

    When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble and you’ll be right more than half the time.
    – Henry B. Eyring, GenCon 3 Apr

    If you do not forgive, you give away your future. Tomorrow is held hostage to yesterday.
    – Stephen R. Covey, 25 May

    What people consider mysteries are the things that go into how a house is built, but the mystery of a house is how to live in it.
    – Stephen M, 13 Feb 2006

    While we cannot agree with others on certain matters, we must never be disagreeable. We must be friendly, soft-spoken, neighborly, and understanding.
    – Gordon B. Hinckley, GenCon 10/2003

    Forgiveness shouldn’t be confused with excusing the offense. Forgiveness frees the victim from the effects of the offense. […] Forgiveness is something you do for yourself – not for someone else. […] Forgiveness is the process through which the injured person gains peace, freedom, self-acceptance, and release from self-pity. Through forgiveness, wounds are healed.
    – Dr. Elaine Walton, “Embracing Hope,” BYU’s Conference on surviving abuse, 2002

    When we are truly converted, our focus shifts from self to others. We can find inner strength through service. Nothing would please the Adversary more than for us to be distracted by selfish concerns and appetites. But we know better. Service will help us stay on course.
    – Mary Ellen W. Smoot

    The life of a saint is not simply a personal perfecting, it is also a factor in the entire scheme of earth’s redemption. No one can be saved alone by himself or herself, unassisted by or unassisting others. The weight of our influence must be either for good or harm, be an aid or an injury to the work of human regeneration.
    – John Taylor

    When we are willing to restore to others that which we have not taken, or heal wounds that we did not inflict, or pay a debt that we did not incur, we are emulating His part in the Atonement. – Boyd K. Packer

  61. Ed Snow says:

    At the risk of being a spoilsport I raise the issue whether some of the items we’ve listed rise to the level of an aphorism or “snappy statement.” Certainly they all have worth as admonitions or statements that mean a lot to all or at least some of us. More power to each of us for collecting such quotes.

    I for one long for the pithy phrase, however. The quick punch of such a comment is what makes it memorable to me, what makes me enjoy it not only for what it says, but how it is said.

    I’m surprised we don’t have more Neal Maxwell quotes in our list (do we have any?). Some like his alliterations/assonances a lot, others find them tedious. I’ve heard someone refer to heavy users of alliterations as having Maxwell’s Disease/Syndrome. One fellow I know said he was the “Jesse Jackson” of Mormonism! Thoughts on that?

  62. Ed Snow says:

    Manaen, #60, you have some Maxwell quotes–I just saw them. Just for the record, I really enjoyed his talks even if sometimes he “laid it on thick.” His were talks you had to read since hearing them often led to not catching some things.

  63. One fellow I know said he was the “Jesse Jackson” of Mormonism! Thoughts on that?

    If only he were to have read Green Eggs and Ham before passing.

  64. Mark Butler says:

    Manaen (#60),

    Also at the risk of being a spoil sport, I do not see how something can be a maxim if no one has ever heard it before, or it does not have reasonably widespread currency in the Church, i.e. that an average member would say, yes I have heard that before, and it encapsulates a fundamental truth in one sentence perhaps better than any alternative, including the various competing scriptures and prophetic statements that address the same principle.

    That said, I value much of what you have quoted there.

  65. Kevin Barney says:

    One summer at the University of Illinois Michael Hicks and I worked together at the research farm. I spent much of my time honing my Bruce R. McConkie impression. Anyway, I also often had occasion to intone my favorite Maxwellism:

    “Without the Decalogue, there is decadence.”

    (Talk about inside jokes. The regular farmers who worked with us must have thought we were absolutely nuts, and in a sense, I guess we were. At lunch, while they were playing cards, Mike and I were reading. I remember that I read Xenophon’s Anabasis in Greek that summer. I was a real gentleman farmer, like Eddie Albert on Green Acres.)

  66. There are a lot more mormons than there are saints.

    Re: “This is the place” I once heard an actor playing BY remark that the actual quote was
    “This is the right place”
    “For,” remarked the actor,
    “anyplace can be ‘the place’ if that’s where you are. There’s a great difference between being a place and being the right place”

  67. Mark IV says:

    Ryan in # 66 helped me remember something a bishop said in priesthood meeting once as he tried to inspire us for the umpteenth time to do better on our home teaching.

    “Brethren, we need to decide – are we latter-day saints, or are we latter-day ain’ts?”

  68. 64.
    Mark, good points. I did walk away from this post’s request for nominations of the Top 10 maxims — if that means the most well-known already. However, defines “maxim” as “A succinct formulation of a fundamental principle, general truth, or rule of conduct” without reference to its popularity and my #60 lists *my* favorite maxims by this definition, which are my offerings for consideration as Top 10 fulfillments of it.

  69. Manaen–not to worry.

  70. Adam Greenwood says:

    “Go to Provo or Go to Hell.”

    More of a bon mot than a maxim.

  71. Antonio Parr says:

    “Mark it, Elder Rigdon!”

  72. 66.
    Ryan, In SoCal we know that ailing Bro. Brigham actually said, upon seeing the desolate SL valley, “This is a disgrace: drive on” to Sam Brennan’s gold, beaches, and moderate climate here. However, some sharp land speculators, led by Porter Rockwell, offered $1k for the first bushel grown in the valley and the stampede was on. Development had gone too far by the time Bro. Brigham recovered, so the city remained in place to the everlasting detriment of the Saints. It could have been BRIGHAMLAND to which people flock from around the world instead of the creation of that mousy guy who drew cartoons. We all know how much fun the waterslides they tried in Utah were, even though they tried to cover that failure with some story about irrigation. Now we’re depending upon John Heder to assert our leadership here. (sighs)

  73. ElouiseBell says:

    Ed–I’m foggy as to which General Authority coined the following axiom; I think it was N. Eldon Tanner. In any case, we as missionaries were told: “BE LOYAL TO PRINCIPLES, NOT TO PERSONS.” Obviously, it means that if a good buddy is doing something illegal/immoral/ fattening. . . uh, well, the first two, anyway, one’s first responsibility is to the law and morality.

    BYU Freshman English students in My Day were frequently required to write essays on the Honor Code, and specifically on the part whereby students pledged to report others who violated the Code. Students were always in favor of the tenets of the Code, but some admitted doubt about reporting minor or even major violations.

    I wonder if Consenters ever experience a similar conflict between loyalty to principles and persons.

  74. I believe and am ashamed to admit, I’m not certain, it’s the 12 Tradition of AA which urges us to place principles above personalities. I often hear the general authorities speak in 12 step recovery terms. I believe this to be because God is at the helm of both organizations.

    I’m going to print this and use it in a talk or something. Especially the funny ones.

    I thought Elder Holland was trying well to conjure up Elder Maxwell, I remember his quote “tsunamis of the soul.” I found it very profound.

  75. And it came to pass

  76. Antonio Parr says:

    And it came to pass

  77. What people consider mysteries are the things that go into how a house is built, but the mystery of a house is how to live in it.
    – Stephen M, 13 Feb 2006

    I’m glad you liked that one.

    I actually thought of it when I gave a sacrament talk back in the 80s. I’d been asked to “keep it simple, please don’t go off into the mystermies” and so I gave a talk on what the real mysteries were: faith, hope, and love …

  78. Ed Snow says:

    I forget who said this, but apparently it was said sometime during the federal crackdown on Mormon polygamists in the 19th century, even non-practicing polygamists who merely believed in THE PRINCIPLE:

    “I would rather be a polygamist who didn’t polyg than a monogamist who didn’t monog.”

  79. I can say “And it came to pass that I Nephi” very fast, in Russian. From reading the Book of Mormon in Russian.

  80. # 79, Ed, that statement was from another senator, in reference to Reed Smoot, during his senate hearings.(But I forget his name.)

    About 25 years ago, a man started attending the Ann Arbor Michigan ward (resident ward, not student ward). He represented himself as a member of the church, and attended all meetings. He was very charismatic, and in just a few short months, had convinced quite a few members to invest in his business. One day, in the middle of priesthood meeting, several policemen arrived, handcuffed him and took him off, charged with many counts of fraud. He wasn’t even a member of the church, just using that as a way to win the trust of people in the church. My friend quipped later that we should start an “Every member a member” program.

  81. Ed Snow says:

    pjj, that man should have been dismembered

  82. Antonio Parr says:

    And it came to pass.

  83. Antonio Parr says:

    (Sorry for the repeat of the “it came to pass” posts — just didn’t want this thread to be reduced to a mere pamphlet . . . )

  84. Antonio Parr, my friend and Frederick Buechner character, your posts are never chloroform online.

  85. A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.

  86. How about a BYU version:

    “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.”
    “Enter to learn, go forth to earn.”
    “The campus is our world.”
    “The world is our campus.”
    “Not wearing socks leads to sexual promiscuity.”
    “Our football team deserves to win every year.”

  87. Eric Russell says:

    “Our football team deserves to win every year.”

    Damn straight – especially when we play Utah.

  88. Remember who you are!

  89. Ed Snow says:

    “Catholics teach the Pope is infallible, but don’t believe it. Mormons teach the Prophet is fallible, but don’t believe it.”

    Keith Norman quote

  90. “lean not unto thine own understanding,”
    which anymore reminds me of the “leaning” dialogue in “While You Were Sleeping”
    When fishing with Mormons, always bring at least two because if one comes alone, he’ll drink all your beer.

  91. “Only a fool would take offense when it is not intended, and only a greater fool takes offense when it is.”

    Brigham Young

  92. “Man who pass gas in church, must sit in own pew.”

  93. Whatever principle of intelligence we attain in this life, it will rise with us in the ressurection.


  94. Someone told me Brigham Young’s saying went like this:

    “Any man 25 years or older that is unmarried is a menace to society, and any woman older than 25 and unmarried is just plain ugly.”

  95. * Flyer in hymnbooks in Saladillo Branch, Argentina, (1971):
    Don’t decide for your friends whether they join the Church – let them choose for themselves
    i.e. share the restored gospel with them so they can decide.
    * Also in Argentina, on sign held up in Youth-Conference testimony meeting to tell the speaker that his/her time was up:
    Peace, be still

  96. I’m surprised we haven’t seen more Maxwellisms. Here are a few, from my bad memory:

    1. W all must wrestle the natural man. Unfortunately, he is sumo-size.

    2. There must be opposition in all things, but, unfortunately, too many of us act as though it is up to us personally to provide that opposition.

    3. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, not to be one another’s burdens.

    4. Self-pity is the sludge in which sin takes root.

    5. Often we are willing to put our offering on the altar, but then we stand around waiting for a receipt.

  97. Actually, “that which we persist in doing, [etc.]” was coined not by President Grant, but by Emerson. But it’s funny how many mormons think HJG came up with it.

  98. Ed Snow says:

    JKC, the same problem exists with David O. McKay who so often quoted Neo-Classical poets. We sometimes think Alexander Pope quoted Pres. Mckay.

  99. Not exclusive to mormons, but one I always here when planning a church activity: It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

  100. Conscience always warns us as a friend before punishing us as a judge.
    — Thomas S. Monson, GenCon Prsthd Session 2 Oct 2005

    Humility and gratitude are the true twin charactersitics of happiness.
    — Richare C. Edgely, GenCon 5 Oct 2003

    Leadership is communicating people’s worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.
    — Stephen R. Covey, Los Angeles fireside 25 May 2005

  101. Well-behaved women seldom make history

    —Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  102. I’m a bit surprised that no one thought to mention (unless I somehow missed it) one of the most profound quotes in the BoM. Mosiah 2:17 in which King Benjamin says “. . .when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”

  103. Josephine Dynamite says:

    A few that I’ve heard at church often (or too often):

    – If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything
    – If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
    – Love of work is success (David O. McKay)
    – Pray as if everything depends on the Lord; work as if everything depends on you.

    And now three of my favourite quotations:
    *”Nobody gossips about other people’s secret virtues.” – Bertrand Russell
    *”I’m glad I’m not perfect. I’d be bored to death.” – Harriet the Spy
    *”If you marry the wrong person, you will find that you do not have to die to go to hell.” – A quotation told to me by the man who baptized me which he supposedly heard at a fireside or something. (and leaving aside for the moment the “there is no right/wrong person” argument)

  104. AAugh,
    someone openned the Covey door, quick close it, close it.

    just kidding, If we are going to quote Covey maxims I’d have to say the best is
    “seek first to understand, then be understood.”

  105. bob patterson says:

    “The wise man built his house upon the rock, the foolish man built his house upon the sand.”


  1. […] Ed Snow, By Common Consent: “Maxims and Mormons.” Kaimi Wenger, Times and Seasons: “Breaking Promises.” Tim J, Nine Moons: “The Worst Thing I Did on My Mission.” […]

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