Profound Anecdotes

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This page contains profound and deep anecdotes for speeches, roasts, toasts, essays, articles and more. If instead, you're interested in humor anecdotes then check Funny anecdotes.

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On perspective / on expectations / on attitude

A very wise Greek philosopher was sitting in a garden next to the road on the way to Athens. A man walking up the road came up to him and said, "I am planning on moving to Athens, but I'm not sure if I should. Can you tell me what it's like living here?" The philosopher replied, "Certainly I will tell you, but first would you tell me about the city you lived in before?" The man grimaced and said, "That horrible place! The people are cruel to one another. They lie and cheat and your neighbor will stab you in the back. I am not sorry about leaving because I have only enemies there." The philosopher shook his head and said, "Well, I'm sorry to tell you that you will find Athens to be just the same as your previous city." The man grumbled saying, "I should have known it!" and he turned to walk back home. As the philosopher continued sitting in the sun, another man came along and approached the philosopher. "I was considering moving to Athens," the man said, "And I wondered if you could tell me what it's like." The philosopher again said, "Well certainly, but would you first tell me what sort of a city you left behind?" The man smiled and said, "Oh, it's a wonderful place. The people are kind and thoughtful. Everyone is willing to share with their neighbors and help out when it's needed. The people are wonderful, and I certainly will miss my friends." The philosopher smiled and said, "In that case, you will find Athens to be just the same sort of place to live." Each man may have left a place beyond, but they brought their ideas, perspectives and outlooks along with them.

On politicians being changeable / on knowing your audience / on tribalism and group identity

A candidate for a political office was making a speech in front of a large crowd. Although he knew the folksy people in the area were Christian and very religious, he hadn’t taken the time to research precisely what denomination they followed. He wanted to be relatable so he figured out a way he could connect with them. “I come from a very religious family. My grandmother was a devout Catholic,” he began but there was no reaction from the crowd. “My grandfather was a Methodist.” Still no reaction. “My other grandmother was Baptist and my grandfather was Episcopalian.” There was only silence from the audience. He sighed. “My father was Mormon,” he paused, “and my mother was Presbyterian.” The crowd broke into cheers! “And I have always believed my mother new best!” he exclaimed to thunderous applause. (SPEAKERS NOTE: This anecdote can be easily adapted to reflect other group identities, using for instance, names of baseball, basketball or football teams; university alma maters; fraternities and sororities; political affiliations; occupations or hobbies to name a few ideas).

On making a point

Woodrow Wilson used to tell this story of how he learned to simplify his speaking and focus on a point. He described his father as a very wise man who always had time to sit down and listen to him. Whenever the future president had written an essay for school, he’d bring it to his father who would make him read it out loud. As he read, every once in a while his father would stop him. “What did you mean by that?” he would ask. Then young Woodrow would re-word it, and in doing so, would often explain it more simply and directly than he had on paper. His father would tell him to re-write the paper to explain the point just as he had said it out loud. When he wanted to make his point simply, Wilson would recall one of his father’s sayings: “Don’t shoot at your meaning with bird shot and hit the whole countryside; shoot with a rifle at the thing you have to say.”

On helping others / on charity and non-profit work / finding allies / volunteering/ philanthropy

Mother Teresa was always looking for ways to get the things necessary for the poor people of her area. When confronted with recurring cholera outbreaks in one of the slums where she taught children, she decided to approach a doctor and chief minister of the Bengal province known for his altruism. She went to his office and sat in the waiting room with the poor patients who were waiting for help. Finally, it was her turn to see the doctor. "I am not a patient," she said, "But I'm here to help others who are ill. There is a slum which has no water pump. A pump and clean water would help people avoid cholera." The doctor was surprised that there was no water pump there, and he told his assistant to make a note so he could look into it. He was as good as his word and soon the slum had access to clean water. Mother Teresa returned time after time to ask the doctor for help with electricity, water, garbage removal, food - all the basics of life missing in the crowded, forgotten slums where she worked. Every time, the doctor responded and did his best to help fix the problems. One day she went to visit him to ask for food and medication for some poor children she had taken in. He agreed to help and she said, "I hope you don't think we Sisters are tackling too much." The doctor laughed and replied, "Not at all. Make it bigger. Bigger, Mother. A good cause never suffers for want of money!"

On public speaking

If you wish for your audience to pay close attention to what you’re about to say, just use these two magic words: “In conclusion”. Suddenly everyone perks up!

On expectations / on confidence / the show must go on / on making do

The director of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City was shocked to discover that one of the stars of that night’s sold-out opera performance had lost his voice and was unable to perform. In a panic, the director called the great American opera singer John Charles Thomas and asked him to rush down to the theatre and perform the role. Thomas had never performed the role, but being a professional opera singer, he was familiar with the music so he agreed. The performance began fairly well but as Thomas sang, he realized that although he knew the music, he wasn’t as familiar with the words as he had thought. He fumbled through the words as well as he could. However, when the time came for his big aria, he froze. He realized he couldn’t remember any of the words except for the title of the song. However, being an old pro he decided to make that do. In a brilliant voice, Thomas sang the title of the song over and over. The other singers were aghast! The conductor watched in disbelief. The director stood offstage in a fit of anxiety. The audience was filled with high-society New Yorkers. The director was terrified about what the reviews would say. His show would be a laughing stock! As the song drew to a close, Thomas put his whole heart into it and finished the song with a great operatic flourish. The audience was completely silent for a beat and then as one, they rose in a standing ovation and cheered enthusiastically for the great singer. Being unfamiliar with the words as they should have been performed, the audience never noticed that anything was wrong. They were simply thrilled with the beautiful performance.

On governing / on democracy / on leadership

One afternoon, after leaving Philadelphia's Independence Hall, a young man approached Benjamin Franklin. In that broiling hot month, the statesmen of the young nation had been debating furiously over the establishment of the Constitution of the United States. The young man walked up to Franklin and asked, "Well Sir, what sort of government have you given us? A monarchy or a republic?" Franklin, who understood the importance of having popular support to keep a republic alive, responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."

On acceptance / worries and anxiety / on the future / on uncertainties / Buddhism stories

An old farmer and his son lived in a small village with their few animals and their only horse, a lovely mare. One day the farmer awoke to find that his horse had run off during the night. “Oh, what terrible luck!” His neighbors proclaimed. “Maybe yes, maybe no,” the farmer responded. That afternoon, the mare returned bringing with her a beautiful wild stallion. Now the farmer was the richest man in the village, having two horses and the possibility of babies! “Oh what wonderful luck!” his neighbors proclaimed. “Maybe yes, maybe no,” the man responded. A few days later, his son tried to ride the new stallion but the wild horse bucked and threw the boy off. The boy broke his leg when he fell. As the neighbors helped carry the boy back to his home to lay him in bed they cried, “Oh what terrible luck!” The farmer shrugged. “Maybe yes, maybe no,” he responded. The next day, the ground shook as a regiment of soldiers marched into the city. There was a war to the north and they demanded that all able-bodied young men go with them to fight. The people of the village wept as the army took their sons away. The only boy left in the village was the farmer’s son, who wasn’t able to go due to his broken leg. “What wonderful luck,” the neighbors said. The old man watched the army march away and said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

On innovation / on thinking outside the box

Thomas Edison was a great scientist and inventor, among other things, who made great impacts on American history. He was always looking for smart, open-minded young scientists to work for him on his many inventions. Whenever he met someone he thought might make a good candidate, he would take them to dinner. The interview would begin over the table, but the deal was not decided until the food arrived. Edison would watch what the inventor did when the food arrived. If the applicant tasted his food and then salted it, he could be a good addition to the team. If he salted his food before tasting it, the young man was not hired. Edison knew that people who did things automatically and made presumptions without knowledge would not be able to look at problems and find innovative solutions.

On failure / on persistence / on resilience / on believing in yourself

Albert Einstein is widely considered to be one of the most brilliant people who has ever lived. The scientist redefined the way we think of space, time a mass and physics as a whole. But was Einstein always recognized for his brilliance? Apparently not. As a child, Einstein did not starting talking until he was 3 or 4, and could not read until he was seven. He could not remember his own address or his own phone number, and he was unremarkable in school, barely passing. In fact, Einstein failed math and was told by his teacher that he would never amount to anything. When Einstein applied to the Munich Technical Institute in 1898, he was turned down because the institute said that he "showed no promise." However Einstein didn’t get discouraged. Within seven years of being told he would never amount to anything, he had formulated his theory of relativity, which redefined the field of physics. Never believe what someone else thinks of your potential.

On expectations / on being admired / on leadership

A church in New York decided to put up statues of eight of the world's most famous scientists. One of those selected was Albert Einstein. Einstein, who was still living was asked how he felt to be immortalized in stone outside of a church. Einstein answered, "From now on and for the rest of my life, I must be very careful not to commit a scandal." There can be a lot of pressure in being a role model.

On courage / on protest / on love overpowering hate / on social justice

Before taking on the struggle for change in India, the great leader for non-violent change, Gandhi, worked for civil rights in South Africa. In 1913, he led a march of more than 2,000 people to protest the government’s refusal to recognize marriages on people who were not Christian. This position to deny marital rights was due to a South African statesman named General Smuts who refused to recognize anyone who wasn’t Christian as having worth. As Gandhi led the march, they met a line of South African policemen slapping billy clubs in their hands. The police arrested the marchers and sent them to a prison camp where they tried to force them to work in mines. However the people refused and were beaten and many were killed for their refusal. The deaths ignited a nationwide protest in which 50,000 Indian workers refused to work. The protest forced the South African government to change policies and eventually a settlement was reached. The South African government passed the Indian Relief Act, which repealed a heavy tax and recognized Muslim, Parsi and Hindu marriages. So how had Gandhi spent his time while incarcerated? Since he had just led a march, the idea of walking must have been on his mind. He spent his time making a pair of shoes for the very man who had them all imprisoned - Gen. Jan Smuts. Years later, Gen Smuts would meet Gandhi again and apologize for his actions in South Africa. As Gandhi would famously say, "A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave." - This story is adapted from Gandhiji Anecdotes and Quotes by Nenmeli K Srinivasan and published on www.Scribd.com.

On overcoming fear / on courage

Nelson Mandela and Richard Stengel, who worked on his autobiography with him, were flying in a tiny plane over South Africa. It was very small, seating only six people. Nelson Mandela had gotten onto the plane and had seen a newspaper so he started reading it. After years in prison, he loved to read the news since he had been cut off from the world in his prison cell for so long. At one point, Mandela looked up from his paper and out the window, and saw that the propeller on the plane had stopped working. Mandela said very calmly, "Richard, you might want to inform the pilot that the propeller isn’t working." Stengel went to the front of the plane and told the captain, who told Stengel that he knew and he should sit down. He said the airport already had called ambulances and fire trucks and were ready for whatever happened. Stengel reported the message to Mandela, who listened carefully and said, "Yes." Then he continued reading his newspaper. Stengel was terrified and looked over at Mandela who sat calm and composed. It helped Stengel calm down, and he imagined that the prisoners in Robben Island must have also been calmed by Mandela's fearless demeanor. Finally, the plan landed with no problems. Mandela reportedly never changed his expression. After they had disembarked and were inside the airport, Mandela remarked, "Man, I was scared up there." Stengel was surprised because he thought that Mandela really hadn't been scared, he had hidden it so well. Stengel said that he understood why Mandela was so inspiring to so many who were frightened. He was afraid, but hadn’t let it get to him. He inspired courage in others because of his enormous courage.

On setting an example / on equality / on poverty / on social justice

Gandhi, although educated and accustomed to wearing western-style clothes earlier in life, transformed his way of dressing and appearance abruptly in 1921. He decided to do this during a visit to a temple in a very poor region of South India. He was moved when he saw half-naked women on the riverbank washing part of the saris they wore. Those with him said the women washed them while they were wearing them because it was the only sari they owned. Gandhi shaved his head, discarded his clothing and wore only a loin cloth like a poor villager from then on. He would remain so for the rest of his life so he could identify with the poor and downtrodden in India. When asked about his change in appearance, Gandhi replied, "I adopted this change in dress because I always hesitate to advise anything that I may not myself be prepared to follow." - This story is adapted from Gandhiji Anecdotes and Quotes by Nenmeli K Srinivasan and published on www.Scribd.com.

On kindness / on leadership / on compassion

One day Gandhi was meeting with several distinguished British leaders about important political matters. Despite the importance of the subject matter and the prestige of his three guests, Gandhi left the meeting to go to the backyard. The Englishmen followed Gandhi and saw there was a goat who had sprained its leg. Gandhi applied a soft mud pack to its leg to ease its pain. Gandhi later rejoined them, explaining that the goat’s suffering was a more serious matter than the meeting. One of the British leaders felt insulted that he should be less important than a goat and complained, "It surprises me that for such a trifle Gandhi had to break the decorum of this meeting!" A scholar and leader of the independence movement, Mister Azad, was standing nearby. He replied to the British official, “It is, in fact, these trifles that have made Gandhi a Mahatma". Mahatma means mean Great soul. He was a great leader because his kindness and consideration extended even to those who others considered unimportant. - This story is adapted from Gandhiji Anecdotes and Quotes by Nenmeli K Srinivasan and published on www.Scribd.com.

On enjoying the moment / Buddhism stories

One day a man was walking through the forest when a tiger jumped out at him. Frightened, he ran for his life! As he looked behind him to see how close the tiger followed, he suddenly felt himself falling. He had fallen into a well! He grabbed a rope that hung by the side of the well and stopped himself halfway down. It was lucky for him since he looked down and saw a nest of poisonous snakes at the bottom of the well. Just then he heard a twanging sound and noticed that the old, fraying rope from which he hung was straining and held together only by a few strands. It was almost ready to break! Above him the tiger snarled. Below him the snakes hissed. He knew he didn’t have much time, surrounded as he was by danger. Just then he heard a buzz and looked up. In a branch above the well was a massive bee hive. Just then, a glob of golden honey dripped out of the hive and fell down towards him. Opening his mouth, he caught the sticky, sweet honey on his tongue and smiled. “Mmmmmm,” he said to himself. “How sweet it is.”

On making a point

Woodrow Wilson used to tell this story of how he learned to simplify his speaking and focus on a point. He described his father as a very wise man who always had time to sit down and listen to him. Whenever the future president had written an essay for school, he’d bring it to his father who would make him read it out loud. As he read, every once in a while his father would stop him. “What did you mean by that?” he would ask. Then young Woodrow would re-word it, and in doing so, would often explain it more simply and directly than he had on paper. His father would tell him to re-write the paper to explain the point just as he had said it out loud. When he wanted to make his point simply, Wilson would recall one of his father’s sayings: “Don’t shoot at your meaning with bird shot and hit the whole countryside; shoot with a rifle at the thing you have to say.”

On leadership / on setting an example / on humility / on being humble

When traveling by train in India during the colonial era, people had to choose a class in which to travel. The luxurious first class cars were reserved for the British. They were the ruling class. The richer people of India usually traveled by second class which wasn’t quite as nice, but still comfortable. Third class was crowded, dirty and uncomfortable. Although he could afford to travel by second class, Gandhi insisted upon always traveling third class so he could live by his words and experience life as it was experienced by the poor. One day when someone asked him why he always traveled third class, Gandhi responded, "Because, there is no fourth class." Gandhi believed in teaching and living by personal example. - This story is adapted from Gandhiji Anecdotes and Quotes by Nenmeli K Srinivasan and published on www.Scribd.com.

On religious understanding / on equality / on respecting others

While still a young man studying in England, Gandhi read the translation of the sacred Hindu scriptures. After that he read a book about the Buddha. Next he read the New Testament of the Bible. He was especially fond of the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “It went straight to my heart.” Later in life, he read and was able to quote from the Koran. He found beauty in all of the religious texts he read. One reason Gandhi was such a remarkable leader was because he sought to understand and respect people of religious backgrounds. In this way he was able to work for the good of all the people of India, not only the people who shared his beliefs. - This story is adapted from Gandhiji Anecdotes and Quotes by Nenmeli K Srinivasan and published on www.Scribd.com.

On making a difference / on dedication / on social work / on volunteering

A man walking along the beach noticed a woman walking a ways ahead of him. He noticed her strange behavior as she walked just along the edge of the sea where the waves crashed in. The woman would walk a few steps, bend down and pick something up, and then fling it into the ocean. She would take another step, pick something else up and fling that also into the ocean. She continued at an almost manic speed. Wondering what she could be doing, he drew closer her and saw that she was picking up closed clams shells which she then threw back into the sea. He looked around and saw thousands of shells all along the shore line, and every wave brought more. He approached her and asked her, “Why are you bothering to keep throwing those clam shells back in the ocean? Can't you see there are so many? How could you ever hope to make a difference doing that?” She looked at him for a minute, then bent and picked up a shell and lobbed it overhand back into the waves. She looked back at him and said, “It made a world of difference for that one.”

On understanding your employees or audience / on cultural sensitivity / on having a common enemy

In the late 1850s, the British colonial government ruled over India and had been passing laws that many Indians felt were challenging their local customs and causing great social and economic strife. The poor were getting poorer and the old wealthy, Indian aristocracy felt their power being threatened by the British. Hindus and Muslims disliked laws they felt were pushing people to convert to Christianity. Many Indians disliked what was happening and wanted change. However, being a country split between Muslims and Hindus, and with a deep gulf between rich and poor, Indian leaders were having difficulty rallying people to work together in opposition to British rule. Additionally, many previously poor Indians made a good living by working for the British as soldiers, clerks and civil employees so they wanted no part of fighting the British. Anti-British Indian leaders scratched their heads as they wondered, how can we unite all these diverse groups to fight for a common cause? How can we unite people to push back against unfair policies by the British? The answer came in an unexpected place. In 1857, Indian soldiers working for the British were issued a new cartridge for their rifles. To load the rifle, soldiers had to bite it and tear open the greased cartridge with their teeth. Soldiers went ahead and bit the bullets to load their weapons, but outrage exploded among the ranks when they heard that the grease used on the bullets was a mix of pig and cow fat. Muslims don’t eat pork because they believe it is unclean and Hindus don’t eat beef as they believe it is holy, so both Muslims and Hindus were united in their disgust and outrage against the British. It also enflamed the rage of the local people, both rich and poor, who felt their cultural identity as Indians had been insulted. The Indian soldiers mutinied against the British officers, joining with local people to fight the British in a great uprising - what is now known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

On attitude / on trying to do good /

A young Native American boy was sitting and looking at the stars with his wise old grandfather. The grandfather decided to impart some wisdom to the boy. “Each of us is born with two wolves within us,” said the grandfather. “One of them is mean, angry, greedy, arrogant and cruel. It always wants more and blames others for all its problems. It is a miserable, nasty creature. The other wolf is generous, honest, modest, compassionate and strong. It is a noble creature that helps others, is slow to anger and shares what it has. Both of these wolves are within all of us and they fight to see who will get to be the bigger and stronger one and control our inner nature.” The grandson sat and pondered this story for a few moments, feeling the truth of the words washing over him. He had battled his own inner wolves. “But grandfather,” the boy said, “how do we know which one will grow bigger and stronger?” The grandfather smiled at the boy. “Whichever one you feed, my boy. Whichever one you feed.”

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