Ancient wisdom

3 min readSep 4, 2023

Why We Misattribute Quotes

Non-indigenous North Americans are always attributing wise sayings to Native Americans, or to ancient Chinese proverbs. Some are said to be from Chief Seattle, others supposedly come from “Ancient Indian Lore.” This afternoon, I came across a plaque on a hiking trail with the familiar saying, “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” It was followed by the phrase, “Native American Saying.” Interestingly, a quick search on the internet reveals that this saying is attributed varyingly to Native Americans and to ancient Chinese proverbs.

The people who attribute these things to Native Americans apparently don’t bother to research which tribe, if any, actually said it. it just seems like something wise people of the Earth would say.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick,” – Ancient Native American saying

This sort of superficial glorification dehumanizes Native Americans and Chinese people just as negative stereotypes do. Not every mysterious sounding soundbite has its origins in ancient or indigenous culture. On the other hand, Native American and Chinese cultures are among the oldest on Earth, so it makes sense that there would be a lot of wisdom developed by these cultures and passed down through the ages.