Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Ellen Goodman

American Journalist, Speaker and Pulitzer Prize-winning Syndicated Columnist

"For most Americans the sexual revolution was not a vast national orgy of swingers. There was never widespread approval of adultery or promiscuity. The revolution - evolution is a better word - appeared rather as a massive questioning of the double standard and the sexual constraints we grew up with."

"The adult world is... built on the shifting grounds of friendship and competition. The double message of this society and economy are to get along and get ahead. We want our children to fit in and to stand out. We rarely address the conflict between these goals."

"It is one thing when business is interested in young people as students. Quite another when they are interested in students as consumers. It is one thing when the marketplace supports the schools. Quite another when the schools become a marketplace."

"The figures prove that the absolute easiest way to be poor is to be born out of wedlock to a young woman. If you need a statistic to memorize, try this one: 92.8 percent of all children in black, single female-headed families where the mother is under thirty and did not complete high school, are in poverty."

"Once upon a time we were just plain people. But that was before we began having relationships with mechanical systems. Get involved with a machine and sooner or later you are reduced to a factor."

"Public smoking, like public spitting, is becoming a socially unacceptable habit."

"There is no shower for a woman when she completes the trimester of her life spent as a full-time mother. There is no midwife to help that woman deliver a healthy adult."

"We are at ease with a moral judgment made against someone’s private sin - lust or greed. We are much less comfortable judging someone’s public ethic - those decisions that can lead to such outcomes as aggression, the abuse of the environment, the neglect of the needy."

"The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears."

"In journalism, there has always been a tension between getting it first and getting it right."

"Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe, aren't even aware of."

"The things we hate about ourselves aren't more real than things we like about ourselves."

"All in all, I am not surprised that the people who want to unravel the social contract start with young adults. Those who are urged to feel afraid, very afraid, have both the greatest sense of independence and the most finely honed skepticism about government."

"Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to them. Once the chorus of cultural values was full of ministers, teachers, neighbors, leaders. They demanded more conformity, but offered more support. Now the messengers are violent cartoon characters, rappers and celebrities selling sneakers. Parents are considered "responsible" only if they are successful in their resistance. That's what makes child-raising harder. It's not just that American families have less time with their kids; it's that we have to spend more of this time doing battle with our own culture."

"As for keeping the attack dogs from nibbling away your courage? My theory, after decades in this business, is that you only give a few people the right to make you feel rotten. You have a handful of chits to give out, penuriously, to those you trust and respect. You don't give them to just anyone with an e-mail address and an epithet."

"Civility, it is said, means obeying the unenforceable."

"How come pleasure never makes it on to ... a dutiful list of do's and don'ts? Doesn't joy also get soft and flabby if you neglect to exercise it?"

"I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference."

"I regard this novel as a work without redeeming social value, unless it can be recycled as a cardboard box."

"I write about different things than other columnists. But I do it out of a sense of news judgment. The major stories today are the family and what I call life-and-death issues."

"If there's a single message passed down from each generation of American parents to their children, it is a two-word line: Better Yourself. And if there's a temple of self-betterment in each town, it is the local school. We have worshiped there for some time."

"If women can sleep their way to the top, how come they aren't there?"

"In the biotech revolution, it is the human body, not iron or steel or plastic, that's at the source. Are the biocapitalists going to be allowed to dig without consent into our genetic codes, then market them?"

"Maybe at 20 you can write well, but I don’t think you could do what I do. Some things have to happen to you first."

"Most people do not consider dawn to be an attractive experience - unless they are still up."

"My generation is the first in my species to have put fitness next to godliness on the scale of things. Keeping in shape has become THE imperative of our middle age. The heaviest burden of guilt we carry into our forties is flab. Our sense of failure is measured by the grade on a stress test."

"Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it."

"People have been writing premature obituaries on the women's movement since its beginning."

"Politics isn't polarized between ideas as much as it is divided between teams in an endless color war. The famous geopolitical map of 2000 painted the states red and blue."

"Pro-choice supporters are often heard using the cool language of the courts and the vocabulary of rights. Americans who are deeply ambivalent about abortion often miss the sound of caring."

"The millions of women who have had abortions do not regard them as a victory. For most they were failures — whether of contraception or relationships — accompanied by mixed feelings of regret and relief."

"The people often slandered as greedy geezers seem to have a perspective from their place in history. The elders in my family remember the Depression. The baby boomers remember dot-com boom and bust. We all have albums of best laid plans."

"The world [in 2003] seemed to divide between international fundamentalists who want to keep women veiled and Internet spammers who want to unveil them on your computer screen."

"There’s a trick to the 'graceful exit.' It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over — and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out."

"Values are not trendy items that are casually traded in."

"We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck... But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness."

"We criticize mothers for closeness. We criticize fathers for distance. How many of us have expected less from our fathers and appreciated what they gave us more? How many of us always let them off the hook?"

"We owned what we learned back there; the experience and the growth are grafted into our lives."

"We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives ... not looking for flaws, but for potential."

"Well, I do not think that women should train in the Ann Coulter School of Opinion-Hurling. I avoid leaving teeth marks on innocent ankles. We don't need more women — or men — in the Strunk and Food Fight Stylebook. There are many ways to be heard. But writing out loud, saying what you think on the op-ed page or in the blogosphere, on talk radio or in politics, requires a little hide-toughening."

"What do I want to take home from my summer vacation? Time. The wonderful luxury of being at rest. The days when you shut down the mental machinery that keeps life on track and let life simply wander. The days when you stop planning, analyzing, thinking and just are. Summer is my period of grace."

"What he labels sexual, she labels harassment."

"When speech is divorced from speaker and word from meaning, what is left is just ritual, language as ritual."

"When we describe what the other person is really like, I suppose we often picture what we want. We look through the prism of our need."

"When you live alone, you can be sure that the person who squeezed the toothpaste tube in the middle wasn't committing a hostile act."

"Would somebody please tell George W. Bush that he is not Commander in Chief of the Judiciary? No matter how 'hot' he looked in his flight suit, black robes require a cooler demeanor."

"You can fire your secretary, divorce your spouse, abandon your children. But they remain your co-authors forever."

"You can teach someone who cares to write columns, but you can’t teach someone who writes columns to care."