the world according to my heroes – Barack Obama

For those not familiar with this series: I extrapolate quotations from those who influence me strongly to apply to playwrighting and theater.  And life.

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.

[on revisions] You can’t let your failures define you — you have to let your failures teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently the next time.

[on making a living as an artist] Money is not the only answer, but it makes a difference.

[on the value of playwrights in today’s world] Today we are engaged in a deadly global struggle for those who would intimidate, torture, and murder people for exercising the most basic freedoms. If we are to win this struggle and spread those freedoms, we must keep our own moral compass pointed in a true direction.

[on supporting one’s colleagues] I think when you spread the wealth around it’s good for everybody.

[on the people we pay through the nose to look after our interests (couldn’t resist)] What Washington needs is adult supervision.

[on the financial difficulties inherent in being an artist] We live in a culture that discourages empathy. A culture that too often tells us our principal goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained.

[on writing about what matters] Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop.

[on getting productions] In this new, hyper-competitive age, none of us, none of us can afford to be complacent.

[on the 10-minute play] The thing about hip-hop today is it’s smart, it’s insightful. The way they can communicate a complex message in a very short space is remarkable.

[on structure] A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, ‘Huh. It works. It makes sense.’

[on personal responsibility] Everyone should try to realize their full potential.

[on putting ourselves on the line] Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

[on collaborating] You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or patriotism.

[on a playwright’s social responsibility] This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.

[more on collaboration] We can’t expect to solve problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it.

[on wrighting relevant theater for electronics-addled audiences] We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics. They will only grow louder and more dissonant in the weeks to come. We’ve been asked to pause for a reality check; we’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

[on oeuvre] You can’t rest on your laurels. Your own body of work is yet to come.

[on what we owe to the air we breathe] I’ve come to embrace the notion that I haven’t done enough in my life. I’ve come to confirm that one’s title, even a title like president of the United States, says very little about how well one’s life has been led. No matter how much you’ve done or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, always more to learn, and always more to achieve.

[on working with prima donnas] Hostility and hatred are no match for justice; they offer no pathway to peace.

[on creating] Acts of sacrifice and decency without regard to what’s in it for you create ripple effects.

[on learning the craft before you try to ply it as a trade] In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

[on breathing] It may make your blood boil and your mind may not be changed, but the practice of listening to opposing views is essential.

[on Hollywood] The elevation of appearance over substance, of celebrity over character, of short term gains over lasting achievement displays a poverty of ambition. It distracts you from what’s truly important.

[on prompts] I’m happy to get good ideas from across the political spectrum, from Democrats and Republicans.

[on fighting toward a decent world] We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.

[on rewrites] If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.

[and my personal favorite] I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a teacher or plumber is class warfare.

[bonus, other current favorite] If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.


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