Robert Fulghum (born 4 June 1937) is an American author, primarily of short essays. He has worked as a Unitarian minister (at the Edmonds Unitarian Church in Edmonds, Washington amongst other communities), artist, and teacher as well. He came to prominence in the US when his first collection, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1986), stayed on the New York Times bestseller lists for nearly two years.
- I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge —
That myth is more potent than history.
I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts —
That hope always triumphs over experience —
That laughter is the only cure for grief.
And I believe that love is stronger than death.
- I don't do art to address other people but to address myself. I've never done art with a thought of being a professional artist who makes a living by selling his art. I've never had a commercial show in a gallery. I suppose I'm like those who write poetry or songs without seeking publication. I make art in and for the experience itself — to satisfy a need to express myself in a creative, colorful, non-verbal way.
- The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be.
- It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It (1988)
- For all my good intentions, there are days when things go wrong or I fall into old habits. When things are not going well, when I'm grumpy or mad, I'll realize that I've not been paying attention to my soul and I've not been following my best routine.
- "Pay Attention" in Handbook for the Soul (1995) edited by Benjamin Shield
- The older I get, the more I realize the importance of exercising the various dimensions of my body, soul, mind and heart. Taken together, these aspects give me a sense of wholeness. I want to be a whole human being rather than one who limps on one leg because I don't know how to use all of my parts. Intellectual, emotional, and physical activity are not separate entities. Rather, they are dimensions of the same human being.
- "Pay Attention" in Handbook for the Soul (1995) edited by Benjamin Shield
- My convictions have validity for me because I have experimented with the compounds of ideas of others in the laboratory of my mind. And I've tested the results in the living out of my life. At twenty-one, I had drawn an abstract map based on the evidence of others. At sixty, I have accumulated a practical guide grounded in my own experience. At twenty-one, I could discuss transportation theory with authority. At sixty, I know which bus to catch to go where, what the fare is, and how to get back home again. It is not my bus, but I know how to use it.
- Words I Wish I Wrote (1997)
- To insist on one's place in the scheme of things and to live up to that place.
To empower others in their reaching for some place in the scheme of things.
To do these things is to make fairy tales come true.
- Uh-Oh: Some Observations from Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door (2001), p. 43
- One of life's best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you've got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.
- Uh-Oh: Some Observations from Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door (2001), p. 146
- Love the battle between chaos and imagination.
Remember: Acting is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances.
Remember: Acting is the way to live the greatest number of lives.
Remember: Acting is the same as real life, lived intentionally.
Never forget: The Fruit is out on the end of the limb. Go there.
- "Alice-Alice" in Third Wish (2006)
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1986)
- All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things ISBN 0449908577
- Too much high-content information, and I get the existential willies. I keep sputtering out at intersections where life choices must be made and I either know too much or not enough. The examined life is no picnic.
- All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned. These are the things you already know:
- Share everything.
- Play Fair.
- Don’t hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
- Live a balanced life — learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
- Be aware of wonder. And then remember the Dick and Jane books and the first word you learned — the biggest word of all — LOOK.
- Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all — the whole world — had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are — when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
- A six-year-old will not understand that “By and large it has been demonstrated that violence is counterproductive to the constructive interaction of persons and societies.” True. But a child can better understand that the rule out in the world and in the school is the same: Don’t hit people. Bad things happen. The child must understand this rule is connected to the first rule: People won’t share or play fair if you hit them.
- It’s hard to explain the cost and consequences of environmental pollution and destruction to a six year old. But we are paying a desperate price even now because adults did not heed the instructions of kindergarten: Clean up your own mess; put things back where you found them; don’t take what’s not yours.
- From the first day we are told in words we can handle what has come to be prized as the foundation of community and culture. Though the teacher may call these first lessons “simple rules,” they are in fact the distillation of all the hard-won, field-tested working standards of the human enterprise.
- Knowledge is meaningful only if it is reflected in action. The human race has found out the hard way that we are what we do, not just what we think. This is true for kids and adults — for schoolrooms and nations.
- Life-and-death. Lifedeath. One event. One short event. Don’t forget.
- There’s another thing not everyone figures out right away: It’s almost impossible to go through life all alone. We need to find our support group — family, friends, companion, therapy gatherings, team, church or whatever. The kindergarten admonition applies as long as we live: “When you go out into the world, hold hands and stick together.” It’s dangerous out there — lonely, too. Everyone needs someone. Some assembly is always required.
- What we learn in kindergarten comes up again and again in our lives as long as we live. In far more complex, polysyllabic forms, to be sure. In lectures, encyclopedias, bibles, company rules, courts of law, sermons, and handbooks. Life will examine us continually to see if we have understood and have practiced what we were taught that first year of school.
- You can't always explain everything you do to everybody, you know.
- Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.
- There are places we all come from — deep-rooty-common places — that make us who they are. And we disdain them or treat them lightly at our peril. We turn our backs on them at the risk of self-contempt. There is a sense in which we need to go home again — and can go home again. Not to recover home, no. But to sanctify memory.
- Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A Beauty Bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air — explode softly — and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to earth — boxes of Crayolas. And we wouldn't go cheap either — not little boxes of eight. Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in. With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peace and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination instead of death. A child who touched one wouldn't have his hand blown off.
- I recall an old Sufi story of a good man who was granted one wish by God. The man said he would like to go about doing good without knowing about it. God granted his wish. And then God decided that it was such a good idea, he would grant that wish to all human beings.
And so it has been to this day.
Robert Fulghum : Philosopher King
- I play in a rock and roll band called The Rock Bottom Remainders. It's other authors. It's Stephen King and Amy Tan and Dave Barry and a bunch of others of us. We play to raise money for charities, because we're kind of a freak show, but we're not bad. I play a guitar and a mandocello... And since you don't know what a mandocello sounds like or how it should be played, you can say with some authority I'm the most interesting mandocello player you've ever heard. Anyhow, we're in this hotel and this maid comes in and she keeps looking at me and she smiled and she said, "I know who you are." And I said, "No you don't. Who am I?" And said, "You're Kenny Rogers." And I of course said, "No, no, no." And she said, "If you were Kenny Rogers you wouldn't say you were Kenny Rogers would you? So you must be Kenny Rogers." ... So that evening I'm walking along with my guitars going to the elevator and she went up like a skyrocket, "See! I knew you were Kenny Rogers!" So I signed her card, "Love and kisses, Kenny Rogers."
- I did not set out to be a writer. It's something that came to me after I was 50 years of age. And I already had the life that I wanted and the wife I wanted and at that age I was fairly clear about what was important. The success that my writing is enjoying is like finding out your rich uncle has left you a train full of hammers. I mean, how many hammers can you use? It's chocolate syrup. It's an extra. So I take it very lightly. And if I were to fall off the charts tomorrow, I've already had more fame than I deserve and more money than I've ever had in my life. The thought that I could finally pay off my Visa bill! That's rich.
- The kindergarten essay got into that underground press we all belong to where something just sort of has a life of its own and moves around and it gets on refrigerators and in the work place and people copy it... I was a minister in the Unitarian church at the time and teaching and I was ready to stop that and do the next phase of my life. So I had quit both those jobs and I was all set up with my studio in Seattle when this other horse came riding by ... I'm not a great writer and I'll never get the Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer Prize but I've won the refrigerator door award. And you don't see Faulkner on people's refrigerator.
- We've associated that word philosophy with academic study that in its own way has gotten so far beyond the layman that if you read contemporary philosophy you've no clue, because it's almost become math. And it's odd that if you don't do that and you call yourself a philosopher that you always get 'homespun' attached to it.
- I tend to keep books of art more than anything else now. I'm interested in visual things. And astronomy books. Things you can look at over and over and over again and see something new. ... My notions of God and the universe have always been too small. And limited by language. So now I'm looking at picture books. My children say I'm just beginning to enter my dotage: can't read, just looks at picture books.
- I don't think the thing is to be well known, but being worth knowing.
- The four of us are talking dancing, and laughing, and recalling the joys of being out on the floor and having that timeless feeling that comes from being caught up in the music. "Nobody should miss that," says Dave.
On the face of it, Dave's family and I don't have a lot in common. They're Mormons and Republicans. I'm a Unitarian and a Democrat. When Dave was on the County Council, we were on different sides of some important issues. I grew up a Southern Baptist in Texas where dancing was a mortal sin in the eyes of Almighty God, but coffee was OK. Dave grew up a Latter Day Saint where dancing was considered righteous – but not coffee.
But . . . we're dancers. And laughers. That's a strong bond right there. And we're committed to being useful in our world. And if you love something, like dancing, and you pass it on, like Dave and his wife do, you've been very useful by my standards. Dancing is a lifetime, equal opportunity sport.
And I will never drive by Dave's garage again without having the finest feelings for the man and his wife and mother who are inside taking good care of their corner of this world. They've added an important dimension to the lives of the young people of their town - that lightness of being that belongs to dancers.
- Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.
- I was 23 when I came to Bellingham in 1960 — from Mars, they must have thought. I've always had a very sentimental feeling about the importance of that first ministry in my life.
- I've always thought anyone can make money. Making a life worth living, that's the real test.
- If you want an interesting party sometime, combine cocktails and a fresh box of crayons for everyone.
- It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber.
- Living things have been doing just that for a long, long time. Through every kind of disaster and setback and catastrophe. We are survivors.
- Peace is not something you wish for; It's something you make, Something you do, Something you are, And something you give away.
- The world does not need tourists who ride by in a bus clucking their tongues. The world as it is needs those who will love it enough to change it, with what they have, where they are.
- The closing of this quote is derived from a statement of Theodore Roosevelt:
- To be human is to keep rattling the bars of the cage of existence hollering, What's it for?