Maya Angelou’s Myth

Posted on March 14, 2018 by Nate Regier / 2 comments
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Maya Angelou’s most famous quote might be this one:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
And, it’s based on a Myth. Nobody can make you feel anything. People can do all sorts of hateful and hurtful things. These behaviors can be strong invitations to feel a certain way, but they are only invitations. Only you can give consent for your feelings. If you believe others can make you feel good, or bad, you’ve given up control over your dignity and self-determination.
I’m sure that wasn’t the intent of Angelou’s statement. I know that because she also said this:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
Our attitudes about ourselves and others is probably the biggest determinant of how we will feel about their behavior.
If my attitude is that I am only OK if I please you, then I will allow you to “make me feel bad” or “make me feel good” and give in to keep the peace.
If my attitude about you is that you are lazy and uncommitted, then I will try to “make you feel bad” to get what I want.
What attitudes do you hold that invite you to believe the Myth that others can make you feel?
What can you change today to take back control over your emotions and behavior?
Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2018

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2 Comments

Photo of Bev Baumgartner
Bev Baumgartner
Posted on April 2, 2018

Thank you! I really appreciate you all taking on this often-cited quote.

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Nate Regier
Posted on April 3, 2018

Yeah, as much as I admire her, this quote has always bothered me.

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Marcos M
Posted on June 4, 2022

You misunderstand the quote. Ms. Angelou was referring to the “impression” taken away from a person’s overall comportment and disposition. Though she uses the word “feel,” she is relating how we evaluate interpersonal relationships, especially fleeting ones, based on relatability, sincerity and attitude. The quote’s intention is to school us on being amicable in our interactions. Not to justify the way a person made us feel in the moment. Ms. Angelou certainly understood and espoused the idea that feelings may be felt in the moment but that they should be transient and not inform our emotions and sense of self beyond immediate reflection.
I hope this clarifies any prior misapprehension.

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Nate Regier
Posted on June 4, 2022

Thanks for your comment, Marcos. Indeed, Ms. Angelou was referring to our impression. However, the word “feel” isn’t the real issue. The issue is “made them.” I don’t believe anyone can make another person feel a certain way. If I re-wrote her quote, it would say, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget they felt around you.”

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Wade Spencer
Posted on November 12, 2018

I like the phase; it resonates with the heart. But, as you have indicated, it gets into trouble by passing off accountability. Pascal said, “The heart knows reason that reason does not know.” It’d be interesting to see how Angelou and Pascal would get along. 🙂

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