Maya Angelou on understanding character

This is a fantastic Maya Angelou quote:
I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
I'd give myself a 7/10 on the luggage thing, a 9/10 on the rain, and a 5/10 on the lights. Lots of room for improvement. MALZ WERLD (via Kottke)


  1. I haven’t found anything conclusive yet, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t in fact say that. It appears to be an email forward attributed to her, which is basically a guarantee that she didn’t write it. (Although even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while. Mark Twain said that.)

  2. Let’s see, the one time an airline lost my luggage, they delivered it the next day. It was no big deal, so I’d say I’m good on the luggage thing (anything really important is in carry-on). Just last week, I forgot to bring an umbrella and got caught in a torrential downpour. Hey, after a certain point, you can’t get any more wet, right? And I don’t own any Christmas lights.

  3. Giving a score out of ten surely misses the entire point of the quote (no matter who it was who came up with it)- it’s ‘the way’ the things are handled, not ‘how well’ they are handled.

  4. I think a good telltale of personality is how one behaves:
    With a kitten
    When your smitten
    When you’ve lost your favorite mitten

    Any other indicators are phony baloney!

  5. “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things: burnt popcorn, a car wreck, and a broken fingernail.” Insert any three things that are challenging to deal with.

    It’s a purely substanceless quote, and in fact means nothing but simply infers some value upon someone’s character in a crisis without actually attributing any. You can tell a lot about someone by the way they handle any challenge.

  6. These are inherently flawed measures of character (too dependent on personality) – I love rainy days, find them very motivating and inspiring. Losing luggage is simply vindication of my low view of the airline industry. I’m so OCD that I could spend an afternoon fixing knots of cables and come out grinning.

    However, give me bad traffic, a telemarketer and a credit card that doesn’t seem to work when I need it, and I’ll be a minute shy of snapping into full-blown ax murderer.

  7. not sure about the rest, but this one is somehow useful:
    “I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.”

  8. Ok, new personality stress indicators:

    -How you react to watching your child scanned for the fifth time by an insistent, ham-handed TSA employee

    -The way you behave when tasered repeatedly at your own wedding reception

    -Your reaction to a monkey running around your subway platform

  9. Where I live, we’ve had constant rain, drizzle and fog since the last week of July. There has been 4 sunny days. Even today is a ‘nice’ day and you can’t see the blue of the sky.

    There’s only so much rain I can take :(

  10. @#12 Misssavitri

    Hey, I’ll take some of that rain! Two weeks w/o any here in my part of Michigan, which is ODD.

  11. @11 JG: How about the way you behave at your wedding reception before the cops turn up with tasers to ask you to be good?

    I’m good with tangled Christmas lights. I sit down and untangle them. It’s a nice, easy, solvable problem – entirely unlike the metaphorical tangle of the multithreaded code I have to deal with at work.

  12. I suspect the best measure of character is how you respond to someone honestly trying with all their might to kill you.

    If you are a Quaker and you fight back, or you shill for Ayn Rand on the Internet and you cry out for help… you get my drift. Do you hold to your principles when your life is on the line? Can you be an atheist in your foxhole?


  13. Again with that polytheist Angelou, I’m slightly surprised to find out that Eddie Rabbitt is one of her gods.

    It does seem that all three criteria are wholesale stolen from John Hughes movies.

  14. This post interested me in the whole “you can tell a lot about a person…” mode of thinking. It seems that everyone on the web has a different idea of what tells you most about a person, from “the way they break wind” to what song they would want “to play over the end credits of their life”.

    Heres my Google Notebook site with a list of things that “tell you a lot about a person”:

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