FACT CHECK: Did Socrates Say, ‘The Secret Of Change Is To Focus All Of Your Energy, Not On Fighting The Old, But On Building The New’?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A post on Facebook claims that ancient Greek philosopher Socrates once stated, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Verdict: False

No sources from the philosopher’s era attribute these words to him. It actually comes from a character in former gymnast Dan Millman’s book.

Fact Check:

Born in Athens, Greece, around 470 B.C., Socrates pioneered the “Socratic Method” of question-and-answer-based dialogue and taught historically significant philosophical figures like Plato and Xenophon. He is widely considered a foundational figure in Western philosophy. (RELATED: Did Plato Say, ‘Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of War’?)

“Socrates wrote nothing so everything we think he ‘said’ is always attributed to him by another source: Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes, et cetera,” said University of Michigan professor and Socrates expert Sara Ahbel-Rappe in an email to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

However, neither Plato nor Xenophon attribute the expression to Socrates in their works. It appears nowhere in Plato’s “The Socratic Dialogues” or Xenophon’s “Conversations with Socrates.”

“I can definitely say that no ancient source ever attributed anything like this statement to Socrates,” said Ahbel-Rappe. “Socrates was not interested in change at all, at least in the sense of fomenting political change. Nor did he concern himself with political fights, but only with the revolution within.”

The quote actually originated in former gymnast Millman’s 1980 fictionalized memoir “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” in which a character nicknamed Socrates offered the saying as a piece of advice, according to the website Quote Investigator.

“You have many habits that weaken you,” said the character. “The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” (The wording varies slightly in later versions of the book.)

“The reassignment of the quotation to the Greek luminary was, no doubt, facilitated by confusion between the matching names,” wrote Quote Investigator. “This is a known mechanism for misattribution.”

White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump shared the misattributed quote on Twitter in 2018. She later deleted it and tweeted the quote again, noting it came from the fictional character.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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