One of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (according to Stephen Covey) is:

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

What is the origin of this phrase? My guess is that it was inspired by the Prayer of Saint Francis which contains these words:

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

but according to Wikipedia even that cannot be traced back further than 1912.

Did it then originate with Stephen Covey?

2 Answers 2


The 'Belle prière à faire pendant la messe' (A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass) appeared, as you said, in 1912. The first translation in English appeared in 1936 in Living Courageously, a book by Kirby Page (1890-1957).

Steven Covey was born on October 24, 1932. Born into a religious family (Mormon Church), he received a Doctor of Religious Education degree from Brigham Young University. It is far more likely that Covey read it (and perhaps even in Living Corageously) than that he came up with it himself.

I might venture to say that this itself is taught in Proverbs 4:7 (NASB):

The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding.


From an essay at Dominican University, River Forest, IL Online Learning Communities with a Dominican Flair: Arguing for applying the Dominican ethos to online higher education

CarrieLynn D. Reinhard and Claire Noonan (Dominican University)


Timothy Radcliffe recalls the example of St. Dominic “frustrated that he was unable to preach to [German pilgrims] because he did not understand German. And so he said to [Brother Bertrand of Paris], ‘Let us pray that we may understand them so that we may share the good news with them.’ It is interesting that Dominic does not pray that the Germans may understand him.”[14]

[14] Timothy Radcliffe, Why Go To Church?: The Drama of the Eucharist (New York: Continuum, 2008), 59.

  • Although potentially relevant, this seems to be a lot more recent than some of the examples given in the question... Aug 10, 2017 at 4:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.