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Current Reactions to 18 Ancient Proverbs

Amplification of or dissent from time-honored distilled wisdom.

Key points

  • Proverbs are time-honored, distilled wisdom. Don't dismiss their value because they're a cliche.
  • Many proverbs decry procrastination. It's one of humankind's long-standing curses.
  • Many proverbs urge discernment over value-void acceptance.
Leroy Skalstad, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Leroy Skalstad, Pixabay, Public Domain

I’ve grown convinced that we benefit most from the brief. Proverbs are a particularly potent example of brevity. Proverbs are time-honored, distilled wisdom. Here are 18. For each, I amplify or dissent.

Among the blind, the one-eyed person is king. For most people, the benefits of being successful in a smaller sphere outweigh the risks and even the benefits of trying in a bigger one.

Consider, for example, the psychotherapist who, rather than become the zillionth shrink in New York City, sets up shop in a small town that has no therapists. Or the actor who chooses to have a day job and do community theatre after work, where she can routinely get great roles. Compare that with the Broadway aspirant who, despite years and a fortune in training, must traipse to cattle call after cattle call and is grateful for a small role and a subsistence living.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Right. When you want to offer a suggestion, make it once, or at most, after an objection, one counter. After that, if you keep trying to drag the horse to the water, you're more likely to have the horse kick you than to make it comply.

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Ir may be more potent to offer honey while threatening vinegar. For example, mightn't many people be motivated to work hard if they get both praise for good work and threat of criticism or even termination for the bad?

Silence is half consent. When trying to change someone’s mind, it's rare that someone will gush, "Thanks for the great idea!" Often, the best we can hope for is to have planted a seed, which is evinced only by silence.

Blood is thicker than water. Not necessarily. After all, we’re thrust into family by chance, friends by choice.

A leopard can’t change its spots. Right. In self-help and even counseling, it’s wise to avoid hubris: Better to assume the person's personality won't change radically. than to try a personality transplant.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. That need be weighed against, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

An idle brain is the devil’s workshop. Right. Not being busy leaves too much time for mischief and for worry, usually unproductive worry. A number of my previously worry-ridden clients said that they got too busy to worry.

A bad worker blames the tools. Great writers can write on a cheap computer, great teachers and therapists in a rundown building.

Beauty is only skin deep. Alas, humankind often falls for the packaging, blinded to the product inside.

A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. Right. Period.

Actions speak louder than words. Right. Many people can talk a good game, but it’s far easier to talk than to walk. Hypocrisy is too frequent. To wit, the many well-off people who claim to care deeply for the poor but wouldn't give them half their net worth or even invite them to live in their spare bedroom.

Don’t cast pearls before swine. Indeed, it’s wise to husband our efforts where we think they’ll yield the biggest difference.

An empty vessel makes much noise. Right. We've all heard loud-and-proud types who clearly seem to be empty vessels.

Too many cooks spoil the broth. Individual initiative is often dismissed as too hierarchical, cowboy-like. Yet team decision-making tends to lead to tepid, lowest-common-denominator plans, those that all the team members, tired of the endless back-and-forth, can accept, if only by holding their nose.

Never test a water’s depth with both feet. Low-risk action, a pilot test, usually is wise and can make the fearful rise from excess rumination to the empiricism that provides early feedback. That feedback is often crucial to wisely deciding whether to revise, expand, or cut the project.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. If only people would listen to that. Procrastination is a career killer, relationship killer, life dissipator.

The early bird catches the worm. See previous comment.

A thing begun is half done. Yes, often, the hardest part is making yourself get started. Try the one-second start: What’s the first one-second part of the task?” Even if something as simple as opening a file can be enough to take advantage of the law of motion: An object in motion, in motion.

The takeaway

So, is there at least one thing you want to do differently, more of, or less of, as a result of considering those proverbs or my comments?

I read this aloud on YouTube.