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  • Writer's pictureDaniel T. Dodaro

The Problem with Proverbs

Updated: Feb 23

Adages. Proverbs. Quotes. Sayings that speak to a general truth. Let's explore! | Written by Daniel T. Dodaro



Adages. Proverbs. Quotes. Sayings that speak to a general truth.


Each is a tiny tidbit of wisdom that gets us through the day, week, and year. We live by them. We learn by them. We even die by them.


Proverbs sometimes originate from the dusty past, blown forward through history on account of their timeless nature and wisdom.


Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”


Marcus Aurelius said, “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”


Sun Tzu said, “If you are far from the enemy, make him believe you are near.”


Proverbs can also spawn out of the fast-paced humdrum of the modern world. Novelists. Songwriters. Screenplay Writers. Advertisers. Game Developers. Corporate Slogan creators (bleh).


J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”


Fyodor Dostoevsky, author of Brothers Karamazov, said, “The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone.”


Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer, creators of The Dark Knight, said, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”


Skyrim, the videogame developed by Bethesda, has this startlingly deep quote, “What is better — to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?”


So, in summary, proverbs are great, right? Everyone has a couple that they hold dear, so I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there that is outright anti-proverb (“Damn Proverbs!” screamed that one person that one time in North Dakota).


But proverbs can also be rather constricting, can’t they? That’s what I want to briefly explore in this post because I think it is incredibly important; if not for anyone reading this, then at least for myself. Sometimes, we have a tendency to find a new quote (from a book, movie, Instagram page), and we suddenly feel like we have to twist our entire life to conform to it. Let’s look at why that might not always be a good idea.


Let’s Look at Some Examples:


Organization/Disorganization


Anonymous said, “Organization is the key to success.”


A . A. Milne said, “One of the advantages of being disorganized is the joy of discovery.”


Introversion/Extroversion


Pablo Picasso said, “without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”


Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”


Pro-Optimism/Pro-Pessimism


Winston Churchill said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”


Mark Twain said, “The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it he knows too little.”


Night/Days


John Florio said, “Night is the mother of thoughts.”


William Blake said, “Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.”


Escapism/Realism


Virginia Woolf said, “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”


Ruth Rendell said, “Some say life is the thing, but I prefer reading.”


And here lies the problem. Every proverb has its antithesis. One person might find success using Principle A while another person might find a similar level of success by using Principal B. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, this is really just a side effect of the diversity of life. We all grow in different environments. We all find our best selves by traveling down different roads.


So, in this very short post, I offer this bit of advice: every time you feel really inspired by a proverb, remember to keep in mind that there is someone else out there living by its antithesis. And that doesn’t make that person bad. It might really work for them.


So, don’t suddenly feel the need to rethink your entire life just because it was posted by some influencer you admire or spoken by some philosopher you think is the authority on all subjects (I’m talking about you guys, Aristotelians). Celebrate opposing lifestyles. If one quote inspires you, live by it. If it starts to feel too constricting, put it aside. Easy come, easy go.


Proverbs are the best. They put life plans into tiny, digestible quips. They give us mantras to live by. Just don’t let them confine you. Don’t forget that there is always a reverse that could sound just as inspiring to a different you, living a different version of your life.


So, yeah, proverbs are great — just take it easy, okay?



This article was written by Daniel T. Dodaro, the author of Death, the Gardener.


All stories begin and end with a question. It is up to each and every one of us to discover what that question is.

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2 Σχόλια


Πελάτης
19 Οκτ 2023

You mention the following, "if one quote inspires you, live by it. If it starts to feel too constricting, put it aside. Easy come, easy go." I wonder if it is really that easy.

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Πελάτης
19 Οκτ 2023

I found the second portion of this post intriguing; specifically, the part stating that "every proverb has its antithesis. One person might find success using Principle A while another person might find a similar level of success by using Principal B." However, I wish you had started with the second portion of your post and followed it with the examples of this. Overall, the points you made are valuable and worthy of discussion.

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