Proverbs – Nonsense Disguised as Wisdom

Proverbs of various types are little snippets that purport to convey great wisdom. Unfortunately life is full of complex problems and a statement of less than a dozen words can be expected to fail miserably. However, each generation teaches these to their young, thereby perpetuating the practice. Worse, if you think about many of them they make no sense whatsoever. Part of this is because of their age. They are as meaningful to modern people as saying “Hit Control, Alt, Delete” to someone in the 12th century.

“It warms the cockles of my heart.” – After many years in the healthcare industry, I’ve yet to find anyone who can show me, or even identify a cardiac cockle.

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” – First off, a penny hasn’t been worth anything in quite a while – the government keeps trying to find a way to stop minting them. Secondly, if it’s earned, does this mean we have to pay income tax on it? Hardly an incentive.

“Being at death’s door.” – We use this expression to indicate someone is seriously ill. For less serious illnesses, shouldn’t we say something like, “Sitting on the front porch of the house up the street from Death?”

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” – Ewww. Not to mention you could get thirty years in prison.

“The exception that proves the rule.” – This is wrong on so many levels it isn’t even funny.

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” – With the exception of my parrot, Alex, I prefer that birds stay in the trees and bushes where they belong.

“A friend in need is a friend indeed.” – Seems to me a friend who shows up with cold beer and hot pizza would be a better candidate than one always asking for something.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Perhaps once upon a time, but in these days of instant gratification it is more likely to lead to a breakup.

“You can’t tell a book by its cover.” – The why do publishers spend all that money on cover art; If it’s got a muscular man with no shirt – it’s a romance novel. If it’s got long shadows it’s a mystery. And if all else fails, read the title “Freshman Physics” is a dead giveaway.

And finally,

“Nothing succeeds like success.” – And nothing fails like failure. Nothing is more sugary than sugar. Nothing is saltier than salt. Etc.


2 responses to “Proverbs – Nonsense Disguised as Wisdom

  1. Rick Martinez

    Wow, Steve. Coming from the master of words, thoughts, and “story- telling,” I can’t believe YOU don’t believe in the purpose and utilization of proverbs. Unless–being the genius you are–you wrote this blog just to stir up the thinking and emotions of your readership. You have seen me wear my once stylish, 40 year old, “college” burgandy penny loafers over
    these recent years to all medical meetings since we met. Yes, my loafers have come in style again…or at least I think so. So, I can say with personal testimony: What’s “new age” is act-u-all-y “age old.”

    Or quite literally, Steve, is memory…what we forget with?

    Speaking of pennies, I bet you cannot go into a store and be short a penny or two–and come out of that store with the item you wanted to purchase. When in medical school many years ago, I had just mowed a lawn and made an extra $10. Priscilla, my wife, had worn an old pair of tennis shoes with a hole in them for awhile. Well, I decided to take her to J.C. Penny’s to buy her a new pair for $9.99. She tried them on and we threw the others out right there in the store. When we got to the counter, I forgot about the taxes, and guess what? I didn’t have the additional 8 cents. Priscilla and I had to go back to the trash can to get her old pair. But, Steve, “The good times we put in our pocket: The hard times we put in our heart.”

    And about those friends in need and in “deed,” to some degree I think even the bible agrees with you, for it instructs us “Be not a lender or a borrower.” My dad used to give credit to hundreds of needy families at his local neighbor stores. Dad was also a farmer and had work for thousands of people during the Dust Bowl and Depression era. Guess who loved dad and who hated him? Yup, the ones he gave credit to hated dad. My dad surmised “we “lend” to a friend, but we must get it back from an enemy.” He also believed “the people who owe us–don’t like us or even hate us.” So, if we are not to be lenders or borrowers, what are we to be? GIVERS!

    So, why proverbs? The world has never known a more humble teacher than the Word of God Himself, who taught in simple parables and homely examples drawn from sheep and goats and lilies of the field, from patches on worn clothing and wine in new bottles.

    Vision is the art of “seeing the invisible.” Because I was so very young, I was always very homesick when studying at Oxford. So a wonderful old Professor took it upon himself to walk around the campus grounds with me each morning at 6 in the morning and talk to me about life, living, being, and doing. Once we were walking near a creek and he turned my attention to a pile of rocks and said: “Rick, see those beautiful rocks there? Imagine this. A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment we contemplate and see it as a cathedral.”

    A one sentence proverb can capture and relate what Michelangelo described as his vision of sculpture: “I saw the angel in the marble and I just chiseled until I set him free.”

    Proverbs prove to us people have already walked our road before,
    and they are sharing their lessons and life experiences with us so
    we don’t repeat the past. There’s an old answer for every new problem: Loving people of our past are with us, whispering to assure us we are not alone; we have been here before! That we do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.

    Proverbs indeed are a conversation with the noblest of authors of past centuries–in which they reveal to us the best of their thoughts and experiences. As invention is one of the great marks of genius,
    it is by being conversant with the inventions of others that we learn to invent, and by hearing the thoughts of others that we learn to think.
    Each age has its language. The “difference in words” is often far greater “than in thought.” The main employment of authors –in their collective capacity–is to translate thoughts of other ages to language of its own…our own.

    I believe, Steve, the primary object of proverbs is to be delighted, enjoy oneself, and develop one’s faculty of appreciation. That’s precisely what your proverbs blog did for me. Thank you!–ricardo

    • Rick,
      And you know me, if I have the choice, I’ll write something to make people laugh. They still think, but its painless. It’s kind of like looking at one’s self in a fun house mirror – you see something not at all like you expected. Besides, if I go too many days being serious – well you know, it just isn’t me. See what you think of tomorrow’s….

      As always peace, blessings and occassional laughs!

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