English Proverbs have long held a certain amount of fascination for me, and I used to love hearing my mum refer to a large number of them as she went about her daily tasks. Coping with six children cannot have been without its challenges, but she was incredibly adept at finding a saying that would put a positive slant on an otherwise demanding situation.
I’m quite sure, however, that in our case (my mum being constantly surrounded by a veritable gaggle of ankle biters) ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ might have been rather more apt than ‘Many hands make light work’ and this is possibly why she became a staunch believer in ‘Making hay while the sun shines’ – or at least before any of her ‘little darlings’ had had the chance to surface!
What I really love about all these sayings though are the many straightforward messages of wisdom and morality that they help to impart, in language that is rather less condemnatory than some of the statements found within the scriptures of the Old Testament. Take, for example, Proverbs 1:32-33 “For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. This is pretty uncompromising stuff! A case of ‘my way or the highway’ perhaps?
As with so many popular sayings though, it is usually possible to find another one that conveniently provides a ready-made counter argument.
‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ can neatly be substituted for ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ depending upon the mood of the protagonist. Similarly, ‘Great minds think alike’ can be turned upon its head with the maxim that ‘Fools rarely differ’! And, being an unashamed devotee of language, I often find myself marvelling at the astonishing power of words to empower or defeat, comfort or wound, entertain or reduce to tears.
Confucius was a Chinese philosopher and politician who was generally considered to be the ‘paragon of Chinese sages’. Born in 551 BC, Confucius lived until he was 71 and during that time, he gained a reputation for striving to make education broadly available, and for establishing the art of teaching as a much-respected vocation. His ‘golden rule’: “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself’ would seem to offer a moral code fit for all and one that requires no further explanation. For this reason (and because I am still working my way steadily through a mid-life crisis of my own) I decided to find out what Confucius had to say on the subject of old age. The results were surprisingly encouraging…
“Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.”
Perhaps it’s time to let the youngsters take centre stage, and for me to settle gratefully into my seat, with a substantial container of popcorn at the ready!