Look before you leap without hesitation at dueling proverbs
Burt's Eye View
Aesop was confused.
The guy credited with cooking up a Crock-Pot full of fables packed with wisdom couldn’t make up his mind. The sages who followed did little to untangle the wacky webs he weaved.
We’re left with dueling nuggets like these:
Look before you leap, but he who hesitates is lost;
Many hands make light work, but too many cooks spoil the broth;
Silence is golden, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
The contradictions clang in my cranium. Exactly when am I supposed to jump over cooks’ hands to blast the stew pot with my grease guns blazing?
The great philosopher William Mathews wrote, “Proverbs should be sold in pairs, a single one being a half truth.”
Try to stitch together a whole truth out of a few of those half-baked loaves of learnedness.
• “It’s never too late” vs. “The early bird catches the worm.” If you crave a nice bowl of worms for breakfast, help yourself. I’m taking my chances on the crack of noon.
• “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” vs. “Don’t beat a dead horse.” I submit for your consideration, “If at first you don’t succeed, take a nap.”
• “Misery loves company” vs. “The more the merrier.” So gather enough grumps and a party will break out.
• “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” vs. “Out of sight, out of mind.” What the proverb pundits mean, I suppose, is “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?”
• “A silent man is a wise one” vs. “A man without words is a man without thoughts.” Let’s let the Bible have the last word: “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:28 NLT)
• “Wise men think alike” vs. “Fools seldom differ.” So you and I either are geniuses or idiots. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.
• “Knowledge is power” vs. “Ignorance is bliss.” Apparently, we must choose between capable or happy.
• “You are never too old to learn” vs. “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks.” What we old dogs learned is that somebody’s just going to change the system anyway, so choose ignorant bliss. It saves the trouble of having to unlearn them when the latest updates are installed.
• “Better safe than sorry” vs. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” This one’s as bad as look before you leap but don’t hesitate or all is lost. Let’s just go back to bed.
• “Money can’t buy you love” vs. “Romance without finance can be a nuisance.” If I’ve got this one right, don’t fall in love with someone’s money but make sure he / she has some before you become besotted with him / her.
• “The best things come in small packages” vs. “The bigger, the better.” That depends on if we’re talking about a box of chocolate truffles or a box sized to fit our troubles.
• “There’s no fool like an old fool” vs. “An old fox is not easily snared.” Me, I’ve seen enough pages fall off the calendar and collected enough wrinkles that I come to cling to the great philosopher David Mamet’s maxim, “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.” Or youth and beauty, or youth and skill. Take your pick. The wisdom here is, “Don’t mess with us gray-hairs.”
— Seek more incompatible truths from Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.