Word of the Week – proverb
“’Tis better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” It’s a comforting message from my mother that I carry around in my head, a proverb, allegedly, first used in 1907 in a sermon by W.L. Watkinson. Some websites suggest that it originated with Confucious. Others mention, without citing a source, that it was quoted by Eleanor Roosevelt, and JFK.
“Negative self talk,” a habit greatly discouraged in the self-help literature, is frequently considered the result of harsh parental criticism, but fortunately, some of these “tapes” of parental words to live by aren’t necessarily toxic. A proverb is a short, pithy statement in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice. It’s distinguished from a homily, (a religious discourse, a sermon, a tedious moralizing discourse) primarily by its brevity and catchy phrasing. Lord John Russell defined a proverb as “the wit of one and the wisdom of many.”
Roget’s Thesaurus suggests synonyms such as: adage, (implying wisdom of the message) maxim, (suggesting the rule making aspect) aphorism. Bon mot and epigram emphasize the witty presentation. Negative terms are: cliché, bromide, saw, platitude.
It seems to be the nature of political argument to use clichés to shorthand the commonly understood “wisdom of many”. We all recognize the proverbs listed at www.phrases.org-uk and some are applicable to the presidential campaign just ended. Those Trump opponents who think “the leopard doesn’t change his spots,” kept their distance from him because “a man is known by the company he keeps.” Those who supported him while criticizing at the same time his statements about minorities and women could argue that “adversity makes strange bedfellows.”
On the other hand, those who wonder how Hillary Clinton failed to bring out sufficient numbers of her demographic target groups might consider the idea that, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
Now that the election is over, leaving all power in the Republican congress and President, many will observe that, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The more hopeful will say, “Tomorrow is another day,” and urge unity because “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
My mother’s proverbs were generally directed to moral behavior. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” She taught me that the best cure for the blues is to find a way to make someone else happy. This morning I donated to Interfaith Ministries for their refugee efforts. A small candle indeed, but it’s something, Mom.