My love for the short and to-the-point adage comes from my grandmother. Known to favor sayings such as, “Don’t believe what you hear and only half of what you read,” Grandmother Brown could have been a social media influencer with a large twitter following … if only the internet had been around in the early 20th century. The admonition I heard most frequently — “Make yourself useful as well as ornamental” — suggests, however, that she wouldn’t have had time for such frivolity.
Late in 2019, a series of pithy proverbs — those bursts of truth in 20 words or so — debuted on the blog and were brought together in a post entitled More to Consider. * Three years later I’m still at it, so let’s look at I love the pithy proverb — Volume 5 to see what made it to More to Consider over the past six months.
Because we continue to have to deal with a health crisis due to the fact that so many people have spent the last two years denying there’s a health crisis, this anonymous quote, which Grandmother would have approved, seems appropriate:
“I guess we should retire the phrase ‘avoid it like the plague’ given how little effort people put into avoiding an actual plague.”Anonymous
Grandmother was not a feminist, but I suspect she would have agreed with Susan B. Anthony’s take on those who always seem to know God’s will.
“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”Susan B. Anthony
Like her son and grandson, both voracious readers of biographies, she also would have been right in line with Robert Caro’s sentiments.
“Power doesn’t corrupt, it reveals.”Robert Caro
This quote stretches the boundaries of pithiness, yet I appreciated its take on the need — first and foremost — to be human to successfully navigate the future.
“What we need to do is to hold fast to the gifts we have, and to develop them together. What we need to be is human. The future will always be uncharted, but it is made by those active enough to explore it, with the stamina and imagination not to give up on themselves or each other.”Margaret Heffernan
As Margaret Heffernan says, it takes imagination.
“We lay there and looked up at the night sky and she told me about stars called blue squares and red swirls and I told her I’d never heard of them. Of course not, she said, the really important stuff they never tell you. You have to imagine it on your own.”Brian Andreas
Some people demand certainty. For them, robo-umpires to call the balls and strikes in baseball make perfect sense. Some things, however, are better with a bit of ambiguity. Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager, has argued against the robots. “It’s an imperfect game and has always felt perfect to me,” he said, in a pithy summation of his own take on the game. I thought this quote from a New Yorker article entitled Invasion of the Robot Umpire was another perfect description.
“The strike zone is a fretless bass. Historically, a certain discretion has been appreciated.”Zach Helfand in a New Yorker article on robo-umpires
These two quotes seem to fit together, reminding us to not be so serious!
“Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal of activity out to interest and receives a large measure of nervous derangement in return.”Robert Louis Stevenson in “An Apology for Idlers”
“The Church says: The body is a sin. Science says: The body is a machine. Advertising says: The body is a business. The body says: I am a fiesta.“Eduardo Galeano
I’d been reading a book on fungi when this observation from Alexander von Humboldt found its way into my consciousness.
“Each step that we make in the more intimate knowledge of nature leads us to the entrance of new labyrinths.”Alexander von Humboldt
Brené Brown hosted a recent podcast, and I was taken with this observation of her guest, Dr. Maya Shankar.
“The reason we often have so much discomfort in the face of change is because it threatens our identity and sense of self.”Dr. Maya Shankar
Lots of words have been written and said about the times we live in. Here are two short sentiments I find thoughtful.
“The assault on 2024 is a crock-pot coup, simmering low and slow, under cover, breaking down the fibers of our electoral system, until one day democracy itself is cooked.“Anand Giridharadas
“If you rip away everything, oppression is the business of not respecting one’s personhood.”The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray
On December 19, 1776, Thomas Paine published The American Crisis in Philadelphia. It began with the famous words “These are the times that try men’s souls” and it came at a very low point in the history of our country. It was good to read those words again this past December.
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”Thomas Paine
To bring this back to my grandmother, she would have recognized the classical rhythm and language found in the Stoic philosophers and appreciated their to-the-point advice.
“That which isn’t good for the hive, isn’t good for the bee.”Marcus Aurelius
“Silence is a lesson learned from the many sufferings of life.”Seneca
Finally, while truth telling is in short supply today, Grandmother was always a stickler for being honest and true to your word. Mark Twain is often cited as the source of quotes he never uttered, so I went to the Mark Twain House to ensure the accuracy of this one, which I posted on his birthday: November 30th.
“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”Mark Twain
Feel free to borrow any one of these and drop a short dollop of wisdom on your friends this week.
More to come…
*To capture some of my favorite sayings without having to write an entire blog post, I created a feature on More to Come that I labeled “More to Consider.” I update these quick bursts of truth every couple of weeks. After the initial post pulling together the first ones I highlight, I brought out Volume 2: A plethora of pithy proverbs followed with Volume 3: A profusion of pithy proverbs and Volume 4: A plentitude of pithy proverbs. I finally turned to the Super Bowl system (minus the pretentious Roman numerals).
Image: My grandmother and grandfather, Mary Dixie Bearden Brown and George A. Brown, Sr.