My love for the short and to-the-point adage comes from my grandmother. Known to favor sayings such as “Make yourself useful as well as ornamental,” Grandmother Brown had a big influence on my life as well as my love for words.
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. * Four years later I’m still at it, so let’s look at I love the pithy proverb — Volume 6 to see what made it to the More to Consider segment over the past six months.
Stand for the hard right against the easy wrong
Grandmother was a believer in standing for the “hard right” against the “easy wrong.” She understood that doing what is right comes from what we repeatedly do, so she would have approved of this timeless quote from the ancient Greek philosopher.
“We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act but a habit.”Aristotle
The world lost one of its moral leaders when Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away on the day after Christmas in 2021. His quote about taking a stand seems appropriate in these times.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”Desmond Tutu
Madeleine K. Albright, whose parents were Czech refugees from the Nazis and the Communists, passed away on March 23rd at the age of 84. Albright served the United States as a diplomat and then as Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, the first woman to hold that position. In honor of Dr. Albright’s career, I posted some of her words, which are a great reminder of how to proceed in the midst of darkness and fear.
“The act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life.”Madeleine K. Albright
Our congressman, Jamie Raskin, has been in the news over the past year, showing courageous leadership even in the face of deep personal loss. Like many of us, he learned lessons from his elders, in this case his father, Marcus Raskin.
“When a situation seems hopeless, then you are the hope. When everything looks dark, you must be the light.”Marcus Raskin, as quoted by his son, Rep. Jamie Raskin
Even if doing right is hard, we have one, precious chance to be kind, as the poet Mary Oliver reminds us.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”Mary Oliver
Manage your expectations
I have a friend who likes to say that “low expectations are the key to happiness.” Author Anne Lamott has a slightly different take to remind us that it is much too easy to assume that what we want is what is going to happen.
“Expectations are resentments under construction.”Anne Lamott
I always appreciated this reminder from Dr. Paul Kalanithi about the interrelatedness of human life and knowledge, especially in the face of uncertainty.
“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”Paul Kalanithi
Ben Dolnick, in his blog One Sentence, shows his fondness for William James as someone “who belongs to a narrow class of philosophers who refuse to stay put in the philosophy building; he accompanies you to the bar, to the supermarket, to the gym. He writes not for his fellow professors and not for posterity but for you. You know those notes you write to the dog-sitter before you race off to the airport — hurried, candid, useful, brimming with emendations in the margins and multiple postscripts … That’s how William James writes about everything. He’s leaving you in charge of a human body — a human life — and he needs to be sure, before he goes, that you know how this stuff works. … And that final clause ( — or slender!), with its confessionally candid exclamation point, reads like a helpless and live realization. I am not exempt!, James seems always to be reminding us. He gave up recently on being slender, and, after years of unhappy sucking in, it brought him joy.”
“How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young, — or slender!”William James
Get a grip on our real problems
The country has been facing a rash of calls to ban books. Author and bookstore owner Ryan Holiday nails the correct response.
“America has many problems. Reading too many books is not one of them.”Ryan Holiday
Too many commentators spout off on the “problems” facing the country without providing any context. Amy-Jill Levine, a self-described “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt,” spoke to the all-important role of context in a variety of settings when she quoted scholar Ben Witherington, III. Hmmm…I wonder if our Supreme Court could use this bit of advice?
“A text without a context is just a pretext for making it say anything one wants.”Ben Witherington III
This reminder from the Stoic philosopher Seneca (via Ryan Holiday) helps me think about real problems and real priorities.
“We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”Seneca
On my morning walk, I usually see two gentlemen — about my age — who have found themselves in tough circumstances, yet still keep a bright outlook on life and the things that matter. Gilbert America Carter (who goes by Carter) and Barrington Harold Fair (who goes by Barry), often have quips to share with those around them. One day Carter and I were talking about the “shoe being on the other foot” in some situation, and Carter came out with a saying that speaks volumes. Remember that you won’t always be on top!
“Ain’t no fun when the rabbit’s got the gun.”Gilbert America Carter
Memories and love
“Memory, for me, is often a home where the furniture has been rearranged one too many times.”Clint Smith
Finally, Candice and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary earlier this year. In honor of that occasion, I posted this quote from Conrad Aiken as recounted by author Madeleine L’Engle.
“Music I heard with you was more than music, and bread I broke with you was more than bread.”Conrad Aiken
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 More to Consider 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) with I love the pithy proverb — Volume 5.
Image of Proverbs from Pixabay