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Reflections-By Dr Rajan Philips

Proverbial wisdom

( This motivational article was published in Oman Observer , one of the leading Newspapers in Oman. The article is reproduced with the permission of the author )


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Proverbs are concise or pithy sayings that encapsulate the distilled wisdom of ages. They reflect the practical experience of our ancestors expressed in words that exploit the alliterative and rhyming features of a language, enhancing oral transmission and retention. They make us pause and reflect by offering wonderful insights into life.
Proverbs bring into focus universal human traits and values. They continue to be in circulation and used in much the same manner they were quoted hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.

But some of us may wonder if these maxims have much relevance in today’s technology-driven world that is incredibly different from the days that spawned these proverbs.
If the younger generation considers these as rather old fashioned or outdated it should not surprise us. But the truth of the matter is that most of these sayings continue to remain pertinent by offering sane advice and insights into life. After all lifestyles may have changed but basic human traits and behaviour remain unaltered.
If our intuition on this matter were not enough the same conclusion has been reached by Professor Aidan Moran and Dr Michael O’Connell at the University College, Dublin School of Psychology on the basis of a research study.

Let me take up a very well-known and straightforward proverb ‘Haste makes waste’ as an illustration. When a teenager tries to rush through his school homework impulsively and impatiently, the parent may gently warn him by quoting this saying. Ignoring the principle involved may lead to shoddy and unacceptable work. The net result is that he may be compelled to redo the work under greater stress.

The scenario on our roads best illustrates the veracity of this proverb. As the vehicles pile up and a traffic snarl builds up, impatient and frustrated drivers try to inch forward and get ahead of others virtually jostling each other’s cars. Many of the road rules formulated to ensure safety and systematic flow of traffic are thrown to the winds. This haste slows down the traffic even further. The unpleasant but inevitable outcome is that we end up spending much more time on the roads.

The unbridled impatience of a few who attempt to ‘muscle’ their way through causes more chaos. In the process, as it invariably happens, if two or more cars get involved in a minor knock-up, the misery gets compounded for not only the owners but many others around them. This is surely a case of ‘haste makes waste’ with a domino effect.
If the wise ancestor who first came up with this saying was around to witness the scene he would probably say: How true the saying is. In fact it is a mild one to describe the present state of affairs. This adage ought to be rephrased to something like: ‘Haste means catastrophe!’

Well, most proverbs have stood the test of time. Hence we would do well to reflect on them and heed the advice, admonition and insights packed into these words of wisdom that we have inherited as a legacy from forefathers.

A few proverbs from around the world:
l An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep. — Arabic
l When you have given nothing, ask for nothing.
— Albania
l A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.— Chinese
l There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.
— French
l One kind word can warm three winter months.
— Japanese

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