Friday, March 07, 2008

Shakur knew nothing of bitches for he was no proverbial master


A Journey of 1,000 Proverbs Begins with One Mieder


I came across a great profile of Vermont proverb professor Wolfgang Meider the other day in the always-awesome Christian Science Monitor.

The man's scholarship in the field is nothing to scoff at, Meider having annotated proverb entries for more than 7,000 publications. The former German national cited the inspiring proverbs of abolitionist statesman Frederick Douglass as the impetus for becoming a U.S. citizen a few years ago. And his proverbial passion is infectious.

The more I meditated upon which proverbs have stuck with me throughout my life and have been handed down through family, the more I realized that, despite having no religion to speak of, I can begin to identify a pattern in moral code-building. For instance, my father was a bit buddhistic growing up, and when I was upset about an unfortunate outcome of events, he wouldn't exactly give me some popular catch phrase, but simply stated, "Zen farmer honey, zen farmer!" He was referring to this Chinese proverb.

But sometimes proverbs can seem like nothing more than clich├ęd phrases masquerading as common wisdom. When they're liberally regurgitated again and again, the phrases themselves tend to loose their meaning, if not outright dissuade a person from deriving any substance from them whatsoever.

A few years ago, my boyfriend at the time said, "You know what they say: one bitch, a million faces." I wanted to smack him really hard you guys, but he was with his buddies. So instead I scolded him like a child: "Who told you that? Did (name of friend who was a bad influence) tell you that?" He said, "No babe, Tupac Shakur told me that."

Anyways. I don't much care for that proverb. But here are some of my favorites:

"He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever."

"If you drink the water from the well you must not forget those that dug the well."

"A rising tide lifts all boats."

I think a lot of the best proverbs come from song lyrics:

"You don't know what you've got 'til its gone. Pave paradise, put up a parking lot." --Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"

"Thunder only happens when it's raining. Players only love you when they're playing." --Fleetwood Mac, "Dreams"

"All throughout history, the loneliest people were the ones who always spoke the truth." --Kings of Convenience, "Misread"

And of course, a most postmodern proverb a la Bob Dylan:

"Half of the people can be part right all of the time, some of the people can be all right part of the time. But all the people can't be all right all the time. I think Abraham Lincoln said that. 'I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours,'--I said that." --Bob Dylan, "Talkin' World War III Blues"

No comments: