Suddenly, I’m fascinated by adages. It appears that in lieu of real cultural heroes whose behaviors reflect moral standards of integrity and wisdom, we revert to simple, often one line adages. This is not surprising in a culture of fast foods, express lubes, and twitter. Here are some examples. 1) “A stitch in time saves nine”; 2) “A woman’s work is never done; 3) “Waste not want not”; 4) “A penny saved is a penny earned” And, Nike’s slogan/adage; 5)”Just Do It”. I could go on and on. Recently, I heard the following adage by an unknown author, 6) “A loser quits when they’re tired. A winner quits” when they’ve won.” I was wasting time watching So You Think You Can Dance when Nigel quoted this to a contestant.
These adages are meant to inspire us to be winners – to “be all that you (we) can be”. Remember that old Army recruitment tool made famous from 1980 through 2001.
Did your parents ever tell you that your face would freeze if you kept making faces at your sister? My mother used to tell me that eating crust would make my hair curly. Smoking cigarettes will stunt your growth! Well, maybe that one is true!!
All of these adages have merit. So, why do they make me feel so awful? Well, let’s look at some of the unspoken truisms that are ever so subtly suggested:
1) The stitch in time adage suggests that one should NEVER let their guard down. Another example is, “Don’t let the grass grow beneath your feet” or “Don’t get caught with your pants down”. It sounds a little like “There is no rest for the weary”. I’m stressed just writing this because I’m thinking about the number of leftovers in my frig with the unfulfilled promise that I would eat them. Not only have I been wasteful; but I’ve probably grown enough mold to make penicillin. How lazy and irresponsible is that? I’m feeling the grass growing (along with the moldy leftovers) between my toes as I write. What if someone looks in my refrigerator? Why can’t I be more organized and disciplined about my eating habits? UGH!
2) The Woman’s Work adage appeals to a woman’s sense of importance. A woman’s job description is never ending and unlike any other job requirements. Only a woman could endure the demands and still have a smile on her face! Only a targeted and meaningful adage could make the job description of a work horse so appealing and influential. It suggests that a real woman would never leave a task undone. Certainly, a real woman would eat her leftovers and/or be efficient about keeping her refrigerator clean and free of unsightly, moldy leftovers.
3) “Waste not want not”. So, wasting is what triggers wanting! Does this include desires too? Could we substitute this for “Waste not desire not”? Personally, I like my desires and my wants. They inspire me to be more. Although, I will agree to try hard not to allow waste to corrupt my refrigerator with lofty desires for Lobster Newburg and Saffron Mayonnaise. I know! Enough of the refrigerator metaphors.
4) Ah! Money! I am no expert on this subject. But, sometimes a penny saved might translate to an unpaid bill and the dreaded late fee. This adage was appropriate years ago when employment was hardy. How does it apply in an economy where 1/3 of all Americans are receiving state and federal subsidies? And, besides, what happened to “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy”. I suppose that some adages trump others.
5) “Just Do It”. Actually, I really like this one. But, Nike’s motives were simply to sell more shoes to people who believed that the product improved their cache and their athletic abilities. That said, I’m all for getting out there and DOING “Just for the Fun of It”.
6) So, if you are not a winner, you’re a lazy loser! What about, “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Who decides whether a loss is due to laziness or an all out effort failed?
Adages are mostly extemporaneous, black and white, one size fits all flourishes of pomp. They do not reflect the fine nuances of the human experience. Superman gave us nuances with his human/superhuman characteristics. What we need is another Abraham Lincoln. He was a real life hero who exemplified integrity and true grit with a gusty humanity that was not perfect; but always reflective and sometimes tortured by a lifelong depression. It is interesting that Abraham Lincoln’s depression was accepted as an intriguing aspect of his character. Today, Lincoln would be stigmatized. Maybe it is this rejection of human frailness for a false belief in perfection that has manufactured a society without heroes like Lincoln, JFK, Martin Luther King, etc.
As I think about American modern day heroes, the Pope comes to mind as a possible hero. We’ll have to wait and see. The contemporary song by Aaron Waters reflects this desire for a hero – NOT more adages. It’s called ‘We need a Hero’.