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Monday, May 10, 2010

3 Bad Sayings

There are a lot of good sayings out there; bits of common knowledge passed down from the ages that get coined into catchy phrases, rules of thumb and the morals of stories. We've heard most of them so often that they've become part of our popular lexicon, and we learned them young enough that they're an assumed part of own ideologies. And in fairness, the majority of them are simple truths that we've each seen proven to be true over and over again. Most things don't stand the test of time with a universally applicable truth to them. Most. Because there are a few of these sayings which are not only a little off, but completely wrong. I suspect that at some point they become so ubiquitous that someone suggesting that they might be the slightest bit off is immediately dismissed - but nevertheless, I'm still here to point out 3 Old Sayings That Are Completely Off:

1. It Takes Two To Tango. Technically this is only correct if you add the following caveat: "..if you don't want to look like some loser ballroom dancing alone." But let's be honest, you've seen plenty of people dancing by themselves when most everyone else is paired up. And that's just fine - who are you to tell folks what constitutes dancing or not? Hell, outside of the Electric Slide and shaking your butt, you can't dance even with someone else holding your hands.

What's more, this is the sort of idealized blame-sharing that our latest generations have used to treat sole culpability for anything like an absolute impossibility. I expect this really has its most applicability for moral violations that involve romantic missteps - inasmuch as dishonest trysts require (at least) two complicit individuals, but even then there are plenty of cases where some horrible person was deceiving everyone else involved and really is solely to blame. In a world where taking responsibility has become the rarest of personal integrity plays, it doesn't make much sense to begin every inquiry of wrongdoing with an immediate search for someone else to blame. Sometimes people are evil enough to put a "tango" together all on their own.

2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race. The idea that "pacing" one's self is always a sound strategy for winning is precisely the kind of universal advice that has generated an entire nation of obese children, and a generation of young adults who believe that the right to "relax and take it easy" is actually somewhere in the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. In real life, the fat kid walking around the track does not beat the runner who sprints it. In real life, sprinting ahead as fast as you can will afford you plenty of opportunity to stop and catch your breath when you really need to, and still end up way ahead of that tub-of-lard who can't be bothered to break a sweat - else he might put himself into coronary distress. We constantly see examples of superhuman dedication and work ethic - and how it leads to tremendous success. Of course, we don't hear as often of those who put in that kind of effort and don't make it - because they're there too. But that notwithstanding, one thing is for absolutely certain, taking it easy has never made a winner of anything out of anyone.

3. Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover. Honestly, this may be the dumbest of dumb sayings. How else are you supposed to pick a book? Wait for a friend to recommend it? What's more, when a book chooses its own cover, that's precisely how you should judge it. The notion that everyone one you see could possibly be a good person "on the inside" is the kind of naivety that con artists and thieves depend on for a living. If this sort of Kumbaya nonsense was native to any other species, Natural Selection would have long-since rendered it extinct. In the rest of the animal kingdom if something looks dangerous, costly or otherwise difficult - it's treated accordingly. That's why skunks stink, snakes hiss and porcupines are pointy. Can you imagine what might happen to a possible predator that wanted to give skunks, snakes and porcupines the benefit of the doubt and just go ahead and try to grab them anyways? The reality is that if you don't judge a book by it's cover, you're going to end up with a very unfortunate book collection. But hey, at least you're a good person, right?

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For every bad saying there are dozens more that you should pay attention to, and plenty which I try and live by every day. The wisdom of the ages shouldn't be lost on us simply because it hasn't all withstood the test of time. After all, the golden rule is still golden, you still reap what you sow, and in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give (hey, it doesn't all have to be that old). The real value of old lessons comes in our ability to test them against all that is new in the world - and we shouldn't be surprised to find that, in this process, a few of them (even the most tested, storied, and seemingly inviolate) ultimately become no more useful than the prevalent technology (or undergarments for that matter) from that same era. To turn a blind eye to this "natural selection" of idioms makes you the intellectual equivalent of someone using carrier pigeons and wearing a codpiece, or at least a Zach Morris phone and abercrombie boxers. Wake up and smell the 2010, folks. You'll find that with sayings, much like phones and underpants, older doesn't always mean better, and a little "new" can really change your outlook on life.


Bill Friday said...

I would like to nominate, "Do as I say, not as I do", for (dis)honorable mention in this fine category. I had a baseball coach who used that one a lot.

As I recall, we went winless that season.

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