7 Proverbs from Around the Globe to Illuminate Your Perspective of the World
Wisdom is everywhere.
“For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.”
This is the shortest story imaginable that will bring tears to your eyes. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway wrote this six-word story to display his phenomenal talent for evoking as much emotion as possible from a reader without having to use too many words. There is so much meaning behind Hemingway’s words as your mind immediately starts to envision babies, shoes, for sale signs. You start to ask yourself what happened to the baby and why it happened. So much is left to unpack with such a simple six-word story.
“For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.”
A writing mentor of mine once gave me “The Hemingway Challenge” and recommended I try to write my own creative and powerful story in as few words as possible. As I stared aimlessly at the screen in front of me, I began to peruse the internet for ideas. I came across a number of proverbs that worked perfectly, as they too share so much meaning using such few words. I loved the creativity behind them and how it was sort of a guessing game for me to come up with what the creator meant and how I could use it in my own life.
The more I researched, the more I realized how prevalent proverbs are in so many different societies. There were proverbs from all over the globe. I wanted to share some of these amazing phrases and highlight the wonderful power of brevity in the storytelling process so you too can interpret and implement them into your own life.
“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”— Chinese proverb
In a world full of darkness, it is critical that somebody be a light, or else it will always remain dark. Too many people are quick to place blame and wallow in their sorrows as opposed to finding a quick and optimal solution to a problem. This proverb highlights the importance of taking ownership of setbacks and finding a solution as opposed to complaining and assigning blame.
I used to be a goalie in soccer. I hated giving up goals. It was like a dagger to my side whenever a ball would get past me and end up in the back of the net. When I was younger, my immediate reaction to giving up a goal was, “whose fault was that?” I’d look around at defenders and try to place the blame somewhere. But this did nothing. It just ended in arguing and probably more goals given up after that. After coming across this quote, I wish I could go back and instead of place blame, I’d try to actively resolve. I’d seek out who made the mistake not to curse them, but rather to see how they could improve.
Quite simply, complaining doesn’t change anything. In fact, it often furthers your negative mindset and adds more problems to what’s already going wrong. However, when you seek to find a solution with a positive mindset, you find solutions quicker and can empower yourself and those around you. Instead of complaining, a Harvard Business Review piece recommends addressing the problem head on, much like the proverb reveals.
“The most beautiful fig may contain a worm” — Zulu proverb
During an interview, beloved Beatles star Paul McCartney was once asked what people would be most surprised to learn about him. He responded by sharing that he, like everyone else, has flaws and insecurities. Just because you are perceived to be otherworldly does not mean that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. We are all human beings with imperfections and all.
I am certainly no Paul McCartney, but I have experienced a sliver of writing success over the last couple years. But even with the highs, I have still had many worms. Articles are rejected and I feel stuck all the time. I think what makes the fig even more beautiful and unique is the fact that worms exist.
According to psychologist Dr. Melanie Greenberg, the sooner we are able to share our insecurities the sooner we’ll be able to put tools into our lives to fight these seemingly unbeatable foes. By sharing your insecurities as opposed to bottling them up inside, you’ll be able to reap some incredible rewards and gain greater clarity and confidence in regard to your life and the world around you.
“Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you” — Spanish proverb
In her popular article about the subtle habits of highly toxic friends, writer Zulie Rane mentions that gossiping is difficult to prevent, but those that often gossip with you are likely to gossip about you as well. This creates toxicity and disingenuous friendships that are best to veer away from.
Rather than gossiping, it’s best to veer away from it completely. Psychologists in an article from The Power of Positivity recommend switching the conversation topic immediately when gossiping ensues. They also suggest the powerful question, “why are you telling me this?” to shock the gossiper and move the conversation forward.
I actually tried this the other day with my roommates. Four guys living together watching football on a Sunday afternoon is definitely recipe for gossip. When my buddy mentioned what we thought of our friends’ boyfriend, I immediately acted like I didn’t hear the question, and I instead remarked about something in the games we were watching. This steered the conversation toward something positive.
“Good advice is often annoying. Bad advice never is” — French Proverb
Leadership expert John Maxwell has one of my favorite quotes of all time. “Everything that’s worthwhile is uphill.” Each day I strive to become a New York Times best-selling author by age 30, I think about this quote. The mountain is so tall, but the climb is well worth it.
Often what is best for us is most difficult. Advice is the same way. What we know should be the advice we take is often the most difficult or annoying to hear. Bad advice is easier to go through with.
It’s often easier to give advice than it is to take it because our own personal biases get in the way. It’s known as Solomon’s Paradox. Forbes describes this by sharing that “The Biblical King Solomon, known for his keen intellect and unmatched wisdom in guiding others, failed to apply wisdom in his own life, which ultimately led to the demise of his kingdom.” If something strikes a chord with you but seems like a challenge, it’ll most likely be worth it.
“Even though you know a thousand things, ask the man who knows one” — Turkish proverb
Bruce Lee is known for saying, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” This quote highlights the importance of practice, depth, and specializing in something.
There is a debate about whether being a generalist or specialist is more worthwhile, but to me, this is not what this proverb is trying to share. I believe it is saying that when you seek answers, find the specialist, because this is the person who has gone the deepest on the topic you’re exploring.
I always find it fascinating to speak to people who can go deep about something specific. It allows for excitement and passion to be drawn out of a conversation. For instance, I’m a New York mets baseball fan, but I’m not a devoted fanatic. I love to meet people who are diehard fans. They can tell me where they were in 1983 during the last game of the regular season and what player hit a homerun that day. And even better, they do it with excitement and with a smile on their face.
“In a battle between elephants, the ants get squashed” — Thai proverb
This is my favorite quote on the list because it’s not the most popular piece of worldly advice or wisdom. This powerful phrase demonstrates the negative effects of the ripple effect. The ripple effect is like a domino effect which is the transference of energy from the primary source to secondary sources impacted by the main source.
When you are having an argument or are experiencing a falling out, consider who else you are influencing. This immediately reminds me of any time my parents used to argue. It had a direct impact on my brother and me. Just like the ants, we were ultimately the ones getting squashed.
“If you go to a donkey’s house, don’t talk about ears” — Jamaican proverb
At face value, this proverb seems like it is stating not to judge or talk about somebody’s appearance. But just like with Hemingway’s story and like all great proverbs, there is a second level here. Not only should we not judge a book by its cover, but also, we should have the presence of mind not to judge the book at all. We are in the presence of donkeys, so speaking about anything ear related could become a touchy subject.
Social Psychologist Bella DePaulo recognizes that awkward situations can occur. One way to escape them is to guide the direction of the conversation away from the awkward scenario. She also suggests that if awkwardness does occur or if somebody does mention the donkey’s ears, one possible solution is to embrace the awkwardness and make light of it in good taste.
I have a friend who is amazing at this. Whenever something awkward comes up, he has a button on his phone he hits that says, “awkward” in some sort of comical accent. It immediately cuts the tension and gives everyone involved a good chuckle.
Why You Should be Pro-Proverb
I don’t think proverbs are used often enough. I find when I use them, there’s a stigma associated with them being too cliché or too simplistic. But when you dive beneath the surface and examine the bottom half of the proverbial glacier, there is so much more to unpack. There are so many applications for everyday life.
Simplicity is beautiful, and there is simplicity all around us. Just as simplicity can be found all around the world, so can proverbs that will brighten your view of the world around us.
I write about personal development through creative storytelling. For more creative stories that can help you change your life, join me here.