Proverbs are beautiful and complex things. They appear, on the surface, to be time-tested nuggets of wisdom which have been passed down through the ages. When a proverb is offered as an explanation, heads nod and it is accepted without further discussion. But what doesn’t cross anyone’s mind is that if the exact opposite event had occurred, an opposite proverb would be offered up, heads would nod, and it would be accepted without further discussion.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when someone pointed out to me that most proverbs have an opposite, but it had a profound impact on me. It seems so obvious to me now that I can hardly fathom how I didn’t see it before. Next time you find yourself nodding along to a proverb, stop and think of its opposite.
Look before you leap.
He who hesitates is lost.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Don’t beat your head against a stone wall.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it.
Two heads are better than one.
Paddle your own canoe.
Haste makes waste.
Time waits for no man.
You’re never too old to learn.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
A word to the wise is sufficient.
Talk is cheap.
It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Nice guys finish last.
Hitch your wagon to a star.
Don’t bite off more that you can chew.
Many hands make light work.
Too many cooks spoil the broth.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Clothes make the man.
The squeaking wheel gets the grease.
Silence is golden.
James Barnett, The People’s Almanac #2, p. 1121