Pseudo-Profound Sayings

People appear to be fond of repeating pithy sayings.  This surely started as soon as language itself was invented; certainly people were writing down such things at least thousands of years ago — Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, Ankhsheshonq — and there seems to be a certain pattern common to all of them.

I think the common pattern is that most of these sayings start looking like either tautologies (i.e. stating the obvious) or inane, or wrong, when considered somewhat deeply. Here are some examples:

“The wealth of a wise man is his speech” – Ankhsheshonq (~400 BC). Well, duh. What else can a wise man claim to value? If he says he values gold, or cattle, would he be called a wise man?

“Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it” – Confucius (~500 BC). Duh again. Sez who – the beholder?

“It does not matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop” – Confucius. That is, if p > 0, then p > 0, where p = progress. On the other hand, this might be very profound observation when you are stuck in Bangalore traffic.

“When anger rises, think of the consequences.” – Confucius. Good advice. But then, the second word could be replaced with several others and still sound very profound – try lust, inflation, CO2, weight, tide, but perhaps not dough. Actually, dough too, if there is too much dough in the pan.

A weapon which you don’t have in your hand won’t kill a snake.” – African Saying. Absolutely accurate — until the invention of remote controlled weapons.

“To the wise, life is a problem; to the fool, a solution” – Marcus Aurelius. And, to the average guy, life is a text book.

“Execute every act of thy life as though it were thy last.” – Marcus Aurelius. Then you must put all your money in insuring yourself, and nothing in long- or short-term investments of any kind. I prefer the more accurate “Act as if you were going to die immediately or live hundred years or anything in-between”.

I close with an example where a metaphor was chosen by a person who did not think through the implications:

“Faith is like electricity – you cannot see it, but you can see the light.”

The complete saying should have been:

“Faith is like electricity – you cannot see it, but:

  1. you can see the light
  2. if you get too close it will kill you
  3. some institution makes a lot of money selling it to you.”

One Response

  1. I’m not sure if you’re trying to be facetious here. I hope so, but I’m not sure. It seems like you haven’t considered the context of the quotations (I don’t mean in the space of text but in terms of time period) or the possibility that they might not need to be taken literally. Let’s take the Aurelius quote as an example. You misunderstood its most literal interpretation. Executing every act as if it were your last seems to indicate putting complete focus into what you are doing. You’ve confused it with the similar quote “live every moment as if it were your last.” Also, I don’t think you’ve stopped to consider whether you would have come to the same conclusions if these words (or similar sentiments) had never been told. Your unintentionally ironic comment about Confucius’ beauty quote seems to confirm my suspicion. I think the common pattern to any of those sayings is that someone remarkably less qualified to criticize always does. “It is easier to be critical than correct” =). I don’t mean to be offensive and I hope you won’t react too strongly, but I really think you should spend more time trying to understand than trying to pull things apart to satisfy your pride.

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