A Calls-to-Action Blog. Writers. Thinkers. Doers.

Proverb Up


One more piece in the proverbial puzzle


By Tilda


Every proverb in this collection has been through a rigorous selection process: selected by a nation for its rhetorical ring, its relevance to their self-identity, and its counsel. Then selected by me, for its enlightening/affirming/challenging of my worldview.


So take note.


Admittedly, this weeks’ proverbs are sentimental— I seem to have (unintentionally) grouped together the concepts to which I attach greatest value. Creativity, books, action, education, curiosity, happiness and love. Accompanied with the wonderfully satirical artwork of John Holcroft, here’s a little window to my soul.




People who do not break things first will never learn to create anything. (Filipino)


A good spectator also creates. (Swiss)


Poets and pigs are appreciated only after their death. (Italian)


The loveliest faces are seen by moonlight, when one sees half with the eye and half with the fancy. (Persian)



I like but don’t love these (especially the last) and I do feel creativity could have been better iterated into immortality. So I propose we immortalise one of the following:


The merit of originality is not novelty; it is sincerity. (Thomas Carlyle)


We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams… (Roald Dahl, Arthur O’Shaugnessy)




Yes, books. There will always be a space for books. On review, I counted twice as many proverbs on books as proverbs on love in my collection, and I’m happy with that balance – a good book plays a similar role to a good relationship, and it’s a much more consistent state in my life.


The pen is mightier than the sword. (English)


A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. (Arabian)


Beware of a man of one book. (English)


A library is a repository of medicine for the mind. (Greek)




Measure a thousand times and cut once. (Turkish)


Who begins too much accomplishes little. (German)


No man can paddle two canoes at the same time. (Bantu)


Don’t sail out farther than you can row back. (Danish)


If you take big paces, you leave big spaces. (Burmese)


Epigrams succeed where epics fail. (Persian)


Now, I won’t disingenuously claim to subscribe to any of these. I edit this blog, work in France while writing for a London company and attempting to study French on the side. I’m a recovering scratchcard-addict and I juggle a number of dysfunctional relationships. Last year I broke my spine jumping 50-feet into water, thinking ‘fear exists only to be overcome!’. Well, no. Fear is your friend. So maybe I should heed these proverbs more. But for the purposes of People Who DO Things, here are some proverbs that say do don’t think…




Appetite comes with eating. (French) — eating literally stretches your stomach and I haven’t felt full since Christmas. But also, this reminds me of some advice I was given that adds real figurative weight to the proverb. I’m quite a contemplative person, in and out of existential crises. But I’ll never find satisfactory meaning in purely abstract thought; meaning comes from doing (like appetite comes from eating). In the flow of day-to-day life, meaning emerges with every new task —> contemplation is good, but only as a complement to action.


As we live, so we learn. (Yiddish)


A closed mouth catches no flies. (Italian) — lest we’re deprived a mouthful of flies.


It is better to sit down than to stand, it is better to lie down than to sit, but death is the best of all. (Indian)





A teacher is better than two books. (German) — a message to fellow classroom annoyances who only appreciated their teachers after they left school.


A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study. (Chinese) – or woman.


To teach is to learn. (Japanese) — one of the best pieces of life counsel I’ve been given is that a life is unfinished if teaching (in its many forms) is never part of it: humans thrive off collective, immortal, memetic experience – proverbs are part of that. So: if you need cash but have ethical qualms about private tutoring, Tutorfair splits your time between paid private tuition and voluntary tuition at a local school (they also train you for free). With CARAS you can teach English or give study-support to isolated refugees in our community, alternatively teach skills with TimePeace; you can inspire in kids the joys of creative writing with First Story. You can Teach First, you can Teach Last.



He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever. (Chinese)


There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out. (Russian)


A man should go on living — if only to satisfy his curiosity. (Yiddish)


Us Englishmen, ever-suppressed, say curiosity killed the cat. But everyone knows that cats have nine lives. (Alternative proposal: Ignorance killed the cat, curiosity was framed.)





Happiness multiplies as we divide it with others. (Albanian)


There is no happiness; there are only moments of happiness. (Spanish) – still contemplating this one.


Health flows from the happiness of the heart. (Sicilian)


One joy scatters a hundred griefs. (Chinese) – but I don’t think grief is worth less:

No pleasure without pain. (English)


Finding happiness


Happiness does not come from happiness itself, but from the journey towards achieving it. (Finnish) — maybe I’m a hypocrite for pursuing happiness and thinking that success/fame/fortune is fickle, because I’m still chasing something that should be secondary – that should come from other achievements – as though it were an end in itself… hmm.



Getting what you go after is called success, but liking it while you are getting it is called happiness. (Albanian)


The best way to find happiness is not to search for it. (Hebrew)


When ambition ends, happiness begins. (Hungarian)




Since I ended my last proverb post so cynically, I’ll settle this one all cute and cuddly. As I see it, love in the first proverb is about ‘the one’, but love in the second is about the many.


A life with love is happy; a life for love is foolish. (Chinese)


The heart that loves is always young. (Greek)




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