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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Two Adages Ready For The Trash Heap

"Stick and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me"
"You can't teach an old dog new tricks"

Been reflecting lately on the implications of the two adages above if someone used these as lyrics and set them to music. The result could be an excellent theme song for insensitivity. The people using the song could say/sing whatever they wanted to whomever they wanted whenever they wanted because they believe in the "truth" of the first. Then, either they themselves or others singing the same tune could make excuses for their insensitivity by reciting/singing the second. We've all heard the variations of these themes with statements like "...oh, that's just 'old' Pat, he doesn't mean anything by it", etc.

I say these two adages are ready for the trash heap. One or the other by itself seems harmless enough but having them both floating around unchallenged? They can readily be combined into a personal credo - a credo like that just intensifies the incivility and coarseness of much of our public conversation.

Got other adages you think are ready for the trash heap? Bring 'em on!


  1. I could defend these Pat. The first is simply a chant of empowerment for the picked on, the bullied. I could use that to brace myself against an onslaught of verbal abuse, and I think that's how people generally employ it, as a defensive maneuver, rather than as an excuse for abuse. Similarly, the second one is not typically used as an excuse for poor conduct, but as a humane shrug of acceptance in the face of intransigence, curmudgeonly attitudes, crotchety affect, and the tendency to become set in our ways that often, but not always, accompanies aging.

    Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
    -- William Blake

  2. The above comment from M. is what I would have said if I beat him to the post. I really like the first adage because it puts name calling and labeling in perspective and is definetly a tool to overcome the hurt from verbal darts. I would not throw that in the heap. It is simple enough too, for youngsters to grasp. From first hand experience as a kid, I found comfort in thinking on this adage when I was called a name.

    And as for the second one...it's stuck around for a century (at least) because it IS a struggle to teach someone a new trick that is set in his/her ways. Regardless of the age factor, you yourself know how difficulat it is to affect someone's attitude, say, someone who is an external blamer and never looks internally for the problem. That's trying to teach an old dog an new trick.
    Oh, and, have you ever tried to teach an old member of the canine family a new trick? In reality it is nearly impossible. Now, of course we aren't dogs but some of us have the mindset of a dog. I also know about teaching dogs tricks as I have a young one (Max) and an old one (Cody).

    My least favorite adage: "If they jump off a bridge, are you going to jump also?"

  3. Thanks for both your thoughtful comments. Guess I didn't make my larger point very well, i.e how the first adage gives people a kind of tacit permission to say funky things, while I realze it's more often used to "help" someone who is being picked on. I do think, however, words can do damage, so this one (and the other)will stay on my trash heap, if not either of yours.