Wisdom is often found in the most common places. For example, do you remember the warning sign at car rental returns, “Do not back up! Severe tire damage.”
Going backwards is seldom, if ever, the right approach. By definition, there is nothing ahead of you that was behind you. If you do look backwards, find joy in the happy times, the warm family moments or personal victories. But don’t live there. And looking backwards while worrying or criticizing yourself for things you have done can’t do any good – and can easily cause harm. It can lead to getting yourself stuck. Or wallowing. Forgive yourself and others, make peace, and move on.
“Fruit at bottom.” This gem is often found on yogurt containers. The wisdom here is that it might take work to get to the goodies in life. And it might take some faith that what you want is actually there, out of sight, and that your continuing hard work will be worth it. Take a look at the two miners to our left. The one on the bottom is quitting just shy of his goal. The drawing implies that the man on the top will continue on and succeed. Do you think he will, or will he also give up? What would you do?
OK, for us skiers. “You are leaving the ski resort. YOU CAN DIE. This is your decision.” Isn’t the key part here “It is your decision.”? Even without bold signs, we all know when we are about to enter dangerous territory. When fighting with a loved one, we know when we are about to cross the line. Or that we have crossed it. And we all know it when bragging at home or at work crosses the line into just plain lying. And don’t we all know when our driving goes from aggressive or simply too fast for the current conditions to something potentially more dangerous?
Here’s a fun one where the only wisdom is the lack of wisdom. “Slippery when wet or frosty.” Really? If you are old enough to pay attention to the sign in the first place, wouldn’t you automatically and immediately know that water or frost and ice makes things slippery? Or is the wisdom being imparted here really, “Don’t bother to sue if your mother gets hurt; we are covered?”
Back to “wisdom” signs, but keeping a road theme. “Share the road.” At first glance, this sign tells vehicle drivers to share public roads with bicyclists. This particular sign includes pedestrians. We have all been taught that sharing is good. But this sign takes that wisdom an important step farther; it clearly implies that the strong should share with – defer to – the weak. Just as motorists should share with bicyclists, and bicyclists should share with pedestrians, the strong in society should share with the less strong. And those less strong should share with those even weaker. And sharing does not always mean money; more importantly, it can mean sharing time and expertise. Sharing your wisdom, regardless of the source, with others. And weak does not mean only physical or financial weakness, it can mean the absence of useful thinking. Most often, it is weak thinking that is the most damaging. We’ll talk more about that at another time.
Before I ask you for your “Everyday Wisdom” examples, I’ll share one more. Brains, like batteries, need to generate an electrical current to operate. As we all know, batteries need to be in correct alignment in order to work. “Make sure the positive and negative ends are facing the correct direction.” The batteries may be fresh, and at max charge, but if not aligned correctly they might as well be completely drained. In the same way, our thoughts, no matter how correct or even life-changing, need to be properly aligned to effective. The right thoughts, communicated backwards, are not likely to have the desired effect. And the right thoughts in perfect sequence, but with misaligned body language and tone of voice, might not only be ineffective, but could easily yield the opposite of the desired result. In both cases, both the thoughts and the time spent developing and communicating them would be wasted. Better not to have expended the effort in the first place. It’s a bit like wasting money on good batteries by misaligning them. With greater consequences.
I’d love to hear from you about your examples. Please share them with me, and tell me what they mean to you. And why you shared them. (I’ll pass them along.)
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200 feet in Colorado Springs.