So, another Chinese proverb that I can’t nail down to one particular author… It doesn’t really matter, but I like trying to link to the authors of these proverbs because it can affect some of the interpretation process – something that I enjoy looking into and figuring out.
I remember this one more as I got older – it never really resonated with me much in my youth, although I know that I experienced the meaning of this one a few times in my life by then. As I got older, it made more sense – Society only reveres exceptionally good deeds, and only for a short while; Bad deeds or mistakes, it almost never forgets…
When I was in my mid-twenties, I made a mistake that cost me many friendships. I admit it was a mistake, and I knew it at the time – and although I tried to minimize the issue, it did end up blowing up… really bad. Consequently, many of the people I had called friends and who knew me as a decent man, a good guy, etc., ended up withdrawing from my life because of it – and others ended up spreading the word of my error.
Some would go on to make stuff up, but that’s another story.
No matter how many people – friends and strangers alike – that I had helped move, helped through difficult times, pulled over to help push their car out of the way, stepped up to defend when they couldn’t do it for themselves, bought coffee for, etc. etc., for a time was insubstantial because of that one thing. That one moment in time that was a moment of weakness, resulting in an error in judgement, was the only thing that seemed to percolate in peoples minds whenever my name was mentioned – and this went on for years. I had some really good friends who stuck by me and reminded others that this was a glitch, but this was not the prevalent notion – and actually did me a favour by reminding me who the friends I had that were worth my time… but that’s another point.
Things have changed, but it bothered me for a very long time – in part because I swore that I would never repeat the mistake, and also because of the fallout… it pained me, while simultaneously informing me, that public opinion is a fickle thing. And as I continued with my military training, I learned an associated saying – you’re only known by your worst watch.
What is it about society that compels us to seek out the worst of a person, and only remember the mistakes they make?
Not everyone is a Mother Theresa or Gandhi, the icons of humanity and moralism (who, I would argue, would probably be given a break if any of their mistakes were brought to light… minus the whole concept that we try not to speak ill of the dead, with few exceptions.)
Is remembering someone’s goodness so difficult? Do we feel challenged by another person’s goodness, feel judged for not doing this or that, or feel lacklustre in light of someone else’s good deeds?
So, as a consequence of my dislike that this is even a thing – which, if you think about it, these proverbs are generally hundreds (if not thousands) of years old; so, we haven’t really changed much at all – I try to make sure that I give credit where it’s due. If someone did a good thing for me, I let them know that it was appreciated at the time, but also later. I have also found that I emulate those friends who defended me when I wasn’t able to do so for myself in similar circumstances – when someone bad-mouths someone else, and I know that the person is actually a good person, I challenge the negativity with some positive… The interesting reaction is that, generally, the person doing the bad-mouthing (which is different than simply complaining about someone else – bad-mouthing is the active negativity, the mild-but-not-quite-prosecutable slander that generally spews from those people who just can’t ever be satisfied… we all know those type of people…) doesn’t quite know what to say, because they usually believe that they’re going to have company on their little journey.
And I get a sort of satisfaction by making that particular journey a guilt trip for being so negative… I haven’t had to do this in a while. because I would like to think that I am surrounded by predominately good people.
This was less a review of the proverb, and more of a confession-turned-sociological review – but it was on my mind, and I hope you enjoyed it.