Contradicting Proverbs And Their Truths.

Opposites attractBirds of a feather flock together
The early bird gets the wormThe second mouse gets the cheese
Offence is the best defenceHe who lives by the sword dies by the sword
Absence makes the heart grow fonderOut of sight, out of mind
Do unto others as you would have others do unto youNice guys finish last
Many hands make light workToo many cooks spoil the broth
A fool wonders what a wise man asksIt is better to appear an idiot than open your mouth and remove all doubt
Actions speak louder than wordsThe pen is mightier than the sword
Knowledge is powerIgnorance is bliss
Great starts make great finishesSlow and steady wins the race
Do as I say, not as I doPractise what you preach

Opposites attract vs. Birds of a feather flock together. 

Like many proverbs, these are very broad statements. In the romance context, “Birds of a feather flock together” is known academically as assortative mating, which is the idea that people get romantically involved with those who are similar to themselves. For instance, people may seek out partners who are roughly equally as educated as them, or have about the same level of self-esteem. The science of assortative mating is mixed, with some studies supporting the theory whereas others don’t. 

Dr. Helen Fisher postulates that humans seek those similar to themselves in certain traits, but go for opposites in other traits. Specifically, “birds of a feather flock together” applies to religious, conventional, sensation seeking, energetic and impulsive people. Meanwhile “opposites attract” applies to the testosterone-estrogen spectrum, whereby high-testosterone people seek out high-estrogen partners, and vice versa. 

Absence makes the heart grow fonder vs. Out of sight, out of mind

French writer François de La Rochefoucauld explains the apparent contradiction with the following quote: “Absence extinguishes the minor passions and increases the great ones, as the wind blows out a candle and fans a fire.”

Offence is the best defence vs. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword

The former quote is often attributed to former world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. The quote however, may be a misinterpretation. In 1950, Dempsey clarified his stance by saying “The best defense in fighting is an aggressive defense […] That does not mean that ‘a strong offense is the best defense.’ That overworked quotation may apply to other activities; but it does not apply to fighting. It does not apply when you’re pitted against an experienced opponent. You may have the best attack in the world; but if you’re an open target—if you’re a ‘clay pigeon’—you’ll likely get licked by the first experienced scrapper you tackle. You must have a good defense to be a well-rounded fighter. And the best defense is an aggressive defense.

The proverbs are reconciled when considering that even when attacking, one’s defense is still the primary consideration.

Great starts make great finishes vs. Slow and steady wins the race

Both proverbs have some truths to them, but I’m inclined to lean towards the latter. For instance, did you know that almost all running world records have negative splits? That is, the second halves are run faster than the first halves of the races. But of course, the first halves are also run at world class speed, so the “great starts make great finishes” also applies. 

Moreover, amongst habit-researchers, making minor changes in daily routine are usually considered more effective than trying to make sudden drastic changes in lifestyle. 

Do as I say, not as I do vs. Practise what you preach

Psychologists have found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that parents’ behavior are much better predictors of their children’s behavior than their values. In other words, practicing what you preach is more effective than telling your kids to “do as I say, not as I do” [1].

Across three studies, participants strongly prefer people who practice what they preach, even when their actions are difficult and likely to be ineffective [2].

Many hands make light work vs. Too many cooks spoil the broth

While it is true that too many cooks spoil the broth, collaboration is ultimately what has brought humanity to where it is today. The technology, science, production, economics and language we have today could never have been created without the collective effort of millions of people. 

Paradoxical proverbs

Just for fun, here are some proverbs that are paradoxical or contradict themselves.

No rule without exception

There are no absolutes

Change is the only constant

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: