09 Jun

Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure.” – Edward Thorndike

It will come as no surprise that I love words. Choosing the right words, putting them in the right order with the right punctuation—this process of piecing together the expression of an idea I’ve spent days, weeks, or months thinking about is one of my favorite things to do. Another, very related and equally enjoyable pastime for me is thinking about why people do the things they do. What motivates our words and actions? Why do we feel certain things at certain times, and how can we have more control over the decisions we make? How can I use my observations and conclusions about the behavior of others to be a better person and to bring out the best in those around me? (This probably explains why I like to write stories.) Over the course of my life, I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve seen a lot of actions taken and consequences ensue. The more I experience, the more I come back to a handful of old sayings I have heard over the years that I believe ring quite true. Here are my favorites, in no logical order, without any attempt at attribution, and with no guarantees that I’m even quoting them accurately. (Some of these are translated from Arabic, which is the reason for my “no guarantees” disclaimer.)

(1) “What your parents don’t teach you, the world will.” – Whereas I used to be the “child” in this scenario, tasked with learning as much as possible from my parents so that I wouldn’t have to learn it from the world, I am now the parent. My primary obligation is to make sure my children learn from me and my husband as much as possible, because, in my experience, the world is not as kind in administering lessons as a parent is.

(2) “All will be well.” – This is perhaps more of a mantra—a chant or invocation—than it is a saying, but I include it here because I think it is important to keep in mind. My best friend from law school and I would say this to each other often when we were stressed out about assignments, exams, or what would happen after graduation. So far, it has always proven true!

(3) “Idle hands are the devil’s play.” – I don’t remember when I first heard this saying, but it comes back to me often. I am a firm believer in keeping busy—not just my hands, but also my mind. When I sit around with nothing to do, no problems to solve, no plans to make, my thoughts invariably turn to destructive topics. I overanalyze something I said that day, or something said to me. In other words, having “idle hands” can sometimes allow us to wonder about topics that are not healthy or that may harm us. The more comforts we have in our lives, the more difficult it is to keep idleness at bay. Alcoholism, drug use, infidelity, gluttony, anxiety, depression, despair—how many of these things would we be better equipped to manage, avoid, or overcome if we had more purpose in our lives, more to do with our “hands”?

(4) “They found no fault in the rose, so they told her ‘Your cheeks are too red.’” – This was one of my mother’s favorites, obviously (and likely poorly) translated from Arabic. To me, it means that people are quick to find our faults, and we cannot dwell on the negative things others say about us. If people can see flaws in something as lovely and perfect as a rose, then they will certainly see my imperfections. All I can do about that is ignore it and find the confidence to be the person I want to be, regardless of what others may think.

(5) “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” – No matter the job, it is important to take pride in our work and do it to the best of our abilities. Whether it is raking leaves or taking orders at the drive-thru of a fast-food restaurant or structuring a multi-million-dollar corporate acquisition, doing our best always makes a difference. Even if that difference is putting a smile on someone’s face, it is well worth the effort.

These are just some of the sayings I’ve kept with me over the years. What are the words you live by?

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