Doug Taylor with Rabbi Morton Moskowitz
We had started out talking about rational thinking. But somehow the conversation had shifted to proverbs.
Not Biblical proverbs. American proverbs.
“Look,” he said. “People say these things all the time without thinking about them. They’re repeated so often that everyone assumes everyone else knows what they mean.”
I wasn’t convinced. “Give me an example,” I challenged.
“Okay,” he said. “How about ‘early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise’?”
“What about it?” I asked.
“Well what does it mean?” he countered.
“It means exactly what it says.”
“And what is that?”
“Well, it means that if you go to bed early and get up early, you’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I suddenly had the uneasy feeling of a chess player who senses he has just moved exactly as his opponent expected.
“Come now,” he replied. “What does going to bed early and getting up early have to do with health, wealth, and wisdom?”
“And,” he continued, “what is ‘early’?”
“Well it’s—.” I stopped in mid-sentence, realizing I didn’t have a clue as to how to answer either question.
“You see,” he said, without bothering to announce ‘checkmate,’ “we don’t think these things through.”
He went on. “The only way this proverb makes any sense is if we interpret ‘early’ to mean ‘on time.’ On time implies a plan. So, early to bed and early to rise means two things. First it means you have some type of plan or schedule. It also implies that you follow it.”
“Now why is it important to have a plan?” he asked.
I was wary. I didn’t want to get trapped a second time. “So you can get more done?” I said cautiously.
“Right,” he said. “Health, wealth, and wisdom don’t usually happen by accident. For health, we must exercise regularly, prepare good meals, eat well, and get enough rest. For wealth, we must develop incomes to meet our needs, budget our expenditures, and prepare for the future. For wisdom, we must study the works of scholars. All of these activities require planning. We must develop a schedule and then follow it.”
“At least, most of the time,” he added.
I pondered his logic and began to understand why he was known to his friends as the King of Rational Thought. I kicked myself for missing something so obvious. At least, it seemed obvious once he explained it to me.
“But isn’t that a pretty basic message?” I asked.
“Sure it is,” he replied. “Vast amounts of time management literature have been written around this very point. In fact, other proverbs have developed around it - for example, ‘Plan your work and work your plan.’”
“You see,” he said, “in order to have success in a given area of life, you have to work out whether you have enough time to do everything needed. That means developing a plan. Following that plan gives you the best chance of achieving your goal. But if you don’t develop a plan, then you likely won’t use your time as effectively as you could, and you’re unlikely to achieve your goal.
“That’s what the proverb is trying to get across,” he concluded.
“Well it seems simple enough,” I said.
“Yes, but the problem is we don’t think these issues through rationally, step by step,” he said. “We just repeat phrases without seriously analyzing them. Of course, emotionally that can be very appealing. Platitudes sound great. They’re music to our ears. But the question is, do they really make any sense?”
“By the way,” he added, smiling, “this problem is especially rampant in political rhetoric.”
I decided to try some rational analysis on my own. I picked a well-known phrase which, although not a proverb, certainly has been used enough to make it one... Buy Now And Save.
I decided it’s an oxymoron.