Modern Day Proverbs

I’ve been at my current job for four years.  During that whole time, there has been a homemade sign hanging up in the bathroom stall:  LADIES PLEASE REMEMBER THAT OTHERS USE THE RESTROOM BEHIND YOU!! PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS AND CLEAN UP BEHIND YOURSELVES.  ALSO THE AIR FRESHNER (sic) IS HERE TO USE.  THANKS TO ALL. 

I know that we all think these things.  Hey!  use the air freshener!  But how often are you agitated enough that you take the time to compose a note.  Then you stop, evaluate, and add pleasantries like “ladies” and “thanks to all.”  Then you print it.  Then you try and find tape (which is not easy in a modern office for some reason).  Then you walk all the way down to the bathroom and wait for people to leave the stalls so you can post your notes.  That takes some strong feelings and some great follow through.  That tenacity is then rewarded with bathroom sign immortality.  Four years!!  No one touches that sign–the edges may be tattered and curled, but the message lives on.  It occured to me the other day as I was, um, thinking in there, that this was like a modern day proverb.  There may have been a ridiculously disproportionate initial outlay of effort compared to the actual situation, but then your words live on.

Have you read any good proverbs lately?  There are some gems in there.  Some favorites:  Proverbs 6:6:  Go to the ant, you sluggard.  Consider her ways and be wise. That is some lasting sluggard-disgust there.  3000 years later and we’re still reading about it.  Another:  Proverbs 29:3:  Whoever loves wisdom brings joy to his father; But a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth. Actually, that’s pretty good advice–I’m not going to mock it.  Read Proverbs 31 lately?  There’s this guy named Lemuel and his mother doesn’t like his girlfriend.  3000 years later, and the girl is anonymous, but mama is immortalized.  Words are power.

I’m trying to think of advice that I would feel strongly enough about to write it down for hundreds of generations to read:  Look before you leap?  Carpe Diem?  Actually, I think “ALSO THE AIR FRESHNER IS HERE TO USE” is probably the best advice I could give.   What about you?  What life proverbs do you feel strongly enough about that you would preserve them for future generations, or at the very least find tape and post on the bathroom wall?


  1. These are my creative writing “proverbs”–questions, actually:
    “What have you seen with your poetic eyes today?” I tell my students to never satisfy themselves with general categories like “birds” or “trees” but to acquaint themselves with specifics, and to notice the veins of the leaves.
    “Who did you fall in love with today?” This refers to authors, not just other BYU students. I think we should fall in love with good authors on a regular basis. I am currently in love with Elie Wiesel. After hearing his words at Buchenwald, I remembered how much I love him, and I’ve been reading his words again.
    “Any good eavesdropping?” Ah the joys of paying attention! I love taking a sauna with miscellaneous athletes who have no idea I’m an English teacher taking all sorts of notes on their conversations. (“Oh I don’tknow–she’s a little too virtuous for me” is one of my most favorite lines.) Or it’s very fun to be in a steam room with Spanish speakers who have no idea I can understand everything they’re saying. Especially fun when I “despedir” them in Spanish.

  2. Karen H. says:

    Ooooh, I like the eavesdropping one Margaret. I’m really curious and inappropriate, so that works for me. :)

  3. Light a Match!

  4. Most of the proverbs I can think of are things that wouldn’t be written down because the audience can’t read yet. Things like “Pee doesn’t go in your underwear. It goes in the toilet.” or “Keep your clothes on when we’re out of the house.” and “We have to pay for the cookies before you can eat them.”

  5. Like Starfoxy, most of what comes out of my mouth is along those lines- “Don’t eat your boogers.” “Your bottom is private and you keep it covered, please.” or lately, “Playing under mom’s skirt is not an option.”

  6. Paul Swenson says:

    Is the inadvertent humor of the sign writer’s use of the word “behind” in her message (rather than “after”) so obvious that no one thinks to comment on it? Or is it too embarrassing to mention? Particularly in the second use of “behind, would it be rude to recognize or point out amusement when confronted on the wall of a restroom stall with “PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE AND CLEAN UP BEHIND YOURSELF”? In other words, am I alone in deconstructing unintended meaning here?

  7. There’s a sign in the teacher’s lounge over the coffee pots:

    ‘If you empty a coffee pot, make a new pot. It only takes a minute, and someone else has done it for you. It’s your turn.’

    While I don’t drink coffee, the sentiment has struck me as useful and true more than once.

  8. CatherineWO says:

    Perhaps this is a thread jack, but air fresheners are full of toxic chemicals. I have severe chemical sensitivities, so if I walk into a rest room where an air freshener has been used, I am likely to either go into an asthmatic reaction or get a migraine.
    So, perhaps my proverb would be, “Please DON’T use the air freshener.”

  9. In the same spirit as Norbert’s sign, there’s one I’ve seen in workplace kitchens the world over. “Your mother doesn’t work here.” At work, tidying the kitchen often falls to me. I’ve thought about making a sign that says, “Your mother doesn’t work here, but if she did, she would tell you to clean up your own mess!”

  10. The chapel in Turku Finland has a unisex bathroom that brandishes a sign next to the toilet which reads:

    “Tuli sitä taikka tätä, älä vetämättä jätä.”

    It’s a clever play in Finnish that means, essentially, “Flush the dang toilet!”

  11. Nothing Ever Goes as Planned (it’s a heck of notion)

  12. The women’s bathroom at my wardhouse needs a sign like that–I never imagined that that bathroom would be nastier to clean than the men’s bathroom, but unflushed toilets, used feminine hygiene products, and dirty diapers, all left to stew for a week…
    That not only something I really don’t want to clean, it also smells horrible.

  13. aloysiusmiller says:

    12. Amen and amen. When we were raising our children we had little plastic bags and wire twists. The diapers went home with us where we disposed of them. It was considered bad form to leave a diaper. I think we were just following social norms. When did they change?

  14. lamonte says:

    My father will be 90 in December. Over the 55 years of my life he has shared much wisdom with me but the saying/proverb/advice that has been engraved on my brain is, “With every right comes a responsibility.”

  15. lamonte says:

    “I tell my students to never satisfy themselves with general categories like “birds” or “trees” but to acquaint themselves with specifics, and to notice the veins of the leaves.”

    Margaret – your words helped me recall advice from my drawing teacher in college who helped me look beyond the first layer and notice the details of someone’s face or of any object I was drawing. Thanks for illustarting how “creative eyes” are necessary for writing as well as drawing.

  16. “think before you act”

    I m most likely to be saying something crazy like…please don’t hit the oven with the melon baller…or we don’t put kittens in the freezer.

    I’m just hoping think before you act would cover a few of hte actions I don’t think of needing to legislate against.

  17. chelseaw says:

    This post reminds me of

  18. My Mom on complaining about being too tired to do a chore:

    “Most of the worlds work is done by sick and tired people.”

  19. Jim Donaldson says:

    My new favorite is from David Foster Wallace:

    “The truth will set you free. But only after it is done with you.”

  20. The post in my office men’s room read: “Will the players with the short bats, stand a little closer to the plate.”

  21. I find passive-agressive notes to be the best way to form proverbs for the workplace. I also find it amusing when there are signs that say things like, “Please clean up after yourself” because I own a professional cleaning business, and have come to realise that people almost uniformly ignore those notes.

    On a more serious train of thought, I think that Robert Fulghum has supplied the world with a wonderful list of proverbs, all from his books.

    My dad has also passed on several sayings that I find myself using all the time: “play the tape through” (meaning, determine the end before you start something) and “at the end of the day, evaluate what you did; it will help you determine what is most important to you” (because, really, you are going to do the things you think are important–or at least, thought were important at the time).

    I’m surprised that nobody has delved into the proverbs of modern Apostles yet. Or are we looking for the non-GA proverbial sayings?

  22. “Who did you fall in love with today?” This refers to authors, not just other BYU students. I think we should fall in love with good authors on a regular basis.

    Margaret, I fell in love with Edna St. Vincent Millay years ago and I still haven’t gotten over it.

  23. I like all the Mom proverbs. They have probably been passed down from generation to generation in a rich oral tradition with children resenting it until they grow up and find the same words coming out of their own mouths…

    Catherine WO: We have duelling life mottos! I think we should both put them in proverbs, and then in a few hundred years eavesdrop on Sunday School and listen as participants try to reconcile the two contradictory statements. The sentence would start out “I totally agree with….but….”

    Alex, since I started out with bathroom humor, I hadn’t really thought of including modern GA proverbs. However, quote away–we’d all be happy to hear your thoughts.

  24. Elouise says:

    Margaret– In creative writing class, I used to tell students,
    “All right; as of today, you have your Eavesdropper’s license; make good use of it.” One of the best catches was overheard in the Dodo restaurant. Young woman says to her companion, “And she ended up on the floor!” To which the young man said, “We all will, some day.” That is tacked up in my head permanently!

    Anon–Our wonderful mission president (Rulon T. Hinckley) once said to my companion and me, when we were talking about some elders not working much because they were on the sick list, “Most of the world’s work is done by people who aren’t feeling too well.”

    We two must have been very tired ourselves, because my companion and I found the statement hugely funny, and began giggling helplessly and, I fear, rudely (and we were NOT gigglers, nor all that young). But that truth has stayed with me for all the years since, and sometimes it gives me the kick in the derriere needed to finish a task

    My personal favorite for this category might be Mark Twain’s version of Paul’s truth: “For now we see through a glass eye dimly.”

  25. I bought air freshener and put it in the ladies bathroom at the church for years. Until last year when I quit going to church. I empathize with that person who put up the sign.

  26. The two things I emphasize to young people these days are 1. never take your bowels for granted

    2. get the epidural

    I guess those could be proverbs. or whatever.

  27. merrybits says:

    This too, shall pass.

  28. On my sons’ wedding days, I always repeat the words that Grandpa gave Homor on his wedding day. Perhaps the most important advice ever given:

    “if you ever travel back in time, don’t step on anything because even the tiniest change can alter the future in ways you can’t imagine.”

  29. 1. Crying doesn’t fix it. Cartoons fix it, but crying doesn’t fix it. (Original to me. No matter how bad a day I’ve had, the coyote has it worse.)

    2. Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity. (I’ve heard this from other sources, but it covers most of what goes on at church these days. And sadly, Boy Scout leaders almost always fall under malicious intent.)

    3. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done. (From a Relief Society lesson my mom had in a BYU ward in the late 60s.)

    I’ve got a large set of personal parables, but this covers the Proverbs.

  30. Joyce in Oregon says:

    Never expect anything, then you won’t be disappointed

  31. Don’t let how others treat you dictate how you treat them.

  32. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    My kids will surely tell you that they are tired of hearing it, but at least they’re hearing it: “Make your own decisions.”

    A personal favorite can be attributed to Marge Simpson: “Sometimes one person can make a difference. But most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

  33. A couple I have used on my kids:

    “The best revenge is living well.” Usually after the kids complained about bad grades from a teacher they didn’t consider competent. In fact, one of them in particular, now a married adult, is doing just that. I’d love to have his junior high teachers see him now.

    “No matter where you go, there you are. Deal with it.” Fully self explanatory, I should think.

  34. What I am continually telling my students…

    “I am not your mother!”

  35. lamonte says:

    Joyce in Oregon – you reminded me of a favorite line, when I’m feeling defiant, “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down” Gin Blossoms

  36. I think this is from the last Priesthood conference session:

    “A boob in the hand is worth two on the internet”

  37. Anonymous says:

    #27-kidney stones?

  38. Randall says:

    Yo Gabba Gabba is full of great proverbs. My favorite is “Don’t bite your friends”.

  39. The best come from The Princess Bride:

    “We’ll never survive!”
    “Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

    Then there’s my fathers response when I was a teenager, struggling with seminary, after-school employment, AP class exams, insensitive friends, and sleep-deprivation. He put his arms around me, told me he loved me, and said that in times like these, the phrase that most came to mind was “Better you than me.”

    Surprisingly, that helped!

  40. “Things are never as bad as they seem.” When it was said by Steve Martin in “The Man With Two Brains”, I think it was meant humourously, but it’s always kind of stuck with me. I’m sure others have said it. I’m not saying I always believe it in a moment of anxiety or stress, but I do think of it.

  41. “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left.”

    “The only thing certain in life is death.” – favorite proverb of some IRS workers I knew.

  42. Stephanie says:

    It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

    If you don’t have anything nice to say, go with saying nothing all day.

  43. Stephanie says:

    #12 – we solved that problem in our building by buying a box of grocery sacks from Sams Club. We put a sign next to them that says, “Please tie dirty diapers in bag before putting into diaper can”. There have still been a few stinky Sundays (maybe someone not paying attention?!?), but it got a whole lot better. Not too bad – a box lasts about 2 years with 3 wards and only cost about $13. WELL WORTH the money.

  44. aspiemom says:

    Words of wisdom from my dear friend John:

    “Happy wife, Happy life.

  45. I second Chelsea in #17. Passive-aggressive notes is a hilarious site if you want to read tons of notes like this.

    I don’t have any great proverbs, but one thing I say over and over to my kids is “Stay where I can see you!”

  46. My own proverb:

    Listen to your critics (enemies), they are your best teachers.

    Herman Hesse (modified), Das Glasperlenspiel

    To deal with life (Hesse: history) means to abandon one’s self to chaos and yet to retain a belief in the ordination and the meaning. It is a very serious task.

  47. #38 – I would have to agree. My daughter goes around the house saying things like, “Keep trying, don’t give up” and “Try it, you’ll like it.” The power of anthropomorphic creatures.

  48. Steve G. says:

    As for GA proverbs, I remember one from a General Conference in the mid nineties, but can’t remember which apostle said it:

    “arsenic is not addictive”

  49. Steve G. says:

    speaking of Proverbs:

    check out 21:9 and 21:19

  50. “Mormonism keeps men and women young and handsome.”(Brigham Young)

    See Hamer’s post on Thomas Marsh, 7/1/09

  51. #29 – I loved your second proverb. I copied it so I can paste it up somewhere. Very Buddha!

    I don’t know if I have a proverb, per se, but I guess the thing I tell my students most often is: Give me more information than I ask for and you can’t go wrong (as long as you’re within the page limit!).
    And the first rule in our house is “No Blood = No Tears” Somewhat insensitive, but that’s tough.

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