Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Psychiatrists used to test several things in your brain by asking you to explain what various proverbs mean. Because more than one things is being measured, the trend is away from this now, but you can cover a lot of ground quickly - getting a sense of not only ability to abstract, but whether high emotion words distract one. For example, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water," might provoke an isolated-feeling person to get hung up on the part that a baby is being thrown out. A person of limited intellect might make no sense of it at all.

"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" was a popular first proverb. Its abstraction was minimal, and there were no emotion-laden words in it. No obvious ones, anyway. Psychotic people can become stimulated by pretty unlikely things. But most people would get this one right. They had heard some variant of it and understood the comment.

Intentionally more problematic, because it is both more abstract and more ambiguous, is "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Even if you know it well and get the point upon hearing it, it's a little difficult to put into words the first time. I never quite worked out for myself, however: is the important part of "glass" in the proverb that it is brittle or that it is transparent? Both preserve the sense of the proverb, though with a different feeling. Perhaps they are also meant to reinforce each other, giving one a double reason not to throw stones.

Which aspect dominates for you in contemplating the proverb?


Retriever said...

As far as that proverb goes, I've always focussed primarily on the stone throwing part of it. Because I am the product of an extremely critical family. My father used to enjoy teasing people quite cruelly, like a cat, but they sometimes didn't realize he was mocking them because he would smile and act charming while asking questions with an edge to them. I think we have all inherited the tendency to mock, find fault, be snarky or else get righteously indignant about others.

The habit of stoning others. Those horrid people in the BIble taking miserable sinners out to murder them in the name of righteousness. In an early SUnday School class I remember thinking that one person's criticism and condemnation could be the death of another. So I tend to think of throwing stones as both cruel and dangerous to others AND as likely to be something that others may do to me.

Merciful people MIGHT expect that others would show mercy towards them. But merciless, cold, cruel, critical people are likely to be hammered when they are caught out. I think this is why all those televangelists who get caught sinning are so trashed. Because they have been so cruel to other sinners.

I think because in my prolonged mid-life crisis, I don't feel very settled, so the "people who live in glass houses" doesn't really mean much except a sense of living somewhere that isn't really a home. I have friends my age who are more contented, at peace with their circumstances, and they are better able to live and let live. I guess the message is that people who are unsettled and visibly so, are unwise to criticise others?

Not sure what kind of an answer that is to your question.

I keep resolving to be less critical of others....

karrde said...

The proverb is almost always quoted with the don't throw stones lesson.

Who is it that lives in a glass house?

The person who shouldn't be throwing stones.

(You tell me mockingly about Mrs. Jones, and the way her children behave. Should we ask your Mother if you were perfect?)

I think the assertion is that each of us has a trait, or piece of history, that could be a target of mockery or criticism.

And the lesson is not to mock or criticise.

Texan99 said...

The brittleness is the primary point of the glass, for me. It's nice, though, that a glass house also exposes your sins for onlookers, who will catch you out in your hypocrisy.