n. a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct.
Maxims, sayings, idioms all exist to do one thing: summarize a lesson in a single phrase, often metaphorically. It’s useful, I’ll admit, to be able to convey so much meaning in just one word or sentence by just referencing the relevant phrase. However, I really disagree and resent some of these maxims, because they don’t make sense or are just plain wrong. I’ll start with an simple one.
Don’t judge others
This isn’t really a maxim, just something that people often say. I don’t dislike this one; I just think that the thought process behind it is weird.
First of all, how can you not judge others? That’s why “First impressions count”. We have judges and juries for a reason: to judge people. Employers have interviews to judge potential employees. We humans automatically judge everyone we meet. It’s just a matter of tact to not hold it against them. I think we should be able to judge others freely, but reevaluate that judgement when new information about that person becomes known.
Blood is thicker than water
This is a statement that has biblical roots and is commonly used to mean that familial ties are stronger than mere friendships. That members of your family are closer or more important than the friends you keep.
Let me be clear: I have nothing against family ties and being filial. I just hate that the phrase is used incorrectly. The meaning is actually supposed to be the opposite of what it’s used for today. The original quote is “Blood of the covenant is thicker than water of the womb“. In the past, blood pacts, or covenants, were made to seal an allegiance or promise between people. The parties involved would cut their hands and let their blood mingle as a symbol of loyalty. “Water of the womb” is self explanatory, so the original saying meant that relationships that were formed by choice are stronger than the relationships that we had no say over.
One for all, all for one
The SAF is famous for this quote from The Three Musketeers. Sure, it’s a nice phrase to convey teamwork, that everyone is important and that we leave no man behind.
But I despise the use of it to justify punishments given to the whole platoon for the mistakes of a few. It’s supposed to be about suffering through hardship brought on by the environment together, not suffering through punishments. It doesn’t serve any productive purpose. It just makes everyone hate that one guy who got them into trouble, as well as the commander who punished them. If people work together after that, it’s only out of fear and desperation.
I do understand military discipline, but why can’t it be a modified form? Sure, punish the whole platoon to drill in the lesson, but punish the person in the wrong a little bit more to appease the rest. I would think that the other guys would be less likely to “take revenge” by way of say, blanket parties, because it doesn’t feel so much like an injustice. Yeah, we all got punished, but the guy was punished a little extra. I, for one, would be more willing to accept this punishment, regardless of whether I caused the platoon to be knocked down or I’m just one of the unlucky guys being punished for no reason.
Selfishness VS Greed
Another phrase I keep hearing in the army is “Don’t be selfish”. But why not? Being selfish only means you look out for yourself first. Why shouldn’t that be the case? I ought to be able to be selfish as long as I don’t hinder anyone else. Why should I offer to help someone if I can’t even help myself first?
Sometimes it’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation. If you don’t help, you’re labelled as selfish. If you do help someone, but in the process you become the problem or cause a different problem, then you’re “being extra”, slang for “being meddlesome”.
I think the right phrase should be “Don’t be greedy”. Being greedy means taking more than you need. Being selfish means taking enough for yourself first. Doesn’t matter what it is: food, drinks, time, benefits, credit. It’s all the same.
I guess it all boils down to teamwork. What is teamwork? A group of people working together to achieve something they probably couldn’t achieve individually. Synergy.
But what is it really? Is it a single task divided by the number of team members, each member doing the exact same job, somehow each one building up to the final objective? I think it’s not. I think it’s a task broken down into clear, distinct jobs that should be assigned to the people with the best skills. Nobody should be doing the same job.
Relating back to being selfish. Wouldn’t it be better to be selfish and finish your job first, then get out of everyone’s way? Of course, that’s often seen as slacking and the rest get upset when you don’t offer to help them. But why should you? In this case, since the each small task is assigned to the person or people with the right skills, helping may be “helping”, where you have good intentions but screw up the whole thing because you lack the know-how, or you don’t understand or realize the workflow of the original party doing the job.
Isn’t that being greedy then? Taking more than you need? Doing more than you need to?
Be selfish, not greedy.