Nudging this way then that way

Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent, 1887

Have you ever noticed how proverbs sometimes contradict each other? For instance, “Look before you leap” gets pushback from “He who hesitates is lost.” Once you start looking for them, examples start to crop up.

 

 

There are quite a few “reach for the stars” sentiments out there providing the soundbites for commencement speeches, captioning inspirational posters, and adorning  pinterest posts. And then there’s this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson:

“The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.”

Just as there’s truth in both the apparently contradictory proverbs about leaping and hesitating, both thoughts about reaching or not reaching for stars have value–they can serve as counterpoints. You might think of it this way: watch a footballer (soccer player) moving the ball down the field–a nudge from the left foot toward the right, then a nudge from the right foot toward the left, again and again, all to keep the ball going toward the goal.

 

My nephew giving a bit more than a nudge

I can see value in a lofty “Reach for the stars” line, but one of the things I like about the Stevenson quote is that it can help me with what is happening this minute–it reminds me of the value of my present experience, the blessings in my lap right now. I don’t see it as anti-striving, since there’s real striving involved in staying focused on doing “life’s plain, common work” when there are so many things to distract.

What do you think? Do you have a great quote that seems to contradict this one by Stevenson, that could be a nudge from the other side?

 

 

[Images: biblioklept.org, pinterest, Minta Valentine]

 

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