On giving too much

Adam McCollum’s blog HMMLOrientalia came back to life a few months ago, and unfortunately I did not notice.  But he is now posting some very useful material indeed, with good bibliographies, and each post contributes measurably the increasing the quality of information online.

But this post caught my eye for other reasons:

At the beginning of CFMM 306 are a few maxims, first in Syriac, then in Arabic (Garšūnī) …

  • Don’t believe everything you hear.
  • Don’t tell* everything that you see.
  • Don’t say everything that you know.
  • Don’t do everything that you are able to do.
  • Don’t give all you possess.

These are maxims of reticence or prudent withholding, all of this basic theme, and they reflect the experience of those who, having given too freely of their means or knowledge, have gotten into trouble, lost relationships, and more.

I suspect those of us who blog, who contribute online, have all encountered these problems, from being too generous. 

All of us who give of ourselves must know our limits.  More, we must recognise that only we can enforce them.  There are any number of people who go around making demands of others.  Which of us has not received some ill-spelled and preremptory demand for information, evidently from a child too lazy to do his homework? 

To remain in good health, we must politely but firmly decline to exceed our boundaries, whether in response to sudden enthusiasm on our own part, or to urgent importunity from others.  The troll who seeks to lure you into an interminable correspondence is not your friend.  Have the courage to dismiss him.  To do otherwise is violate our boundaries, and to haemorrage ourselves for those who will do nothing for us. 

Often, too often, we find that those for whom we have sacrificed our time and energy suddenly go silent, without even a “thank you”; leaving us feeling flat, sore and abused.  Occasionally we even find that our labours are thrown back in our faces by those who could not have done anything without us, yet decline even to acknowledge their indebtedness. 

So … let us know our limits.

But Adam then goes on to make a valuable point about sayings literature, or gnomologia as some anti-populariser dubbed it:

There are, of course, notable traditions of maxims and proverbs spanning ancient near eastern and classical literature (at least Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and Latin), and the sentiments indicated above are hardly unique among those traditions.

And he then references a number of these.

Arabic sayings literature — or, more accurately Christian Arabic sayings literature — seems largely inaccessible and unexplored.  We really could do with a corpus of the material listed in Graf (vol. 1, p.482 f.).  Little of it has even been published.


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