Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Power of little axe over big tree

A little axe can cut down a big tree. (Jamaica)

Dear Zayda,

We always have more power than we think we have. A little axe may take a while to bring down the biggest tree, but the tree will come down if the axe keeps going. At the same time, the ax is connected to the tree, so we also need to learn that giving away even a little of our power can come back to harm us.

Let us remember the words Bob Marley sang about the power of the "Small Axe":

Aesop, the African storyteller, also noted the power of the small axe. I re-tell for you his fable of the trees and the axe.

A man came into the forest and said to the trees, “Will one of you please give me a handle for my axe? I want the hardest wood.”

The old oak trees and the great cedar trees agreed to help the man, even though they said they had no branches to spare. From their height, almost touching the clouds, these trees pointed to a little ash tree. “Take that one,” the oak and cedar said to the man, “It probably won’t amount to much, anyway.”

The man was grateful. He fitted his axe with a new handle and went to work. In a short while, he chopped down oak trees, cedar trees, and the biggest giants in the forest.

“Look at what the ash tree did to us!” a cedar tree said. It still had its trunk, but had lost a lot of its branches.

“No,” an oak tree said. “We did this to ourselves.”

“Are you saying we cut ourselves down?” the cedar tree said. “That’s ridiculous!”

“The man cut us down,” the oak said. “But we gave him the handle for his axe.”

“And your point is…” the cedar tree said.

“Well,” the oak tree said, “If we did not give up the rights of the little ash, all of us might still be standing.”

We make a big mistake, my grandniece, if we assume that what is little has no power. You will already have found out how much power you have to change your parents’ lives, even though you are just a few months old. Jamaica, for example, is like a dot on the map compared with the United States of America, but we have some of the fastest runners in the world.

We make an even bigger mistake if we think we are safe when we give away someone else’s rights because we think that person is little and therefore of no great importance. We need to remember that all our rights are connected. If we allow something bad to happen to someone else today, the same thing can happen to us tomorrow.

We put ourselves in danger when we ignore who or what we decide is small stuff. It makes sense to love and care for others (however big or small) just as we would want others to love and care for us.

What do you think?


Your shangazi

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at