Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Monday, September 6, 2010

Knowing when to stop pushing

Pushing ends at the wall. (Sierra Leone)

Dear Zayda,

No matter how hard we push, we need to recognize when we hit a wall. We can go over, under, or around the wall. We can stop and think what we can do to break down the wall, or we can leave that wall for now with a plan to return when we are stronger or have more help. At the very least, we need to step back before the wall does us damage.

Many of us would like to be popular. However, pushing can create a wall between us and others. Then the harder we push is the more others pull away. If we appear too needy, others may push back at us, and we may feel even more crushed by this wall. We may also blame those who do not like us, thus making the wall even higher and wider.

If pushing makes us feel hurt and unhappy, we need to stop and think about where we are and where we want to go. For example, being popular is more about liking ourselves than about having others like us. If we have to push to start a friendship, we are likely to have to continue pushing to keep the friendship. However, if we are good friends with ourselves first, we are more likely to attract those whom we don’t need to push.

In a competitive world, pushing for a promotion at work seems like the only choice. A man named Don was good at his job, and so he was disappointed when Cynthia got the promotion he thought he deserved. He decided to do his best to push her out of the job, in the hope that he would replace her. He spread gossip about her, claiming that she was dishonest. Now, what people say about others is often true about themselves. After a couple of years, Don lost the job because he changed a company check and kept the money for himself.

Cynthia continued to face the wall of gossip that Don had started. So she resigned from her post when she felt life had more to offer than daily battles at work. When she left, someone else got the promotion as Don had wanted so badly.

We can push by improving ourselves, and by doing our best always. However, our best ideas can come to us when we are not pushing.

For example, Debbie may be working 16 hours every day to try to complete a project. However, the harder she works is the more tired her brain becomes. The long hours at the computer may cause Debbie's eyes and her back to ache. She may need to know when to stop pushing because she has reached a wall. Lying down in bed or going to the beach may seem irresponsible with so much work to do; however, the break is likely to help Debbie to find ways under, over, or around the wall. Fresh ideas will almost certainly come to her after a nap or a swim. She may relax with friends who, to her surprise, can provide her with answers that will shorten her work.

Balance is key to knowing when to push, and when to stop pushing. Balance and wisdom.


Your shangazi Nothango (Yvonne)

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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