The Cost of Cynicism

Do you know this phrase?: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

Of course you do. Most of us know this clever quip which demeans a profession crucial to the continuance of our society, thereby meeting the standard for cynicism.

Do you know who first said it? I didn’t, so I looked it up. Turns out it was the illustrious Irish author and playwright George Bernard Shaw in 1903. Shaw was (among other things) a satirist. This quote is actually a twist on an ancient bit of wisdom. Really?

Absolutely! The original idea was first expressed in the 3rd century B.C. by another illustrious author and playwright. His name was Aristotle. Here is what he said:

“Those who know, do. Those who understand, teach.”

Ever heard this one?

Probably not. Precious few people today have. This is a different sentiment entirely. This elevates the profession of teaching and (IMHO) is more accurate than Shaw’s take.

Aristotle’s wisdom had a 2000 year head start, but in one century Shaw’s twist on it has effectively erased the original from mainstream culture. This saddens me.

Cynicism is frequently more popular than sincerity. Its humor reaches many and at times it passes for insight. These are benefits for the cynic, but I’d like to point out the cost.

When affirmative wisdom loses ground because the cynical take steals our attention, I believe we are all diminished.

It makes me wonder: Where else is our wisdom being obscured by clever slogans?

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