“The foolish man wonders at the unusual, but the wise man at the usual.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson (1801-1892) American essayist, poet and philosopher
Foolish = a person with bad judgment and sense
To wonder = to think about or question
Wise = to have good judgment based on knowledge and experience
Thoughts on the Quote
What Emerson is getting at in this quote, is that it’s easy to question things that aren’t perceived as normal by the society we live in. Let’s be honest, we all do it to some extent. Humans are creatures of habit and we feel safe and comfortable with routine and a reasonable degree of social conformity. Emerson’s quote encourages us to step outside the cultural box we live in and question everything we take for granted. In short, only after deep consideration of the usual will we become any wiser.
Some things that we take for granted today as usual are relatively new social standards, for example the end of apartheid in South Africa, women’s suffrage (the right to vote) and the legality of homosexuality. If we wound the clock back 150 years, all three of these ideas would be rejected as being extremely unusual and unacceptable. It took minority groups of wise people to question these accepted norms and raise awareness of their discriminatory nature. Additionally, what is considered usual in one country, maybe totally unusual in another. Therefore, the world contains thousands of opposing perceptions of usual, so how can we judge anything based on our social constructs of what is usual or unusual alone?
What do you consider to be usual that is unusual in other cultures?
Was that the same 150 years ago?