Prefer Quiet Over Plenty (if those are your options)

Better is a dry morsel with quiet
than a house full of feasting with strife.

You’ll find a few proverbs that follow this formula: Better is _…than __. In proverbs that feature this formula, don’t overlook the fact that, although only two scenarios are being compared, there are actually four possible. In our proverb are four alternatives:

  1. Feasting and quiet
  2. Dry morsel and quiet
  3. Feasting and strife
  4. Dry morsel and strife

Listing out all four of the implied alternatives is often helpful. Here the benefit is that we’re prevented from romanticizing poverty, that is, arriving at the failing philosophy of let’s go after the noble situation of living on dry morsels.

No, no. Sitting down at an overburdened table (especially one laden with Mexican or Mediterranean food) is always to be preferred over being stuck with trifling, boring stuff that hardly comes up to being edible.

I should also point out something obvious: a small, flavorless meal, or successions thereof, doesn’t produce quiet. Or pure souls for that matter. Don’t slop around in silly masochism! Life is hard enough without hunger and extra tedium. Nothing is gained by making a virtue of scarcity and plainness.

However, after clearing out ground around this proverb, we can now positively say: if ever you do find yourself having to choose between, not scarcity and plenty but rather scarcity and strife, it’ll be smart for you to reluctantly turn away from the groaning table of gourmet tacos mentioned above and settle for peace of mind.

Living outside of your means can bring this proverb to bear. Yes, slap down the credit card and you’ll have extra stuff you wouldn’t have had if you lived within/below your means, but you’ll also have a) worries and b) an abiding sense of unreality, and c) (likely) resultant irritability.

Acquiring debt raises the stakes of what could go wrong in your life, thus compelling you to carry around a heightened sense of drama. Under this stress, almost inevitably your exchanges with people are pushed into the extremes: overreactions, gross mawkishness, anger. Especially your interactions with family will suffer from an ever-present lack of proportion. Thoughts will turn impractical too.

Summary: Choose plenty over scarcity (duh!), but not at the cost of composure and harmony. Don’t live above your means: whatever you’re getting from the excess isn’t worth the trouble.

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  1. But when dietary restrictions are necessary, such as no salt, no fat, and small portions, one must learn to like such taste after a while without complaint and even enjoy becoming a vegetarian.

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