Thursday, January 19, 2012

Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise — why destroy yourself?

--- Ecclesiastes 7:16, via William Ian Miller's Losing It (2011), p. 65

Miller's gloss:
Proverbial wisdom is prudent rather than heroic: discretion tends to trump valor. You do not count chickens before they hatch, you do not go looking for tights or get stuck in a web of deceits. (A carefully planned single deceit is fine, but webs are hard to manage.) The wise are constantly wary of the ubiquitous wicked, with their lies and snares, who always seem vastly to outnumber the righteous, among whom you are unsure whether to include yourself, for it sometimes takes tire to fight fire. Ecclesiastes is even more cynical: “All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. Be not righteous over much: neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” (7.15—16). Be good and wise in modest doses or you are either dead meat or have just wasted your time.