- Meaning of the proverb
- Need to be cautious before taking a step
- Importance of maxim in practical life
- Excessive caution is not good
- Care should be exercised
- The choice of a profession
- The choice of friends
- The maxim can be applied to all departments of thought
“Look before you leap, for snakes among sweet flowers do creep” is a common saying. The meaning of the proverb is that one should not undertake any pursuit without first considering whether one is able to carry it through. What the maxim actually stresses is the lurking danger · and looming calamity that attends upon rash-and reckless undertakings. Before undertaking a perilous adventure, one should pre-estimate and ponder over the difficulties he may have to face. An idée fixe to achieve some object without considering the obstacles in the way has brought about many a career to a ruinous end. A wise caution is necessary to tread the path of glory in life.
We should, therefore, always count the cost before we do a thing. We should not be like the blind moth that is attracted by the red glare of the candle without knowing that the flame of the candle will also burn. Nor should we be like that simpleton who nourishes a viperous serpent by the warmth of his bosom without knowing that the bite of the serpent is mortal. If we play with red-coals we should know that they will burn our fingers, if we tread on embers we should know that they would blister our feet. We should do nothing in blindness, nothing in ignorance, and nothing in a moment of recklessness. We should look before we leap, and count the cost of what we are going to do. Every enterprise needs proper consideration and careful investigation.
This maxim is also necessary in practical life lest we should entangle ourselves in unforeseen web of deception from which we may later find it impossible to rescue ourselves. If we are going to choose a profession, we should not be hasty lest we should have to regret the choice throughout our life. If we are going to marry a woman, we should first know her character and idiosyncrasy, habits and tastes, lest we should have to repent afterwards. If we are going to invest money, we should carefully calculate the risks involved otherwise we might lose our hardearned money. If we are going to cultivate friendship with anybody without any consideration, before long we shall find ourselves landed in unknown difficulties and dangers. But all these perils and hazards, mishaps and pitfalls can be avoided if we keep in view the golden principle that consideration is the parent of wisdom.
However excessive caution is not good. Though our path is dangerous we must have courage and fortitude to surmount it. To be fugitive while others are fighting valiantly is the height of cowardice. Too much cogitation at the critical juncture is the height of stupidity. Men who have reached the apex of greatness were never so calculating. Great Generals like Khalid bin Walid (R.A) and Tariq bin Ziad won great victories by daring and self-confidence. Nelson always wore his four stars outside his Admiral’s frock to be a mark for sharp shooters: “In honour, I gained them” he would say to objectors “in honour I will die with them”. We may call Nelson a thoughtless and illogical fellow who was tired of his life but he believed in the maxim, “Nothing venture, nothing have”. Therefore, we should not be so cautious as to be always afraid of taking a risk. Too much caution is bad, but caution and foresight, if exercised properly, will lead not only to the acme of greatness but also to our well being.
It seems rather unnecessary to say that important steps should not be taken without careful consideration, but experience shows that such steps are often taken from caprice or without serious thought.
It is not an infrequent thing for a young man to decide his future on the toss of a coin, to make choice in this way between two professions, to decide whether he shall stay at home or emigrate, or whether he shall accept this or that appointment. Most of us have to earn their living some day or other, and it is of vital importance that they should choose that type of work, which they can do best. For those who have a decided bent there is little or no difficulty, except that they should consult their parents and friends in order that they may know what kind of market there will be for their work. Others who convince no particular leaning should exercise greater care, in order that they may find out what they can do best, and what is likely to be remunerative. Too often men find themselves burdened with a profession into which they cannot put their whole heart, or which from overcrowding or other causes, will not bring them in sufficient for a decent livelihood, and bitterly they repent the hastiness or carelessness of their youth.
“Look before you leap” is a maxim, which can be applied in every sphere of life. The folly of the man who makes friends without observing their characteristics, or enquiring into their past lives, cannot be too strongly condemned. He that hastily and thoughtlessly accepts a plausible friend, only to find subsequently that he is unworthy of friendship, has only his own carelessness to blame. No one in business would think of lending money without security to a sharper he knew nothing about, and why should affection and trust be lavished of others without previous enquiry into their worthiness? Who with money to invest would buy a partnership in a business without inspecting the books, and making the fullest investigation into the way in which the business was conducted, and its prospects of extension of profits?
The same principle applies to all corners of life. How feeble must be the intelligence of the man who accepts ready-made opinions on politics, religion or philosophy! Every patriot must feel that it is his duty to consider for himself without prejudice what state policy he should support. The man who gathers his opinions from the daily press, without considering their truth or value, is an unworthy citizen and prostitutes the intellect that God has given him. There are two questions of absorbing interest to him, the rules by which this life should believe and what is to happen after death. Those who jump to conclusion on these questions without thinking of themselves, without weighing the opinions of others, or testing the evidence upon which their religion is based, can plead on excuse for their errors. They are dangerous exponents of their policy of religion, if they are unable to give satisfactory reasons for their adoption.