#24 – Bengali Proverb: Even When Many People Attempt to Travel the Same Road, There Are Some Who Walk and Some Who Stumble.
Reflections on traveling towards higher altitudes in life with the right aptitude and attitude.
Proverbs on Blast is a newsletter of reflection on PROVERBS and the gems they offer for personal and professional growth. Posts are written by a learner on a quest for more wisdom (me). Please keep reading. Comment at the end. Share this post. Subscribe for more.
Life is a journey and everyone is traveling. We move at different paces, and we journey with different dispositions and perspectives. The road is long, making the journey a marathon. However, some people manage only a portion of it, and their journey ends up being a short sprint through life. Currently, more than 8 billion people are traveling life’s long road. Life’s main road branches off in different directions and there are many detours that people take depending on their location, age, personality, passions, spiritual, economic, cultural, or academic persuasions, gender, size, or a host of other reasons. Whatever the number of years each person gets to enjoy on earth, there is but one end to everyone’s journey—death. Between birth and death, there will be countless options of which roads to take and travel. It can be confusing and difficult to choose. The endless possibilities can be paralyzing and stall needed growth. The elders of Bangladesh contributed their wisdom to aid the process of deciding the roads to take in this Bengali Proverb that: “Even when many people attempt to travel the same road, there are some who walk and some who stumble.”
The elders who gifted this proverb used simple terms in a matter-of-fact language so that what you read is what they meant for you to grasp—there will be different experiences for people on the same path. The proverb also doesn’t sugarcoat how the experiences of travelers will differ. It presents the differences from an observer’s perspective of what happens continually to travelers on the road—there are some who walk and some who stumble.
In addition, the proverb acknowledges that life’s long road diverges into several side streets. It presumes that you are contemplating getting on or are already on one of those side streets. It leaves out those who are not on the road you’re traveling or interested in. Nor does it address those who started but have given up on their journey. Instead, the proverb’s focus is on those who are in motion and categorized these people into two groups—those who walk and those who stumble.
Also, our Bengali proverb focuses not on the road, but the people traveling on it. As a result, we don’t know how long the road is or if it is bumpy or smooth. All we know is that, either because of the condition of the road or the circumstances around the people traveling on it, there are some who walk and some who stumble. It presents stumbling as a reality, a fact that many champions know too well. Ask elite runner Lasse Viren who represented Finland at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Lasse stumbled and fell hard on the track while in 5th place before the midway point of his 10,000-meter race. But he quickly got up and kept running. He ended the race as an Olympic gold medalist. Similarly, Mo Farah, the British long-distance runner, also fell while competing in the 2014 New York City Half Marathon during the sixth mile. He quickly got up and continued moving, which allowed him to finish in second place. More recently at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Sifan Hassan, a Dutch long-distance runner stumbled over a fallen runner in her path and fell hard. The fall set her back to last place in the 1,500-meter heat. Amazingly, she quickly got up and powered past 11 other runners to finish first. Later that day, she went on to win gold in the 5,000-meter race.
Whoever came up with this proverb would like you to look closely at travelers on any road. To pay attention to the motion, pauses, and brief stops that sets apart those in motion who keep going, however slowly. To note how even when they get tired, they choose to keep walking. How they may get wounded but keep putting one painful step before the other and keep walking. You may find some who seem unsure of what lies at the next turn of the road or are unsteady on their feet but who set their minds to the journey and keep walking. Some may have found the road longer and rougher than they thought when they started but they can’t imagine doing anything else than to keep moving. Even the ones who underestimated their stamina and readiness for the road seem to have determined to keep moving and are getting stronger with each step. You don’t know what motivates each person on the road, but you see people who are set on movement and are not stopping.
But then you also notice people stumbling. You can’t tell why but you see people almost sprawled on their faces. You hear echoes of cries of pain and you see people stumbling and tumbling. Some are caught just in time before they fall into danger. You can see that there are things on the road that trip people up and causes them to stumble. And what you see makes you afraid to travel on the same road or reluctant to travel at all.
Giving in to that fear will keep you on the long, main road that leads from birth to death. It is a road of bare minimums, boring routines, underperformance, and underachievement that you can coast through. It doesn’t require you to attempt much; just eat, sleep, play, and build castles in the air. You can wake up every day, rinse, and repeat the same thing over and over.
Or you can choose to get on any of the side streets off that main road and travel on it till you link with other roads till the end of your life’s journey. Every road you will follow has bends and curves, twists, and turns, and will be in different conditions. You may even need to blaze a trail where there was previously no road. But as surely as the sun comes out and the moon is a fixture in the skies, if the road you must travel is long enough, you will walk and you will stumble.
The Bengali elders want you to accept that fact and use the knowledge to focus on these 3 As:
Altitude. Relevant definitions of this fancy word from Merriam-Webster include “position at a height” or “a high level (as of quality or feeling)”. In the context of this proverb, the word is relevant to indicate a higher level you’d like to reach from where you are now. Several roads lie before you that you can take to cover the distance between you and your desired end point. Some of the roads are proximal to your current location—for instance, a local university versus one overseas or in another state from you; a job that’s about twenty minutes’ drive away or remote versus one that’ll involve relocation. Whatever our profession, passions, and preoccupation, we all have desired higher altitudes in different areas of our lives—deeper relationships, better health, stronger finances, more frequent utilization of your skills, improved time management, pursuit of passions, completion of abandoned projects, or the start of a new one. Why be a fossil when you can dare more and do more? A higher altitude is possible for everyone at any age. Strive higher in one area where you’re coasting at a lower elevation that your skills and capabilities have caused you to outgrow. Become one of those people our Bengali proverb describes as the “many who attempt to travel…”
Aptitude. You have natural abilities, the capacity for learning, and a general suitability for what it will take to travel from your current location to a higher elevation. You can recall things you’ve learned in the past. You can unlearn the things you know do not serve you. You can also learn new things to become a better traveler as you embark on your journey. According to the Bengali elders, in your learning, you will walk and you will stumble. On your journey, you will walk and you will stumble. You may find yourself more easily distracted while learning. Or unable to grasp new information as quickly as in the past. You can walk on new and unfamiliar roads. You can learn to do so with steps more secure than you start with. Stumble along at the early stages, but do not underestimate your aptitude and quit. Keep moving.
Attitude. Movement is an activity. And attitudes, which is how we think, feel, or are prone to behave, contribute significantly to drive activities. Good or positive attitudes contribute to growth, progress, and lots of great outcomes but a bad attitude is a downer and a killer. John N. Mitchell famously said that “a bad attitude is like a bad tire. You can’t get anywhere until you change it.” The desire to get from where you are to a higher altitude can fuel you with adrenalin. That excitement about your desire can fire you up for an aptitude check as you take stock of what you have, what you need, and work hard to close the gaps by acquiring new knowledge. But the Bengali proverb warns that “Even when many people attempt to travel the same road, there are some who walk and some who stumble.” And you know that the likelihood of that happening to you on an unfamiliar and a longer road is high. Hence, you may need to adjust your attitude before you set out on your travel and as you travel.
Here are 7 possible areas to explore for an attitude check and/or adjustment.
Have you determined that you are traveling on the right road? No guesswork about whether you’re headed in the direction of where you’re to be?
Then move on. You will walk. You will stumble. Don’t fumble.
Is there mindless chatter around you that you find distracting or annoying?
Just move on. You can walk. You may stumble. Don’t grumble.
Did the elements turn adverse on you and storm clouds now darken your path with its chill and sounds?
Please move on. You can walk. You may stumble. Ignore the rumble.
Did a fellow traveler trip you up and you found yourself scarily flailing in midair?
Get back up. You may have stumbled. You may have tumbled. But you can walk. Move on.
Did recollections of previous falls on other roads you traveled in the past cause you to lose your footing?
You may have stumbled. Don’t mumble. You can walk. Keep moving.
Do you find yourself ahead of every other traveler on the road you’re run?
You can walk. You may stumble. Stay humble. Keep moving.
Are you tired of the mazes of intersecting roads, frequent delays, and doubt whether you should keep moving?
Make sense of the jumble. You will stumble. You can walk. Just keep moving!
Many will attempt to travel the same road at the same time as you. It’s a given that what happened to every traveler previously on other roads will happen again—some walked, some stumbled, some turned back enroute to another road, and some stopped traveling altogether. If it happened to others, it can happen to you.
In response, don’t stop traveling. Don’t pack by the roadside. Stop to rest and catch your breath but don’t quit. Don’t stop moving. Don’t lose momentum. Don’t give in to the urge to dart off one road once you stumble to try out another and end up not completing any. Stumbling goes with the territory of road travel. Factor it into your plans, rally from it, and move on. Choose your roads carefully so you can be on the right one. Stretch your aptitude to prepare for every travel to the best of your ability. But more importantly, travel with the right attitude for any road you travel. Before you get on the road and while there, let this Bengali proverb remind you that you will walk, that you will stumble, but you can make it through. Whatever happens on the many roads you must travel, please give yourself the grace to enjoy the journey as you look forward to the destination.
May you always move on from your stumbles and always get up from any tumble.
Peace and love to you.
Are you walking or stumbling on any road that all indications point to as a right path for you at this time? How can you encourage or challenge yourself to stay on track and keep moving, however slow or painful your progress?
Perhaps you just want to click the “Like” button at this stage? That’s good too. You’ll find the button at the top and bottom sections of this post. Click away!
Do you know anyone who’s discouraged from stumbling too much on a road they should stay on till they get to the end? Feel free to share this post with them.
SUBSCRIBERS: Welcome to new subscribers and thank you to those of you who have been here for longer. I remain grateful for your support of this project. Thank you for believing in the vision. Thank you for helping to advance the quest for wisdom. I appreciate you and look forward to your continued engagement.