A Proverb on Reading the Signs

A tree doesn’t move unless there is a wind.

Regional Oral Tradition

This Central Asian proverb is equivalent to, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Certain things only happen as effects or symptoms, meaning there is necessarily a cause somewhere. Smoke doesn’t appear unless something is burning. Trees (excepting those in Narnia and Middle Earth) do not visibly move unless something else is moving them – usually the wind.

This category of wisdom is important for dealing with people who might be gifted in deception. They may present to us in a certain positive way, but have a curious trail of broken relationships behind them or a cloud of troubling interactions with others around them. We should pay attention when our personal interactions with someone don’t seem to match the questions regularly raised about them or the consistent negative reputation they have with others. While we’d like to think that we are special and can uniquely activate this person’s potential, usually this is not the case. And we are likely to ourselves get burned soon enough. Is there smoke? Are the branches moving? This means something.

This proverb could also be applied to the sins we regularly struggle with. Sins always have context, a story, behind them. They have not arisen out of nowhere, they have roots, and often function as symptoms of deeper struggles going on. This is why we often don’t make progress against them. We end up focusing on the smoke instead of the fire, the branches instead of the wind. Anger is one sin that is almost always a symptom. If we dig for its roots of sadness, fear, or otherwise, we may be very surprised to see what has been functioning as its fuel.

Treating symptoms has its place, but we should be wise to recognize that symptoms point to something deeper that is also present, and seek to understand and treat the cause. Let us be people who seek to read the signs wisely, neither ignoring them nor mistaking them to be the main thing.

Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash

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