My Proverbs 4
Generation to Generation
“Listen, children, to a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight.” These are the opening words of the fourth chapter of Proverbs. It would be impossible to count how many times in one lifetime a child or person is told “Listen!”
Actually, the exact wording of the beginning of Proverbs 4 is not using the word “Listen” but rather the word “Hear.” The word “listen” only appears once in the King James version of the Bible and that is in the forty-ninth chapter of the book of Isaiah.
Think about that. A collection of sixty-six books all compiled into something called the Holy Bible, from which comes many of the words and the basis for the stories of the Koran and of which the first part, the Old Testament, is the Jewish Torah and the word “listen” only makes one appearance. Teachings handed down through the ages and only in place verse is the reader told “listen”. Instead, all the other almost four hundred times, one is admonished to “hear”.
The difference between “hear” and “listen” might seem miniscule or just a game of semantics but the difference has meaning. Aristotle first began noting such differences when he distinguished between matter and form, potential and actual. What makes a person a person and fierce animal a brute?
Aristotle saw things as being one, the stuff of which they were made, and two, the forms that made them what they were seen. He called this entelechy: “that which realizes or makes actual what it otherwise merely potential”. He concluded, however, that matter and form are never really separate entities. Throw flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, and butter into a bowl and you have a mess. Mix that mess into a smooth batter and you can see its potential as a cake. The entelechy is when the mixture reaches its full potential as a cake.
While potential, that which something might attain, is uncertain and dependent on a number of things, actuality or that which is present and real is much less uncertain. It is…real. We hear the words that are spoken but do we listen to those words? Do we take their matter and then give them form?
The great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald once said: “It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you are going that counts.” Generations can either be a group of people all born within the same time frame and all experiencing the same events, trends, and cultural patterns. It is more simple one line in the familial progression ancestor to descendant. Both types of generations are teaching tools if we will let them.
Aristotle often referred to the permanency of things. He also noted those things which are stable, things which were persistent in their being. Such items were characterized by a tendency to specific types of change. However, there are also those objects whose change appears by chance. Aristotle compared these are “natures which persist” and “natures which do not persist”. The potential of one affects all things while the actuality of the other is more relaxed and often seems more real. Aristotle saw the nature of an object, what we might term its description as its potential. However, the true form of something, he felt, became more apparent and real when it was “fully at work”.
All too often we stop hearing and listening. To hear is to give respect to that which is said. To listen is to use that which has been said. We sometimes, though, feel we are stuck and that all the words in the world cannot lead us to another place. We have accepted our current form and refused to believe in our potential.
Brian Tracy explains: ““The potential of the average person is like a huge ocean unsailed, a new continent unexplored, a world of possibilities waiting to be released and channeled toward some great good.” Molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, combined with saline, seaweed, and sediment create the ocean. Its form changes by chance and by the meteorological occurrences on earth. Its potential as a life source for thousands of fish which in turns become a life source for millions of people is unleashed with each tide, each stable, persist coming and going of the water.
Generations are like the ocean. Formed in the shadows of their ancestors, each new descendant makes their own path. Hearing ancient wisdom and listening to how it applies in one’s life determines whether our steps lead to wisdom or folly. Confucius once said: ““A youth is to be regarded with respect. How do we know that his future will not be equal to our present?” The future is in the hands of the present generations. Their use of wisdom will determine the future.
My Proverb 4
Listen to what is said, even if you do not fully understand. Your life will reveal the wisdom spoken to you if you hear and remember.