There is a proverb in my native language that sets out to define the difference between the elderly and the young. It translates as a child can have more clothes than an elder but can’t have more rags. The literal meaning of this is clear and makes sense, right? The deeper meanings, however, are worth digging a bit into.
What are clothes, and what are rags?
Clothes are beautiful, they are new, and they are wearable. Clothes are what you use to cover your naked body and make yourself look better. They are for packaging. Clothes are metaphors for wealth, zest, life, ambition, fame, and everything we, as human beings, like to be covered with.
Rags, on the other hand, are old, now unwearable clothes. I was tempted to write useless, but they are not totally useless. In many homes, they are used to shine shoes and mop the floor; they are used for cleaning. According to Collins dictionary, a rag is a piece of old cloth you can use to clean or wipe things. Rags are metaphors for history, failures, experience, wisdom, and all the things that you probably need today that are not visible but internal. They are things that wear out your covering while you gain them.
Any value in having rags?
Well, the world is thrilled by rags-to-riches stories. Many will pass by a riches-to-riches story without paying it much thought, but rags to riches, that’s where the suspense and intrigues bear their full weight. In most things, we generally find ourselves in support of the underdog. I remember an illustration I once heard about two teams playing football – Brazil and Cameroon. The Brazilians are fully kitted, but the Cameroonians are barefooted. The illustration asked, which team will you support to win? More often than not, the majority side with the underdog; we want the rags to riches story, and the more the rags, the more enjoyable the story.
How does all this concern me?
As you live your life, you are constantly dealing in clothes and rags. As you interact with people, it’s either for their clothes or their rags. Youth has an abundance of clothes, and elders are not wanting for rags. Everyone wants to wear clothes, not rags, but if you want your clothes not to turn to rags, then you need to find a way to gain the benefits already scored by those who have rags.
Don’t be so full of yourself that you miss the wisdom embedded in experience. Those who don’t learn from the errors of others are likely to repeat them. Those who don’t study history become casualties of history. As you grow older and more mature in whatever you are doing, more rags will show up too, don’t discard them. They will offer value to those coming behind you.
So, check your wardrobe and the wardrobes of those who mentor you. While you need plenty of clothes, you need a mentor with plenty of rags. Else, your clothes may wear out too quickly.