Barrels and Chains

One bad apple spoils the barrel.

I was reading the history of this little proverb and discovered it goes all the way back to

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 25 October 1400).  In his “Canterbury Tales” readers come across the following passage in unfinished “The Cook’s Tale.”  The passage loosely translates as this:

About an old proverb, the words that say:
“A rotten apple‘s better thrown away
Before it spoils the barrel.” That is true
When dealing with a bad apprentice too.

But even Chaucer says it is an old proverb so he is not the originator either.  And many have referred to it since.  Most recently the blogosphere and social media has been using it when referring to the Boston Marathon Massacre and the two alleged bombers.

Are they the bad apples that will bring down Islam?  There is a slow and quiet voice among the Muslims here in America that is starting to say that these two are wrong and they don’t represent us or our beliefs.

It was “very traumatic, and really shook me,” said Dr. Sajid Faizi, of the Utah Islamic Center. ” I want to express and extend my deepest sympathy and compassion to all the American families.”

“These acts are categorically condemned in the Quran and by the Muslim majority,” he said. “Muslims have to begin to speak out against these acts more assertively and collaborate with other faiths and local governments so that the true tenets of our faith can be known. In the future, we need to do a better job countering it by educating the public against those who are ignorant and evil and hijack our faith.”  ~ Taymullah Abdur-Rahman

But the religious barrel isn’t the only place we find these bad apples.  They are everywhere.

  • sports  — Lance Armstrong —
  • entertainment — Lindsay Lohan —
  • politics — Jesse Jackson, Jr.  —
  • business — F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. —
  • and yes, even our own families — insert the name of your relative here.

So do they really ruin the whole barrel?  Well obviously not, because the barrels above seem to be carrying on; tarnished maybe, but still plugging along.  All we really do is deal with the bad apple, and not the barrel itself.  Which brings us to another idiom,

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

So our bad apples are our weakest links and they endanger the entire chain, but apparently don’t break it entirely. What these bad apples and weak links do is to show us we must not deny the badness or weakness, because they do contribute to our overall story and growth.  They show us we need to take responsibility for ourselves and our barrels and chains.

When we understand these bad apples and weak links we can become better barrels and chains; more enjoyable, productive, and dependable. Which brings me to one of my all time favorite sayings,

You can pay me now or you can pay me later.

Gil Rogers made that saying famous in a Fram Oil filter commercial.

And it is so true about our bad apples and weak links.  They are expensive because they cause so much havoc and disaster and it is very expensive to clean up after them and get people back on track to believing in or trusting the barrel and the chain.  So we must deal with them, preferably now instead of later.

Each religion must find the fanatics and criminals in their ranks, as well as the entertainment industry, our political and business worlds, and our own families.


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