Proverbs give richness to language and, to some extent, define a culture.
‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ might be thought to encapsulate the English-speaking people’s mindset better than any other saying, and is one of the oldest English proverbs still in regular use today. It was recorded as early as 1175 in Old English Homilies.
Some things change so little over time and now, as we near the end of October 2020, it bears repeating.
Schools, bars, restaurants, hotels, indeed the country at large, have been crying out for guidelines in as clear and concise a manner as possible.
It’s never easy to please all of the people all of the time and that poisoned chalice, as ever, falls to the political leaders of the country.
Whether we believe they’re guided by the science, or guided by the economic needs of the country, or guided by their own political ends, it doesn’t really matter.
It’s human nature to question what’s put in front of us. It’s how we learn. But Covid-19 has surely answered most of our questions these past few weeks. Nature finds a way, but it will find that way more quickly and easily if we help it along its path.
When the first lockdown hit Northern Ireland in March it came as a shock to the system. It was a new way of living for all of us.
Truth is, we don’t like being told what to do and recoil at the prospect of an Orwellian 1984 style society where our every move is watched and scrutinised. As a community, we would put up with it for a short time, if we knew it was for the greater good, but the novelty all too quickly wears thin.
Truth is too that we’re largely an inherently selfish bunch.
Warnings of 15,000 impending deaths, hospitals at a point where they could no longer cope with the numbers of critically ill, all the worst case scenarios, were effective in shocking us into submission at the onset of coronavirus.
That trick can’t be pulled a second time and even the fact that the virus is spreading more rapidly than now than in those early days isn’t enough to shock a population into compliance.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Messages drummed into us day after day at Stormont briefings have been trying to do the right thing, but we are now numb to numbers, tired of what has become the same old story, struggling as we have hit the wall in the marathon effort to try to hold back the once again rising threat of the virus throughout the community.
We could all do with that drink.
Sometime around the 9th century another proverb was coined: ‘When the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.’
In July we had Sinn Fein politicians blatantly flouting their own guidelines in gathering en masse for a funeral, with no real apology from our Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, who is now among those around the country in isolation.
We’ve also had DUP MP Sammy Wilson’s reluctance to embrace the face covering culture.
Perhaps we all need to open our eyes to what’s around us and take our own responsibility for doing something about it. But it will help if those at the front set the united example for the rest to follow.
First Minister Arlene Foster has rightly said she can lay out all the restrictions in the world, but nothing will work unless people comply.
That window of opportunity to do so is closing.
No one wants to be here. We don’t want our pubs and clubs, hotels and businesses to suffer any longer. We want to spend a family night out at the cinema, celebrate special occasions with loved ones.
We want to be free to do what we want to do any old time.
The spoonful of sugar that those days will come to us quickly has to be the best incentive to help the latest dose of medicine go down. If we spit it out in the faces of those trying to do the right thing, even if they have themselves lapsed in their medication themselves in the past, then there’s nobody to blame but ourselves.
We are all very quick to criticise those who lead us when they fall short of our expectations. Should we not now turn that critical eye on ourselves?
That our proverbs have been around for over a thousand years shows the enormity of the task ahead if the public are to be convinced to play follow the leader.
Strict new restrictions, including the closure of the hospitality and close contact service sectors and an extended holiday break for schools, have come into force in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus in Northern Ireland.