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A rolling stone gathers no moss – a person who never settles in one place or who often changes his job will not succeed in life; one who is always changing his mind will never get anything done. A rolling stone gathers no moss, but it gains a certain polish. People say this to mean that an ambitious person is more successful than a person not trying to achieve anything. Originally it meant the opposite and was critical of people trying to get ahead What is the meaning of ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’?
If a person never stays in one place, he or she never “gathers” or gets attached to things or people.
Moss grows on stones which have been on the ground for many years, so a stone which rolls cannot grow moss.
The saying is ” A rolling stone gathers no moss.” It means if you keep moving and learning that you don’t just sit there becoming a couch potato.
It is true a rolling stone gathers no moss but only overtime. At the begging of the rock rolling then it will gather moss, but overtime it will lose all the moss it has gained.
The proverb tells us that, if we constantly move about from one place to another and can never settle down, we are not likely to amass much wealth. Only those stones that have long remained in one place become coated with moss. In like manner, men who go on working steadily in the same town or country, are most likely to become prosperous.
It must not be supposed that this proverb entirely forbids change of place. Although a stone gathers no moss while it is actually rolling, it may nevertheless by rolling arrive at a position more favourable for the accumulation of moss. Many men have immensely improved their prospects in life by boldly transferring their talents to a distant land. They may have had heavy expenses on the journey; but they are soon compensated for that expenditure by the better opportunities of enriching themselves that they find in their new home.
Thus thousands of English and Irish labourers have escaped from miserable poverty by emigrating to America and Australia. But there are some men who, when they have gone to a distant country and begun to do well there, are tempted by mere restlessness, or the hope of more rapidly acquiring wealth, to change their home once more. They ought to remember the proverb we are considering, and recollect how many have been known to ruin their fortunes by this restless love of wandering. It is plain that, as a rule, any one who leaves the place where he has resided many years sacrifices great advantages, which he cannot expect to carry with him to a distant part of the world. Continual changes of place may be profitable for rogues, whose villainy has been detected and who will have a better chance of cheating again in a land where they are unknown to the police. Idlers, drunkards, and other incapable men may at least be said to lose nothing by moving from place to place, for they are equally unsuccessful everywhere and have nothing to lose.
But an able, honest man has every reason to continue to reside where he has established for himself a good reputation and is respected by his neighbours. If he recklessly goes to another country, he may take a long time to build up again a reputation like the one he has left behind him. He will also lose all the advantages he derived from his local knowledge, and, as an inexperienced stranger, will have to contend with the old residents engaged in the same business or profession as himself. If he is a merchant, he will take some time to learn who, among the other men of business in the new city to which he has transferred his capital, are honest and solvent.
If he is a lawyer or doctor, he will have to begin anew the laborious work of gaining a good practice, and must set about studying, in the one case, the prevalent local diseases and remedies, in the other, the history of recent local litigation. Such are among the drawbacks that a man who cannot settle down in one place is likely to encounter in his struggle with fortune. They may of course, in exceptional cases, be more than counterbalanced by greater advantages; but, as a rule, a man ought not, without careful reflection, to leave a place where he is enjoying a fair measure of prosperity. If he does so, he is not unlikely, in the words of another proverb, to go farther and fare worse.
Proverbs are generally half-truths for there are always two sides to a medal. A proverb reflects strikingly one or the other, but since it is brief and pointed it is often mistaken for the whole truth. Wisdom demands that a proverb should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. A rolling stone gathers no moss—so runs the proverb in question. It is good far as it goes. It pointedly draws our attention to the dangers that lie in too readily and frequently changing from one occupation to another. In other Words it reminds us of another remarkable saying ‘Art is long and time is short’ success in any line requires perseverance and practice. However versatile and intelligent a person may be, he cannot master an art easily. To acquire a high standard of proficiency, long apprenticeship and patience are absolutely indispensable. A few illustrations will make the point clear. A soldier, for instance, is not made in a day, years of hard training and actual experience of fighting turn one into a real soldier. If one hopes to become a veteran by attending a few military parades he is hopelessly mistaken.
Similarly, poets, painters and artists have to dedicate their whole lives to win the favour of muse of poetry or painting. Milton had to devote all his life’s energies before he could create the immortal epic Paradise Lost. Leonardo da Vinci sacrificed everything else for the sake of painting masterpieces such as Mona Lisa. Steady and prolonged devotion to one’s work is even more significant in the art life. Vivekananda or Mahatma Gandhi, to quote only two examples were fired with extraordinary singleness of purpose. Consequently, the Swami put new life to the Vedanta and conveyed its message far and wide, while the Mahatma gave to the world a new gospel of love, peace and brotherliness. If they had frittered away their energies instead of concentrating them on their chief objectives, they would not have fulfilled their mission. The fact is that specialization has a great place in life. Art is indeed long and time is short. One cannot do too many things and do them well.
He had to pick and choose. It is far better to achieve distinction in one sphere than remain a mediocre in several activities. Man’s capacity is after all limited, though one may gloriously quote Shakespeare’s tribute: “What apiece of work is man! how noble is reason! how expressible! in action how like an angel? in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!” This much boasted god and angel—Man is really god-like and angelic only within certain limits. He is not all powerful and all knowing like God who has created the universe. Man should remember that he is not a god, but an imperfect being with obvious limitations. Those who are too conscious of the so called godliness fall a victim to conceit and consequent failure. To have a correct measure of our capacity is the first requisite of success. Man learns by experience and experience comes only when he sticks to a particular type of work for a certain length of time. Theoretical knowledge is a very insufficient preparation for success; the practical shape of things often runs contrary to our best theories and principles.
For instance, no amount of the study of books on politics and administration can make one statesman or administrator. It is a well established principle that the reins of government should be placed in the hands of seasoned public men, who during the course of their long public life, have amassed varied experience. When things took a sorry turn in England during the Second World-War the English people called Churchill—the seasoned war leader came back at the helm of affairs. Thus, it is true to a certain extent that a rolling stone gathers no moss, while a stone with an anchor does gather some. And mass is a thing to be prized. Man needs experience, specialized knowledge, influence, reputation—this is the moss he gathers by dedicating himself to one aim, one mission in life. But there is another side to the picture too. Man, to repeat the phrase, may gather moss but he should certainly not vegetate.
Specialization and experience are valuable in life, but do they not also place a great limitation on one’s personality? The world is rich and varied and it is a bit tragic to confine oneself slavishly to a small part of it. For instance, it is indeed a highly dull and dreary prospect for a person if he must spend all his life as a clerk or a grocer’s apprentice or a mere blacksmith. Doing one thing for a long time breeds monotony and dullness. Man desires change and variety. It would certainly add to the zest and richness of a man’s life if he can do more than one thing well. Churchill was not only a great statesman and war leader, but also a first rate author and painter. Lord Mountbatten succeeded both as a great sea lord and administrator. The story of Koestler’s life goes on to narrate several other adventures and one may envy his chequered and thrilling experiences.
Surely he did not fail to gather moss though he was rolling from place to place and from one occupation to another. The heart of the matter is that though, as a rule, rolling stones gather no moss, there are many exceptions to the rule. Quite often some people do well in more than one sphere. Versatility and adaptability are as great assets as specialization and experience. Too much attention to one thing often makes one lopsided and abnormal; the harmony and balance of life are lost. The best course, perhaps is to do as many things as possible, but to do each of them well. Man should not switch on too quickly from one thing to another though at the same time he should not stick to one thing to the complete neglect of everything else.
This proverb refers to what is well known about mosses and lichens – that they are slow-growing organisms that don’t thrive on disturbance. A sure way to prevent a colony of moss from growing on a stone is to move it about. As with all proverbs, it isn’t the literal meaning that conveys the sense but the metaphor. A ‘rolling stone’ refers to a wanderer, unable to settle to any job or lifestyle and therefore characterised as unreliable and unproductive. That notion was known to the ancient world and Greek and Latin versions of the phrase are cited by Erasmus in the third volume of his collection of Latin proverbs – Adagia, 1508. The proverb may have come into colloquial English before then, although early records are incomplete. We do know that it was in use by 1546, when John Heywood published A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue: The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse.
Heywood’s claim in the title to include all the proverbs in English is a little overstated, but Dialogue is the most comprehensive early collection and the source of many previously unrecorded proverbs. They were assembled from various sources, including Erasmus’ Adages and from his own collecting amongst the Tudor populace. By the early 17th century, a ‘rolling stone’ was referred to as a type of wastrel – one who would amount to nothing. In A dictionarie of the French and English tongues, 1611, Randle Cotgrave listed the French word ‘rodeur’ and gave it this definition in English: Rodeur: A vagabond, roamer, wanderer, street-walker, highway-beater; a rolling stone, one that does nought but runne here and there, trot up and downe, rogue all the country over. Quite a good name for a rock band you might think and Brian Jones thought just that when he formed the eponymous blues/rock band in 1962. Despite what appears to be Mick Jagger’s impressively dogged attempt to sleep with most of the models in London and despite his long-standing friendship with Kate Moss, journalists have not yet had occasion to wheel out the inevitable headline ‘Rolling Stone gathers Moss’.
The term ‘rolling stone’ commonly refers to a person who is frequently changing his work or profession. Just as a stone that is continually rolling doesn’t gather any moss on it, similarly a person who is constantly changing his occupation doesn’t succeed in any achievement. Acquisition of wealth or learning or experience requires time and steady prolonged application of energy to some task. On the other hand one who is constantly chopping and changing will never become wealthy or learned or experienced. He will merely be dissipating his energies and will get nowhere. The popular fable of the farmer who dug many shallow wells in his farm in search of water is a fine illustration. Had he dug deep at one place, he would have definitely found water. By being ‘a rolling stone’ few people accomplish their goals. In today’s world of breakneck competition, migratory birds stand absolutely no chance. It is by working at a place, putting in constant labour that one earns a reputation and recognition.
A student who is desultory in his studies fails to achieve good grades. He loses valuable time ‘rolling’ from subject to subject, thereby mastering none. Similarly an entrepreneur, who gives up his projects halfway, wastes his efforts and money. On the contrary, a wise businessman, who sticks to the chosen venture despite the teething problems, gathers profits. Hence it is important to do one thing at a time. If we try to do two things at once, we will be able to do neither. If a hunter pursues two hares, he is sure to miss both. We must therefore concentrate on one thing or the other. If we have several bits of work to do, we should finish one and then proceed to another. We cannot succeed if we attempt to do more than one job at the same time. But like any other proverb, the present maxim is not without exceptions. The word ‘moss’ in the proverb has a negative shade. It refers to Why a stone should want to gather moss, it is hard to say. But the proverb is an old one, and everyone knows what it means. The “rolling stone” is the man who is always changing his occupations and pursuits, and never settles down steady to anything.
Popular wisdom says that such a fickle and unreliable person makes but little out of life. The popular fable of the farmer who dug many shallow wells in his farm in search of water is a fine illustration. Had he dug deep at one place, he would have definitely found water. There is, no doubt, a great deal of truth in this. In these days of keen business competition and specialization, a man must choose a trade or profession and stick to it if he is to achieve any success. Steady application and hard work at one job are essential. A man who starts one kind of business, and getting tired of it, tries another, and then gives that up for a third, cannot hope to get on in any. Constantly chop-ping and changing, he cannot expect to produce any satisfactory results by his dissipated efforts. As the proverb says, “He, who hunts two hares, loses both”. The same is true of studies. A student who is desultory in his studies fails to achieve good grades. He loses valuable time ‘rolling’ from subject to subject, thereby mastering none.
The student who takes up mathematics, and then goes in for history, and tired of that, takes up science, and drops this again for literature, will be “Jack of all trades and master of none”. Still, there is something to be said for “rolling stones.” Adventurers, explorers, travelers, and discoverers are generally men of restless energy who could never settle down to any steady occupations. Yet the world owes much to such rolling stones; for even though they gather no “moss” for themselves, they certainly gather much for the world, in the shape of new knowledge. But these are men apart. Hence it is important to do one thing at a time. If we try to do two things at once, we will be able to do Moss does not gather on a stone that is always on the move. Some men do not settle down to one fixed profession or occupation.
They are always changing from one occupation to another. They have no fixed purpose or principle. They are fickle-minded. Like a weather cock they turn with the wind. Such men cannot proper in life. Constant change stands in their way to success. Fickle minded men try one thing first. If they fail, or if they do not like it, it they give it up and take up another thing. Here also they can not stick for a long time. This constant change ruins their career. They cannot shine in life. A lawyer or a doctor should not move from one place to another.
He has to build up his practice with difficulty if he moves to a new place. A man is employed in one office. He should not change it unless he has very good reasons. If he sticks to one place and works honestly and satisfactorily with a resolute will he has every chance of promotion. He can one day rise to the top of the ladder. There are many instances of this. But if he constantly changes place, it shows he is unsteady and in every new place he has to prove his worth to deserve a life. Changes many prove better in some cases. But constant changes can never do well to a person.
The proverb means that a man who is constantly changing his vocation, who cannot stick to a particular job, will never win success. A stone is covered with green moss when it remains fixed at one spot; similarly, if a man remains steady at his job, he will soon be permanent and confirmed there and that is the way to success. For hereby he wins experience, knows his defects and shortcomings, tries to remove them and thus improve. Success in life does not, come easily for the mere asking. It has to be won by the hard work and resolute application. The proverb, therefore, gives us a warning to the unstable character who loses heart easily and for want of fixity of purpose and devotion, changes his profession very often. Rabindranath has said, “Let fresh obstacles come again and yet again: I will receive the blow and remain unmoved.”
For the acquisition of this virtue, one is to have a singleness of aim. Our life should be an organised effort to achieve a definite aim. A man who has no aim in life is always rolling from one job to another and he can never win his goal. It is necessary to be patient and persevering. Failures, as the proverb says, are only pillars of success. Therefore, one must never feel discouraged by failures, but one should try and try again. This means one must preserve at one’s job till success is achieved. Otherwise, one shall have to roll from pillar to post and post to pillar and move like a floating isle without striking any root. It is no use becoming a beautiful blossom that never opens into flower. Of course, all this depends on two basic requirements. The first is to have a proper assessment of one’s own power and mental preference.
The choice of a job must not be made on a mere whim or a chance suggestion. It has to be made after a proper evaluation of one’s capacity and resources. This is by no means an easy task. The second requirement is to have a certain degree of foresight. One must have a clear perspective of what is possible and what is not. To be always changing one’s position or one’s job wins neither respect nor success. This naturally produces an adverse reaction. But this should not lead one to think that the first choice is to be the last choice. A man learns by trial and error. So a wrong choice should not be adhered to when things are uncongenial.
Dynamism or mobility is the hallmark of modem life. So Stephen Leocock suggests that if one finds a job or better scope and prospect, later on, one should avail oneself of that opportunity. To sum up, one should in the first place, make a correct estimate of one’s taste, temperament and capacity and shape one’s aim in life accordingly. Having done this, one should stick to it with unflinching courage and devotion. Neither failure nor obstacles should discourage or deter him and make him give up the struggle for the attainment of his goal. Let us keep in mind the words of the English poet— ‘Say not the struggle naught availeth.’
Why a stone should want to gather moss, it is hard to say. But the proverb is an old one, and everyone knows what it means. The “rolling stone” is the man who is always changing his occupations and pursuits, and never settles down steady to anything. Popular wisdom says that such a fickle and unreliable person makes but little out of life. There is, no doubt, a great deal of truth in this. In these days of keen business competition and specialization, a man must choose a trade or profession and stick to it if he is to achieve any success. Steady application and hard work at one job are essential. A man who starts one kind of business, and getting tired of it, tries another, and then gives that up for a third, cannot hope to get on in any. Constantly chop-ping and changing, he cannot expect to produce any satisfactory results by his dissipated efforts.
As the proverb says, “He, who hunts two hares, loses both”. The typical “rolling stone” is the man who never keeps any situation in his trade or profession long. When you get an application from him, and find that he has had many posts but for only short periods, you say: “Ah! This fellow is evidently a ‘rolling stone’; he will never stick to this job, even if I give it to him. He is no good.” Such men seem to have restless nature, and are incapable of setting down anywhere. The same is true of studies. A student who wishes to become a scholar must specialize in one subject; and he must devote all his time and energy to it, if he is ever to become an authority on it.
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