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Dialect Proverbs
Happiness depends on how we manage our time Quiddu ca t’à mangiare osce, màngiatelu crai
quiddu c’à fare crai, fallu osce

[What you have to eat today, eat it tomorrow;
what you have to do tomorrow, do it today]
by Alberto Sobrero
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Bruno Maggio. China

This proverb deals with an issue that we consider philosophical today: time management. The passing of time, the seasons and their rhythm, the impatience of youth and the wisdom of age are the theme of many well-known proverbs, but some of them also deal with the way humans behave towards the flow of time, namely with the consciously planned management of time. Ours is one of those.

The structure is rather complicated: in the first line the time of the action is present (osce) and future (crai), in this order, and the direction of the action (eating) goes forward, from today to tomorrow; in the second line the times are reversed (crai… osce) and the direction of the action goes backwards, from tomorrow to today.

The direction of time is reversed, and the order of the actions is reversed: if you are in the present and look towards the future, to ensure a good future you must postpone the pleasure of consuming (eating); but if you have already earmarked your future in an onerous commitment, to guarantee a good future you have to shift the commitment into the present. This means that the passing of time forces us to bring forward to today the sacrifices and obligations that could oppress our tomorrow. The happiness of tomorrow is paid for with the sacrifices of today; similarly, the pleasure of today is paid for with the pain of tomorrow.

Look at Bruno Maggio’s illustration: the drawing is divided into four cartoons spread over four quadrants. In the cartoons, time (today / tomorrow) and man’s state (enjoyment / suffering) are combined in this order:

today – suffering  /  today – enjoyment

tomorrow – enjoyment  /  tomorrow – suffering

We can interpret this in two different ways, depending on our hierarchy of values: if we favor the perspective of today, we find pleasure in the upper right-hand corner, but we also find penitence in the lower right; if we favor the perspective of tomorrow, we find pleasure in the lower left-hand corner, but this pleasure is paid for in advance (in the upper left).

This suggests that timeless happiness does not exist (there are no two positive squares in line vertically), but that the little bit of happiness that can be achieved depends on our management of time. And the most demanding part is that in order to attain it we have to go against the natural direction of the flow of time: we would like to be happy all the time – top and bottom quadrants – but instead we have to live today thinking not of today but of tomorrow, and pay in advance the price of hard work and suffering that must be paid by whoever aspires to happiness.

This is something more than the contrast between the time of the spendthrift and the time of the skinflint. It is hymn of praise for foresight and organization, in contrast to the innate desire for pleasure with ‘no ifs, ands or buts’. We are in a vision that is basically fatalist and pessimistic. If man does not manage time, putting the future before the present – at least in his hierarchy of aspirations – he is condemned to unhappiness.

Once again, when a proverb gives guidelines for life, it basically reveals a bitter and almost punitive concept of existence, a clear reflection of the hard, painful condition of people’s life. Or at least, of the common people, in the wretched ‘society of proverbs’.

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