Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Flogging A Dead Horse (MY Eng #26)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg' and 'walking on eggshells'.

I'm well aware that I often repeat the same old lines and (so-called) nuggets of wisdom. That's to be expected of someone who has been regularly posting, three times a month non-stop, since 2013. There's only so many of ideas and inspiration I can squeeze out of my puny over-worked brain, after all. There are many times, I must admit, where I contemplate throwing in the towel (another idiom!) and call it a day, or maybe just take a short sabbatical.

But writing here is a form of exercise. Break the rhythm, and break the habit. A promise is a promise. And I promised to myself 13 years ago to keep writing and writing, no matter how busy or tired I may be.

So yes, I know that at times, I can sound like a broken record (another idiom!). Sorry about that. But rest assured, the stuff that I repeat are mostly on points that are worth reminding.

* * *

There's really nothing wrong repeating oneself. Where repetition goes stale is when we go on and on about things that are either too obvious or too trivial. There's no point flogging a dead horse.

Of course, like all nuggets of wisdom, easier said than done. How can we tell whether the horse is alive or dead? How do we know whether we have made an important point loud and clear? How do we know when to stop with the warning and gentle reminders (arguably an oxymoron, since email 'gentle remindera' are just a polite passive-aggressive way of telling lazy buggers to stop horsing around and buck up, pronto).

Tough call. Depends on the situation. Kids get annoyed by parents shouting in their ears to clean up their toys. Workers don't want managers hovering around like some creepy stalker. We all need time and space to get our act together. Being lectured or hollered may kill our motivation to get a job well done.

This is a tricky part of people management. On one hand, leaders need to drill in important commands and grandiose vision into minions. To make sure everyone is on the same page. To raise the spirits of the troops. That's what meetings and weekly town-hall sessions are for. But push too hard, and risk sounding like a cranky old coot waving a cane. Preaching isn't as effective as practising. The best leaders lead by example, not emails.

* * *

In a tight race to the finish, we need to keep beating our horse to stay the course and keep galloping forward. But if we beat too furiously, the horse may overexert, and collapse short of the finish line (relax, it's just an analogy, not advocating animal brutality here).

Know your limits (and those close to you). Pace yourself. Don't break your habit, but also don't break your health just to keep a habit. Even the quickest of horses need a good rest in the stable.

Don't flog a dead horse. Just like I how I (finally!) stopped picking on chickens four weeks in a row...

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