Nov 15

The Wisdom of Our Forbears: Enduring Lessons

The Wisdom of Our Forbears: Enduring Lessons

“Ve grow too soon oldt, und too late schmart.” It’s a saying I remember from childhood excursions to Pennsylvania Dutch country, not far from my family’s suburban Philadelphia home. It was printed on Amish-themed souvenirs that were mostly schlocky, but I’ve always loved the blunt truth in the old proverb. As we enter a season filled with family and nostalgia, I am truly thankful for the wisdom of our forbears.

I would like to share a few old chestnuts that not only stand the test of time, but have grown even more profound than when I first heard them.

You have to eat a peck of dirt in your life.

Did you ever hear that one? We didn’t have the option to buy triple-washed greens from the grocery store, we climbed trees and dug holes outside, and the 5-second rule was in full force in our household. We survived just fine, and now vindication has arrived in the form of medical research! It turns out that we can undermine our own health by being too clean, destroying the rich microbiome that is now linked with everything from a healthy immune system to weight control to strong brain function. I don’t know if “a peck” is right, but exposure to some good old dirt during our lifetimes seems like a good thing.

Necessity is the mother of invention. 

History is riddled with examples of lasting inventions that solved a pressing problem. Scottish veterinarian John Dunlop invented the “pneumatic tyre” to cushion his son’s tricycle for taking on the cobblestone streets of 1880’s Belfast. Frustrated with inconvenient and unreliable clothing fasteners, 20th-century Swiss engineer George de Mestral hit upon the idea for Velcro after observing burrs stuck to his trousers.

The creativity of people today in solving issues of all descriptions continues to amaze me. One only need to look at Pinterest for creative DIY ideas for decorating on a dime. In the wake of Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico, Google’s parent company Alphabet has stepped in to deploy large helium balloons for temporary internet access.

None of us wishes for inconvenience, constraints, necessity. But we humans do seem to have some of our most inspired inventions when staring down a pressing problem.

Don’t assume anything, it makes an a** out of u and me.

It is easy to make wrong assumptions about people, especially in this age when email and text dominate communications. Face-to-face and telephone interactions are becoming rare breeds. How often have you misinterpreted emotion or intent because you can’t read faces and body language? Or hear inflections in the other party’s voice? Texts and emails have also become very informal. Did your coworker choose that nerd emoji as a compliment or scarcasm? How often do you reread an email or text wondering what the author really meant after autocorrect got into the act?  Check out  if you have a few minutes for a good laugh.

Patience is a virtue.

FrustrationI could use a little patience right now as I wait for my computer to reboot after a mysterious crash. Our technical gadgets and modern comforts completely spoil us. For the most part, they just work without much effort on our part, and they work great. So when they fail—even temporarily—our frustrations mount. I have no doubt that our ancestors would think our lack of patience hilarious!


What pearls of wisdom are still relevant for you with the passing of time? Try sharing some as you pass the Thanksgiving gravy. Have a great holiday and enjoy the conversation!

Sherry Volk

Sherry Volk, is Senior Consultant and business partner with Louise Pritchard in Pritchard Volk Consulting since 2002. With an early career steeped in technology and information systems consulting, Sherry has a healthy respect for the benefits and limitations of technology, and keen awareness that the best client solutions are developed with input across the spectrum of stakeholders. A Pennsylvania native, Sherry has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Penn State (go Lions!) and a Masters in Management from MIT. In between, she lived and worked in Texas, where she met her husband of more than 30 years. She has two sons, one a recent college graduate now settled in Austin, TX, and one in high school. When not working, Sherry spends time exercising, cooking, attending her son’s regatta and band events, and vacuuming up fur from the family’s white rescue dog (what were we thinking?).