If One Person Calls You an Ass, Ignore Them. If Five People Call You an Ass, Buy a Saddle.

The quote

“If one person calls you an ass, ignore them. If five people call you an ass, buy a saddle”.

What does it mean?

When people give you feedback about something you’re doing, there is going to be “noise” in the system. You shouldn’t necessarily believe a small sample of feedback. But when a large number of people tell you the same thing, there is likely to be some truth to what they are saying.

Quote variations

“If one person calls you a horse’s ass, be curious. If three people … be reflective. After five people … buy a saddle.”
-Anonymous [Source]

“If one man calls you an ass, ignore him. If two men call you an ass, start looking for tracks. If three men call you an ass, put on a harness.”
-Chinese Proverb [Source]

“If one man calls you an ass, pay him no mind. If two men call you an ass, go buy a saddle.”
-Yiddish proverb [Source]

How does this apply to society today?

I believe this quote provides a good dose of wisdom. For example, some of us take the slightest piece of negative feedback as a deeply personal attack.

The friend who makes a comment about what you are wearing. The manager who talks down to you about one piece of work you did. Or the one person in the crowd who yawned during a presentation you gave.

We often don’t take a step back to ask ourselves “How do I know if they are actually right? Are they just having a bad day? Or are they somewhat socially inept?” Keep in mind that everyone is selfish and that their negativity may be about their own issues, not yours.

The flip side of this occurs when many people tell us something, but some of us don’t listen.

Family and friends who say you smoke too much. Members of the general public who say your customer service is lacking. Multiple partners who have said you are too clingy.

We don’t take a step back to ask ourselves “What if they’re right? What if I’m blind to my own destructive behaviour? How could I improve?” It pays to know about your psychological blind spots and that you need self-awareness for personal growth.

When it comes down to it, all criticism (and praise) is just feedback. Feedback doesn’t mean anything until we apply our own personal beliefs and meanings to it.

Being open to feedback, being able to entertain it and being able to accept or reject it is the place where you want to be.


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