USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘eye’
Proverbs

An Eye for an Eye Makes Everyone Blind

What is being performed?
DA: There’s this saying that goes, “an eye for an eye makes everyone blind.”
AA: What does it mean?
DA: It means, uh, basically that striking back won’t solve anything.
Why do they know or like this piece? where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to
them?
AA: Why do you know this proverb?
DA: I remember growing up hearing it in the context of the civil rights era.
AA: Why do you like it?
DA: I think it’s important to advocate for nonviolence with logic and I think that’s what this saying
is about.
AA: What do you mean with logic?
DA: I just mean that this quote simple enough to understand logically and that’s why it’s
effective.

Context of the performance- where do you perform it? History?
Delward Atkins has shared this proverb with his children as they were growing up and had to
learn how to deal with people on the playground. He sees it as an important life lesson that
especially needs to be taught to the younger generations.

Annotations
Quote Investigator, quoteinvestigator.com/2010/12/27/eye-for-eye-blind/.
This annotation shows the many people who have coined this phrase. Notably, Mahatma
Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Fischer, and Henry Powell Spring have said variations of
this proverb. This publication also shows the different ways this proverb has been used. For
example, instead of just “an eye for an eye makes everyone blind” there’s also “an eye for an
eye makes the world blind.” The publication gives a chronological timeline of how the proverb
has changed over time and famous people that have helped change it.
Dear, John. “An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind.” The Huffington Post,
TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Nov. 2016,
www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dear/an-eye-for-an-eye-makes-t_b_8647348.html.
This article shows how the proverb is used in a more recent context. It uses the phrase to
discuss the Paris terrorist attacks and shows how the phrase is still relevant- from protest signs
to songs and other forms of art that are being created to push for a world of nonviolence. It is a
proverb that might’ve been most famous in the 60s but is still present in the 2000s and can be
used as a strong argument for the cyclical nature of violence.

Reflection
I see this proverb as extremely important and relevant today. With the Syrian crisis going on and
the proxy war that now surrounds it, I think it’s important that we remember grass root political
movements and why nonviolence can be so effective for them. I think this proverb is about
creating change that is positive and doesn’t have to harm others in the making. I think that’s
what we need today.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

Eye on the back of the head

Information about the Informant

My informant is an undergraduate student majoring in Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He is half-Columbian and was raised in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian denomination. This one of three stories that his mother told him when he was a child.

Transcript

“And I guess another one was, um, a kind of derived eye-in-the-back-of-your-head type thing. Where she’d [informant's mother] say that, you know, ‘If you do something behind my back you’re not supposed to, I can see it.’ And, um, I’d be like, you know, whatever. You don’t have eyes in the back of your head. But occasionally, she’d turn her head. And she was doing something. And she would turn her head back, and she says, ‘I see you,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my god. How do you…How do you know that?’ And, um, she’d say, ‘I have an eye back here that’s magic, so you can’t see it.” You know. Typical…you know, that’s what little kids say, like, ‘Oh, it’s magic, so you can’t see it.’ But I–we bought it. So, um, any time she was in the room, or even might have been in the area, we behaved because she had an eye on the back of her–a magic eye on the back of her head, so.”

Analysis

Most of the stories that this informant told me were ones that his mother used to keep him well-behaved as a child. This one she seems to have used to keep her children from misbehaving when they thought her back was turned and she couldn’t see them. Although I doubt that this was hardly the intention of my informant’s mother or of the people who first came up with this story however many decades or centuries ago, the theory behind how this story would work as a way to keep children from misbehaving is one that has been discussed amongst Western philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham. The concept of the Panopticon, which operates by allowing the guards of a prison to have full view of all the prisoners, but the prisoners are unable at any time to see the guards, or even know if there are guards currently at their posts. The theory is that the prisoners, unable to tell when they are being watched, would always behave as if their actions were being monitored and self-govern in this way. This is the essential theory behind the story that my informant told me. The mother having a magical eye on the back of her head that, by virtue of being magic, my informant could not see and so would never know where it was looking or when it was open and watching, forced my informant to govern himself whenever his mother was in the room as he would never know when she could see something bad that he had done. My analysis may sound critical of the mother for using this tactic, but it is a very useful one and one that I would not be surprised to hear is employed in many households of various cultural backgrounds. A parent cannot be constantly watching her child at all times, and this allows her to have the relief of being able to be in the same room, thus available if something important does crop up, but also be able to perform other tasks rather than be required to watch her children at all times to make sure that they do not misbehave.

[geolocation]