If close to ink, dark. If close to light, bright.
The Informant provided this Vietnamese proverb to me at around 2:30am on 4/22 while she did homework. She is an Economics and Mathematics student at UCLA. The Informant, my girlfriend, said this proverb was burned into her brain by her Vietnamese parents while she was growing up in Garden Grove, a city in Orange County.
Her interpretation of the meaning is that if you surround yourself with bad influences, bad people, or a bad environment, you’ll turn out bad as well. And if you surround yourself with the opposite, successful people, you will be the same. Essentially, you are a product of your environment.
This is similar to a proverb from the Bible. In Proverbs 13:20, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Although this proverb does not have a poetic aspect like the Vietnamese oicotype, I would assume most cultures have a similar proverb. A main function of proverbs is to impart wisdom and parents generally want the best for their children. I would be surprised if a society that uses proverbs did not have one to warn children about the type of company they keep.
I love the linguistics of this proverb. It has clear poetic aspects even though the entire proverb doesn’t rhyme. The actual words used confuse me a bit, because I see ink as a problem in an analogy puzzle. If I were given this analogy puzzle, “ink” would not be one of my guesses:
____ : Dark :: Light : Bright
Ink sticks out like a sore thumb, but that aside I enjoy the poetry of the proverb and the underlying meaning.