“Break one chopstick at a time.”

            Danny doesn’t know where he first heard this ancient Chinese proverb, but he knows he hears it often in his family, particularly from his parents. He was born in the United States, but his parents were born in China. He is a pre-med student at the University of Southern California He interprets this as meaning “If you want to do things right, do it one step at a time. Say if you want to break five chopsticks as fast as possible. It’s better to break them one at a time than to break them in one piece.”

            Danny and I are on the executive board of a club together, and this proverb came up when discussing how we were going to revive our club after a semester of little activity. We realized we had a lot of work to do to get things running properly, and he mentioned this proverb to suggest that we tackle one obstacle at a time to reach our club’s goals.

            I think this proverb can be used mainly as Danny has described, paralleling the concept that it is bad to “spread yourself too thin,” a piece of advice given often in the college environment to students who take too many classes or engage in too many extracurricular activities. This Chinese proverb captures something more than this expression in that it paints a picture to show why doing too many things at once is a bad thing; namely, attempting to break multiple chopsticks at once will lead to a pile of unbroken chopsticks. A consequence is given for the action that both expressions address.