Deru kui wa utareru
The stake that sticks out gets hammered down
Don’t make waves
Jon learned this proverb from his mother when he was in elementary school. He thinks his mom was taught the saying by her parents, who are from Japan. Jon said that the first time his mom used the proverb with him was when he was in third grade and tried to be different from everyone else in his class by dying his hair red. His teachers reprimanded him and said that hairstyle was not acceptable. Later on when Jons mom was explaining to him why he could not have red hair at school, she used the proverb to say that standing out too much can be a bad thing. In this context, the proverb is used to reinforce the school policy and help Jon follow the rules. The proverb is not meant to be harsh. Instead, it is a cautionary means of reminding someone that there can be consequences for choosing to go against the grain of society.
I heard Jon use this proverb when he was talking with a friend who was complaining about a math class. Jons friend wanted to rebel against the teacher, but Jon advised him not to make waves because his friend was the only one who was standing up against the teacher. For Jon, the proverb was appropriate to use because it expresses the dangers of separating oneself too much from the crowd. Though it is important to establish a unique identity, Jon felt that sticking out too much can lead to social stigmatization and punishment.
I think that this proverb may have more relevance for Jon because of his Japanese heritage. Japanese culture has traditionally emphasized the importance of values like respect and cooperation, as well as social harmony and a strong familial bond. Unlike many Western civilizations, Japan does not place as much importance on the individual, and instead focuses on society as a whole. Therefore, it seems much more likely that someone raised in a Japanese household would be more likely to use this proverb and derive meaning from it than someone raised in Western Europe of the United States.
Examples of this proverb can be seen in almost form of literature or film, since many pieces of art and writing deal with the negative repercussions of anti-conformity. For instance, in the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, John the savage is shunned by society for his resistance to adopt a civilized way of life. In the end, John can no longer tolerate being a social pariah and kills himself. Though it is an extreme example, Johns character shows how making waves in society can often have negative consequences that can be very difficult to overcome.