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Part Three: A pluriverse of activities

Proverbs that reinforce separation

Astrid von Kotze








Donna Haraway (2007) has suggested that ‘we must untie some of the old knots that tie us to beliefs and practices that are not necessarily in our long term best interests, and we must raise the most basic questions of who belongs where and what flourishing means for whom' (p.41). If we need to disrupt and unlearn old habits and beliefs, we should begin with language, as this is the tool for shaping our worldview and relations with other beings. Untying some knots contained in common, everyday proverbs revealed how they reflect a world and thinking that is rooted in a deeply divided binary worldview. 




This activity engages with common proverbs to challenge the binary thinking underlying the saying, and encourage possibilities of more than one interpretation.



     (1) Individually, participants can think of some common proverbs in their own language and culture.

      In plenary, collect examples.

    (2) In pairs, participants examine the examples in order to identify ‘myths of separation’.

     Feedback in plenary.


Here are some examples:

  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence

    There are 2 sides that are separated by a fence erected by people to create a border/boundary to the ‘other’ . The common sense is that it’s always better where you are not. The underlying advice is that you must be happy with your lot. How do you interpret this proverb?

  • A leopard doesn’t change its spots

    You are what you are. That is the sense of ‘human nature’.  It is best to accept what is, as it cannot be changed. How do you interpret this proverb?

  • Birds of a feather flock together

    It is said to be normal and natural for like to be with like; the ‘same’ kind rather than choosing difference or diversity. This myth reinforces the division into ‘us’ and ‘them’ by naturalising the rejection of the other in favour of the same. How do you interpret this proverb?

  • Killing two birds with one stone

    Efficiency is valued more than life. How do you interpret this proverb? Why would we want to kill birds?

  • Silence is golden

    There are 2 opposites: silence and noise. Maintaining silence implies harmony, balance, maintaining what is. The proverb suggests that there is a choice to be made for either of the two, and remaining silent is better than causing dissonance!  


  1. What other proverbs are there, in other cultures, that suggest ‘disruption’ rather than reproduction of what is? 


Some examples from Africa: 

  • If you can walk, you can dance. If you can speak, you can sing.

  • A loose tooth will not rest until it’s pulled out.

  • A path is made by walking


These proverbs embrace process. A physical experience (a wiggly tooth, walking) is shown as impacting our mental, emotional state; body and mind are clearly connected, rather than separate. Proverbs here express embodied life and encourage  agency, action for change, rather than reformist or passive responses.

About the Author


Astrid von Kotze lives in Muizenberg, Cape Town,  by the sea. She enjoys walking her dogs on the mountain and working with her hands.  In the last few years, she has published variously on ecofeminism and popular theatre. 



Harraway, D. (2007). When Species meet. University of Minnesota Press.

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