Aphorisms Unplugged: Go the Extra Mile.

go the extra mile

his expression is frequently dished out as advice to do more than is required, in order to impress the boss. In its original context, however, “going the extra mile” is much more than simply a way to get ahead in a competitive world. But what?

Sometimes that well-worn adage doesn’t really mean what our literal-minded, text-focused, Google-driven world thinks it means. One reason this happens is that, quite simply, language evolves.

To further complicate matters, as with books, all too often the context of these popular wisdoms has been forgotten. Though these aphorisms may still contain some good advice, their original message is typically richer and more profound than our contemporary interpretation.

This Book is Banned proffers a few proverbs, sayings, and other pearls of wisdom that have been unplugged,” as it were. We’ve rebooted, gone back-to-basics, and re-discovered their intended message. For example:

Go the Extra Mile.

These days, “go the extra mile” means making a special effort to achieve a particular goal. Or it’s dished out as advice to do more than is required, in order to impress our boss.

In its original context, however, “going the extra mile” isn’t simply a way to get ahead in a competitive world. It’s a biblical reference, specifically the Sermon on the Mount. Needless to say, at that point in history Israel was occupied by the Roman empire. And the admonition to go the extra mile is actually a call to engage in non-violent resistance against an occupying power, the kind Ghandi learned in his regular readings of the Gospels.[1]

Not surprisingly, Roman soldiers could impose forced labor on subject people, at any time, and on demand. Going the extra mile refers to the very common demand to carry a legionnaire’s kit. The law, however, limited this form of forced labor to a single mile. Compelling a civilian to carry a pack any further carried severe penalties under military law. So, if that civilian publicly insists on “going the extra mile,” it puts the soldier in the unexpected and very uncomfortable situation of having to plead with one of the vanquished to put down his pack.

When a civilian “goes the extra mile,” the power dynamic is reversed. The empire’s authority has been challenged. And it is accomplished without resorting to the violence that would only lead to arrest and likely execution.[2]  So, going the extra mile is actually an early version of “stick it to The Man.” And that’s a world away from urging someone to do more than is required in an effort to impress their boss.


[1] Watson, Blanche. “Passive Resistance of Soul Force.” The Open Court. Volume 35, Issue 12. December 1921, 715.
[2] Wink, Walter. The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium. (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 98-111.

Photo by Ilona Frey on Unsplash      https://unsplash.com/photos/hSliLYLmm-c


Check out more unplugged proverbs, sayings, and other pearls of wisdom here.

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