#MindfulMonday: Salt of the Earth

I have a happy, bubbly friend named Nicole. One day, at a teatime catch-up session, she said I was the ‘salt of the Earth’. I said, “What’s that? I’ll have to go look it up on the Internet.”

She was highly amused, but explained it nonetheless. The metaphor ‘salt of the Earth’ was apparently used to describe good people. Oh, thank you! That is really sweet. 😀

I was so amused, I wrote a haiku about it. 😉

Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth

The salt of the Earth
That was what Nicole called me
Makes me smile every time

Khor Hui Min
30 November 2015


The origins of the metaphor

Do you believe that people are fundamentally good?

‘Salt of the Earth’ refers to simple, fundamental goodness. In speech and writing, it can be used to describe a simple, good person. The Oxford Dictionary defined the salt of the Earth as ‘a person or group of people of great kindness, reliability, or honesty.’

Where did this term or metaphor originate from, you might wonder. Well, it actually came from the Bible, Matthew 5:13, which is the thirteenth verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It is part of the Sermon on the Mount.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers, who are mainly fishermen and other simple people, “Ye are the salt of the Earth.”

The positive meaning in ‘the salt of the earth’ was likely made in reference to the value of salt, which is reflected in other old phrases, such as – the aristocratic and powerful of the earth were ‘above the salt‘ and valued workers were ‘worth their salt‘ (Phrase Finder, n.d.).

A metaphor for goodness

Let us see the goodness in others.

It is flattering to be regarded as good, reliable and honest, to be the so-called salt of the Earth. However, it is good to know that people still prefer to see goodness in others, rather than the contrary. There should be more people like Nicole around. 🙂

Why should you see goodness in others, because seeing the bad qualities is a whole lot easier for most people? Wait a minute… Why is it easier for most people to see the bad qualities in others? It is simply because they had a whole lot more practice in seeing the bad stuff, as compared to seeing the good stuff. Most people grow up absorbing the lessons and examples of the people around them, their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc., ultimately internalising these qualities and making them their own. Rarely do young, impressionable children question the very fundamental beliefs, concepts, characteristics and habits of their elders.

Thus, if they had grown up with unhappy role models, disillusioned with what life gave them (or did to them, as some like to think of it), carrying the baggage of their lifelong disappointments around with them, the children will eventually end up with the same mindset in adulthood, not knowing that there are better alternatives out there.

However, it is possible to break away from this cycle, if the person in question realises that the mindset or the way of thinking he/she inherited or learnt is negative and bad for him/her in the long run. It is even bad for health – imagine being angry all the time – the blood pressure always goes up high, the heart rate increases when the body should be at rest… that is bad, isn’t it? Also, when one is always agitated, perhaps ruminating on irksome people, situations or things, it will be harder to sleep at night, leading to poor sleep quality.

Choose to see goodness in others

Perhaps a shift in perspective is all it takes.

If you are one of those people who look at the rotten, sordid side of life every day, perhaps it is time to stand back and assess the situation.

“Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.”
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.

“Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.”
Abandon such thoughts and live in love.

In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.

The Buddha, Dhammapada

We are our thoughts. We are what we think. If you think you are unhappy, so you are. If you think you are a victim, so you are. If you think you are a failure, and so you will become a failure even though you are not.

Choose to see the beauty and goodness in other people. See that your wife cares for your children every day (in spite of having to juggle a full-time job and house chores). See that your mother is concerned that you work late all the time (she shows it by calling you to nag). See that your child is lonely, and needs your attention and love (he shows it by throwing tantrums, sulking, and drawing pictures all the time). In so doing, you are focusing on the goodness, the good intentions behind the actions (caring wife, concerned mother, lonely child), rather than the negatives (wife who is bad in time management, nagging mother, difficult child).

In addition, we should focus on the good qualities of people. For example, your wife is a good cook, and she is a good problem-solver. Your mother has a great memory and is very good in Tai Chi, even though she is 70 now. Your child excels in arts and sports. Do not focus on the negatives, such as your wife has no fashion sense, your mother is fickle-minded, and your child does not have an affinity for science and maths.

Perhaps a shift in perspective is the tip of the iceberg – a start towards a better life, inside-out. Remember, practice makes perfect. 🙂