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Literal Translation: In times of trouble, wise solutions will appear. English Equivalent: Adversity is the mother of wisdom.
In 2008, British film Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle, dominated the box office and snagged numerous international film awards. The story was of an 18-year-old boy named Jamil who, despite growing up in the Juhu slums of Mumbai, appeared on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and used his childhood experiences on the streets to successfully answer all the quiz show questions. Similar to the film, our September proverb means that when faced with obstacles, wise people find out-of-the-box solutions. “Cái khó” refers to circumstances or conditions that impede our goals, “cái khôn” refers to long-term plans, while “ló” means to appear/ surface. But “Cái khó ló cái khôn” is actually an adaptation of an out-dated and negative proverb, “Cái khó bó cái khôn,” that means “Difficult circumstances restrict one’s ability to carry out a plan.” On a grander scale, the proverb points out that difficult environments breed wisdom. It implies that there is a certain intelligence and determination resulting from having been raised in poor conditions. The West has a term for wisdom gained from living on the streets that they call “street smarts.” This is awareness and trust in your own judgment of people or situations.
As Jawaharlal Nehru has said, “The hand that you are dealt represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” You cannot change the circumstances of your birth, but you can change how you deal with it moving forward.