Walls require spalls as well as large stones.

Note: Our thanks go to Brendan McSherry for this week’s proverb. In is simplest sense it is a lesson in masonry. A spall or gallet is a small flake or chip of stone produced by splitting a larger stone. Practiced masons can create any size and shape chip they want. A deft blow of the hammer will create a chip to fit any whole in a wall. In fact, the word spall comes from the Old German word spell which means to split. Therefore, walls, especially walls made without mortar, need many of these chips if they are to stand for any length of time.

On a deeper level, it is a metaphor about society and about life. There is the American expression “all chiefs and no Indians” used to deride a group with all leaders and no followers. Such a situation is comically doomed to failure. You obviously need more of the latter than the former to be successful.

Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains victory.
George S. Patton, In the Cavalry Journal, 1933.

Another interpretation of this metaphor concerns a healthy balance in life. It is easy to focus all of our attention on the big things in life and forget the little things. For example, many spend all their energy on advancing their careers. They lose sight of the little things in life, like watching your daughter’s first goal in a soccer match, taking your son to the museum, or simply enjoying a quiet sunset. Their lives, like walls without spalls, will soon collapse under their own weight.