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The meaning and origin of the expression: It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness

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Better to light a candle than curse the darkness

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Literal meaning.


Better to light a candle than to curse the darknessSeveral people are associated with this proverbial saying, notably John F. Kennedy. It was brought to the public's attention by Peter Benenson, the English lawyer and founder of Amnesty International, at a Human Rights Day ceremony on 10th December 1961. The candle circled by barbed wire has since become the society's emblem.

Darkness has long been a metaphor for ignorance or evil. The Bible contains hundreds of references to darkness, referring either to the period of ignorance before the realization of faith (that is, prior to 'seeing the light'), death, or to the Devil (The Prince of Darkness); for example, in Romans 13:

13:11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.

13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

And it is in a religious context that the phrase is first found in print. The English Wesleyan minister William Lonsdale Watkinson used the expression in The Supreme Conquest, and other sermons preached in America, 1907:

But denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.

See also: the List of Proverbs.