‘You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.’
Versions of this proverb appear as far back as the 15th century. In 1449, John Lydgate wrote “He… holdeth with hounde and hare” in his collection ‘Minor Poems’. In 1546, John Heywood wrote “There is no mo [more] suche tytifils [scoundrels] in Englands grounde, To holde with the hare, and run with the hounde.”
This phrase, when used to describe a person (‘he would run with the hare and hunt with the hounds’), is usually not complimentary.
In the past, it was often used to describe someone who uses deceitful methods to stay in favour with two conflicting sides. That is why Heywood described them as scoundrels. It is someone who is more concerned with their own self-interests than what is right or wrong.
This proverb refers to those who fail to choose a side.
We all fall into positions and ‘choose sides’ to a degree, determined by our temperament, the information we have, and much more. At the least, choosing a side and standing by it does show some courage. Or perhaps more to the point, failing to do so, suggests some cowardice. We’re often afraid of the consequences attached to choosing a side, but there are also very real consequences to passivity, which will show up over time.
We can’t play both sides and we shouldn’t try.
That’s not saying that we should just fall in anywhere for the sake of it. But we can formulate well thought out positions and opinions, which we are not afraid to revisit and reform. It serves us well to have a place where we can stand for what we value.