A ‘rolling stone gathers no moss’ means that people who travel a lot do not accrue commitments. The phrase “A rolling stone gathers no moss”, means that:
- a person who doesn’t stick to an occupation accumulate no wealth and develops no meaningful experience or expertise on anything,
- a person who doesn’t settle in a place commands little social status and avoids social responsibilities,
- a person who keep wandering from one place to another doesn’t care much for others and remains detached from other people and things, and
- a person who keep changing jobs or places achieve little success in life.
This saying works based on a metaphor: A stone that rolls through the forest does not get covered in moss. A stone that stays still does. Here, moss stands for attachments or commitments. And, the rolling stone is a person who moves around. Similarly, a person who travels does not:
- allow others to depend on them.
- become dependent on others.
- form attachments.
- shoulder responsibilities.
- make lasting friendships or relationships.
It is up to the person using the proverb to decide whether this is a positive or a negative thing.
A stone that rolls along the force of the water remains smooth free from any moss on it. On the other hand, a stone that remains stagnant at a place for a long time gathers moss on it.
A person may become successful if he follows a planned course of action from the beginning to the end. Too many changes in sphere of activity mean a lot of wastage of time and energy. Further, such person fails to gain experience in his previous pursuit.
It is true that a person who keeps travelling from one place to another remains free from any meaningful social responsibility. However, on the other hand, he doesn’t have a permanent place to which he can refer to as his place of residence.
A person who changes his sphere of activity, or quickly shift from one place to another, will have to start afresh each time. He will have to build up the new environment. He will have to work very hard to prove his abilities again. Now, after putting so much effort, if a person changes his occupation, then many of the efforts that he put in his previous pursuit would go to waste.
Some people are fearful of the initial difficulty of a new job. They avoid accepting responsibility of a task that demands sincerity, hard work and persistence. They give up the work in despair and turn to some other occupation or business. But, people can make very little progress if they continually shy away of such work that demands commitment. Such people waste immense time and energy on wasteful activities that have a bearing on their self-esteem and self-confidence. Consistence and commitment to a job brings success and prosperity in long run.
One should never forget the great message and teaching behind the proverb. The proverb teaches us that the chances of our success greatly increase if:
- we stick to one particular wisely selected occupation, and
- we settle in a particular place.
We can derive much teaching from the following discussion:
- Family life. Can a family withstand one member eschewing commitments?
- Romantic relationships. Knowing that someone is a rolling stone may influence our relationship with them.
- Career. Can rolling stones have a stable career?
- Friendships. Is it possible to have a lasting friendship with a rolling stone?
- Support. Is being a rolling stone lonely?
- The importance of commitment: staying in one place and helping our loved ones is a valuable attribute.
- Youth: this proverb perhaps applies best to young people with fewer responsibilities.
Thus, the proverb further teaches us that a person will not get success, status, or established position if:
- he continuously changes his mind, or
- constantly moves from one place to another, or
- jumps from one occupation to another.
A man cannot succeed in life if he falls short of conviction and resolute determination.
The English rock band The Rolling Stones is named after this proverb.
Hence, we conclude that ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss.’ People should plan all their important activities, particularly occupation, with utmost care and caution. However, once occupation and the place of occupation is fixed, they should be patient and stick to their occupation. They should not be lured by novelty. They should pursue it wholeheartedly. Success will surely come to a person who puts all his efforts in a wisely selected occupation.
This proverb can be taken in both a positive and a negative sense. In the positive sense, freedom from commitments can be liberating: being a rolling stone can be a great thing.
In the negative sense, a rolling stone is a fickle person who cannot be relied on. Here, the proverb is used to warn people about a fickle partner or friend.
As with many proverbs, the meaning of this proverb thus depends on the intention of the person quoting the proverb.