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What does the proverb "You can't wake a person who is pretending to be asleep" mean?

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The proverb "You can't wake a person who is pretending to be asleep" communicates that it's futile to try to force someone to acknowledge or engage with something they are consciously choosing to ignore, akin to "burying one's head in the sand." This metaphorical 'pretense of sleep' signifies a deliberate refusal to participate or confront a situation, despite being fully aware of the circumstances, whether it be political, professional, or personal.

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This ancient Navajo proverb has begun to circulate recently as an inspirational quote. It is often used on online memes and printed on tote bags and so on. It can be interpreted in several ways, but the gist of it seems to be the following: you cannot force someone to do something that they do not want to do. If someone is pretending to be asleep, metaphorically, they are deliberately remaining insensate to the world around them. As such, it is not any use for us to try to "wake" them, because they are already awake. They have made a conscious decision to pretend otherwise, and in doing so, they fail to participate in what is going on around them.

This proverb can have a similar usage to "burying one's head in the sand." A person who has buried his head in the sand knows that he should be paying attention to what is going on but cannot face it. As a result, he pretends it is not there. Someone who is pretending to be asleep has similarly decided to opt out of taking part in what is happening, although he or she is fully aware of what is really going on. These people know that things are bad. For us to tell them that would just be telling them something they already know, so it is not helpful. They have decided, in full knowledge of the real situation, to pretend it is not happening, because they want no part in it. "It" could be a political situation, a situation at work, or simply their own lives.

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