Okay, I have a confession to make. I’ve officially had it up to here with “inspirational” quotes.You know the ones I mean—they’ve been around for years, on posters and greeting cards. They say things like “Life is only as good as you make it!” and “Your thoughts control your destiny!”
Many of them offer a kind of canned spirituality, offering feel-good platitudes to convince us that no matter how crappy our lives might be, there are great things waiting just around the corner: “Every single thing in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.”
Lately I’ve noticed sayings like this proliferating on the Internet. I can’t open my Facebook or Twitter feeds these days without some well-meaning soul plastering the place with happy fairy-fart sayings like, “All your dreams can come true, if you have the courage to pursue them!” (Thanks, Walt Disney. Glad things worked out for you.)
Here’s what bothers me about sayings like that: we all know someone whose dreams have gone up in flames, someone whose life just never really got past the starting gate. We know people who’ve lived lives of quiet desperation, or who’ve suffered terrible setbacks, and grown old and bitter.
Were those people simply lacking in courage?
Maybe they lacked faith, or vision, or creativity, or some other attribute which, if applied with sufficient force and in sufficient quantity, would surely have made that person’s life a paradise on earth!
I call bullshit.
Because you know what? Not everyone really can control their own destiny. Some people are born with the deck stacked against them. Some people make stupid mistakes that reap terrible consequences, consequences they can never overcome. Some—like the homeless people you talked about yesterday—have to cope with setbacks that you or I couldn’t even dream of.
And guess what? Most of the people in the world don’t live with the kind of middle-class privilege you and I take very much for granted.
How can we justify telling someone who’s just lost their home, or whose family has just been bombed to death in Syria, or whose children are dying of malnutrition in a drought-ravaged country, that they alone are in charge of their fate?
To me, that goes beyond irritating. It’s the worst kind of cruelty. And yet, it’s exactly what we’re doing when we spout “inspirational” quotes.
Or what about this winner? “Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss, you’ll end up among the stars!”
This fatuous bit of motivational drivel decorates the walls of every classroom I’ve visited in the past decade or so. In addition to irritating the snot out of the students who bother to read it, what kind of message does it give?
“Hey, kid, no matter what happens, if you aim big, you’re really going to go places!” That sounds great, on the surface.
And I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t encourage our kids to do their best, and to aim high. But telling them they’re pretty much guaranteed to “land among the stars”? You know, much has been made of the millennial generation’s alleged “sense of entitlement.” But if we’re filling their heads with the idea that as long as they dream big, they’re going someplace special, each and every one of them…well, let’s just say that might not be the most realistic lesson they could learn.
Maybe I’m a little grumpy about this (okay, maybe a lot grumpy), but to me, inspirational quotes are a conceit of the privileged. They represent a world view that is shared by fewer people than we might think.
Let me put it this way:
- About half the world’s population lives on less than US$2.50 per day.
- 80% of the world’s population lives on less than US$10 per day.
- 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.
- One in three of the world’s children lives with inadequate shelter.
- Currently, there are about 2.2 billion children in the world. One billion of them live in poverty; 1.4 million of them die each day due to a lack of basic sanitation and drinking water.
So maybe inspirational quotes aren’t really meant for everyone. Maybe they’re just meant for those of us with the physical, financial, social, and emotional wherewithal to think about things like “holding fast to our dreams” or “living the lives we were meant to live.”
The rest of the people in the world are too busy trying to survive.
Here endeth the sermon.
- Danger Can Lurk Behind Platitudes (leazengage.wordpress.com)
- Inspiring Nelson Mandela quotes on death, optimism and leadership (globalnews.ca)<–Not bullshit. Looking for some actual inspiration? Check these out.
- Don’t blame Shakespeare: Stuff he never said (Afterthekidsleave.com)
- The Pessimist: The Top 13 Demotivational Posters of All Time (ThePessimist.com)