Monday, July 26, 2010

One-liners that don't hold water.

In one of my favorite songs, I noticed an interesting lyric the other day: "our ideas held no water, but we used them like a dam." This is how I feel about a lot of one-liners: they're often used to respond to crises or to answer deep questions, but in my eyes they don't provide any meaningful answers. They don't hold any water, but we use them like a dam. Here are a few of those one-liners, and why they don't really do anything for me...

- "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!"

Problem: Where am I to get the water and sugar from? How can I be expected to make lemonade if all life "gives" me is lemons? This adage implies that "life" just arbitrarily HANDS us everything we have, and therefore the adage implicitly asks the impossible. It sets up an expectation so whenever something "bad" happens in our lives, we feel pressure to magically transform it into something "good." Oh, and when you still have lemons in your pocket and no lemonade to drink, how do you feel? Miserable and powerless. This adage tells us that if things are bad, we're doing something wrong. "What's the matter," it taunts, "you can't turn this into lemonade?" No, maybe I can't. But I cannot come to peace with my circumstances, so I am tortured: I cannot simply accept things for how they are, because this adage teaches me to expect myself to somehow change them, like some sort of alchemist.

Solution:
When life gives you lemons, be happy about lemons. Do not automatically label life events as "good things" or "bad things," but rather, simply accept your reality as such and react accordingly. Sometimes trying to change things will be an appropriate reaction, and sometimes it will not.

- "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me."

Problem:
I have had issue with this adage since the first day I heard it. Sure, we teach this saying to children so that they learn not to get over-offended by what others say. But on the flip side, we try to teach kindness and tact. Why? Why be kind or tactful if the only thing that will hurt is a stick or a stone? For most of my youth, I felt like I could (and should) say whatever came to mind, no matter what, because no one had the right to be offended by mere words. This unhealthy habit of communication eventually faded, but probably would have faded sooner if it weren't for sayings like this "sticks and stones" nonsense.

Solution:
Don't tell your kids that words "can never hurt" them. Words CAN hurt, and words DO hurt. How we react to that hurt is what matters.

- "That person has too much time on their hands."

Problem:
Okay, this isn't really an "adage," per se, but it's a one-liner that is often used to sneer at those who perform some impressive or talented feat. It makes us feel better when we watch Youtube videos or "America's Got Talent" or whatever it is. Instead of admiring gifted and dedicated individuals, we assure ourselves of our superiority by noting, "wow, SOMEONE has a lot of time on their hands..."

Solution:
Actually, everyone has the same amount of time on their hands: namely, twenty-four hours each day. Everyone gets the same amount. Everyone has seven days in a week, just like you. The only difference between the people using this adage and the people it's used against is the use of said time. Sure, this sounds like an obvious distinction to make, but it's very important to remember. The guy you saw doing crazy tricks on TV last night doesn't have some random unfair advantage over you, and he certainly doesn't have more time than you do. He just used his time to hone a skill... and you used your time to watch him on TV.

- "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Problem:
This is just blatantly and obviously untrue. I find it difficult to understand why people still use this phrase. I hope I don't need to explain that sometimes, will notwithstanding, there is no way.

Solution:
Where there's a will, there's a will. Where there's a way, there's a way. Sometimes there is both, but they do not cause each other. However, where there's a will, it is sometimes easier [than it would be without a will] to find/recognize a way, if there is one at all.
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