Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Limits of Good Advice

Readers of these virtual pages know that I am fond of quotations. I collect same, and share them with others (see here and here for proof); lately I observe that many of the tweets I receive on Twitter are quotations, too. (Sometimes the same ones, posted over and over again by the same people. Come on, guys. Just because there are tools to automate your tweets doesn't mean you have to use them.)

To be sure, not every quotation is worth sharing. I get an awful lot of them that seem to me more suited to a greeting card than anything else. And I get an awful lot that don't quite hang together. Here, for instance, is one that I grabbed off of Twitter a few minutes ago:

    Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. —Harold R. McAlindon

A little research indicates that this quotation also has been attributed to Emerson, among others.

Regardless of its ownership, it strikes me as a quotation that sounds better than it really is. I mean, yes, of course, the blaze-your-own-trail angle is much beloved by quotation-crafters, and with good reason. And yet, if you look at the McAlindon quotation closely, you see where it unravels: Quite simply, if everyone followed the advice, it wouldn't matter how many trails you left because no one would be following any established trails.

The moral of the story, if there is one: The world needs followers, too.