Sunday, September 12, 2010

But Can You Believe It?

As will surprise no one even noddingly acquainted with this little blog, I am a fan of quotations. Always have been. In high school I had a small black binder in which I compulsively jotted interesting quotations that I came upon. Today I’m more efficient though no less geeky: I find and share them via the internet, including this blog.

Lately I’ve been encountering and sharing a fair number of quotations via Twitter--in fact, it occurred to me not long ago that I need to quit following so many whose tweets consist only of quotations, since my Twitter page (@wjreynolds; see all my fun tweets over to the left there) is getting pretty clogged up with quotations, many of which are tweeted and retweeted and re-retweeted to a disturbing extent--by the original tweeter, I mean, which gets to be a little old.

One of the things I’ve noted about the quotations I see on Twitter is that the vast majority of them are intended to be “inspirational.” Which is fine. We can all use a little inspiration, a little motivation, a little boost to get us over life’s speed bumps.

What we don’t need, however, is to be lied to about life.

And I’m afraid there’s a subset of “inspirational” quotes that does precisely that.
    All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them—Walt Disney
Sorry, Walt, but that’s simply not true. All of our dreams? Nonsense. People die every day having had dreams that never came true. I hope they died having had dreams that did come true, too, of course, but the idea that every dream can come true if we work hard enough or never give up or, oddly, have sufficient “courage,” is, I’m afraid, only a dream. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue our dreams; definitely we should! But the notion that pursuit guarantees success is silly.
    Any person who contributes to prosperity must prosper in turn. —E. Nightingale
That’s a great sentiment and I endorse it wholeheartedly...except for the words “must” and “prosper.” Lots of people contribute to prosperity and get swindled--if we’re using “prosperity” in a concrete, dollars-and-cents way. If we’re talking about prospering spiritually or morally by contributing to the overall prosperity of our fellow human beings, then I have no issue with it. But if we mean monetarily, then no. Anyone who has been paying any attention to the war on the American middle class has to know that Mr. Nightingale’s comment is noble but untrue. Change “must” to “should,” though, and I’m on board!
    We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish. —Tony Robbins
Ooh--started off great there, Tony, and then botched it. It’s the Disney Fallacy again: You can (and should) pursue your dreams, but there is no guarantee--none, whatsoever, in any shape or form, ever--that so doing will make them happen. For instance, I would like to be six feet tall and have a full head of wavy black hair. But it is quite impossible. Doesn’t matter how hard I try, how positively I think, how many motivational quotations I memorize. Ain’t gonna happen. Ever.

Better I should concentrate on what can or may happen rather than delude myself into thinking that anything is achievable.
    Anything you really want, you can attain, if you really go after it. —Wayne Dyer
More of the same. I realize that I receive and then transmit these quotations out of whatever their original context might be. It’s possible that the speaker or writer went on to elucidate more clearly their meaning, and delineated the obvious stumbling blocks and outright barriers that stand in the way of their supposed “achieve everything” message. But I contend that the stock in trade of motivational speakers and writers is that “sound bite,” that pithy, telegraphic message that resonates with people, and sometimes falls under the heading of telling people what they want to hear. Dr. Dyer’s quotation above seems to fit that category. Truth is, you cannot attain anything you “really want” if you “really go after it.” You can attain some things, but not “anything.” Not everything in life is under our control, or bendable to our will. To believe that it is borders on delusion.

The escape clause in many of these quotations lies in the phrasing: Oh, when I said “you can achieve anything” I meant “can” in the sense of “it’s possible.” Ah. I guess “you might” or “you could” is less catchy than “you can.” I said you can attain things you really want if you really try. If you don’t attain them, you must not have wanted or tried enough. Oh, I assure you: I really want to be six feet tall and have a full head of wavy black hair. Won’t happen.

So it is that I prefer and find more inspiration in quotations that speak to what life is and what life may be, and how we should live our lives.
    The reality you experience is a reflection of what you believe is most possible. —Bashar
    A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed. —Henrik Ibsen
    Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together. —Carl Zwanzig
Okay, that last one was just for fun. I like those too.

And I especially like this one, which I think most accurately reflects reality:
    Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly. —Langston Hughes
Now that is inspirational!