“Do the best you can.”
“Make the most of your time.”
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (Einstein)
“Nothing changes if nothing changes.”
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” (Mother Theresa)
Platitudes and inspirational quotes are everywhere. They populate threads. They show up on billboards. They’re used to sell soft drinks. They have become background noise, part of the chatter that we briefly attend to before letting go to focus on whatever shiny object we are currently obsessing over.
A current personal favourite that I mutter under my breath when things are getting tough, is by Robert Frost: “The only way out is through.” I like it. I don’t think about it all that much, however. It is an unexamined mantra that primarily serves to jolt me back into the now and away from negative choices. It works. But questions can still be asked. Why is through the only way out? Are there other options? Is it universally applicable? I need more information than short quotes provide.
Brevity is not always a good thing.
We encounter expressions like these everywhere. We repeat them to others, we repeat them to ourselves. We post them on our social media feeds and make them the background image on our phones. They adorn T-shirts and coffee cups and bumper stickers.
No quote escapes the soundbite treatment and accuracy is only marginally relevant. We can even make artsy, inspirational quotes ourselves. I made a couple on Canva just this week.
Unfortunately, the soundbites rarely have real impact and, in my opinion, rarely lead to significant change. One wonders why. They contain absolutely reasonable advice. They’re completely inspirational. They’re brief. And yet, I struggle to remember them beyond a momentary nod and smile. Perhaps the problem lies with the method of acquisition?
A quote is a piece of a whole and to throw in another inspirational soundbite, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps we don’t attend to them, perhaps they don’t make any significant impact because we don’t look deeper than the nice font and the soothing background decoration. Perhaps we don’t attend to them because there’s no effort to the acquisition.
We read, smile, agree, and move on.
I have a rule on Twitter. I’m not allowed to share or like articles I haven’t read. The same rule applies for Facebook. It seems like a small and obvious thing and yet I became convinced, not too long ago, that most people aren’t reading the things that they’re outraged about. Or chuffed about. Or simply sharing.
I was guilty of it myself. News has become kin to the inspirational soundbites: the headline is now all you need to form an opinion. The fact that the content may differ from the leading lede is irrelevant. The snippet is all anyone seems to be concerned with anymore.
Perhaps inspirational soundbites would have more impact if I applied a similar rule. If I want to tell everyone, “success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”, it might be an idea to read the Winston Churchill speech from whence the quote came to understand the context. So that there’s a depth of knowledge and a measure of work that accompanies the tidbit.
We need knowledge to be fibre not fluff.
It’s trickier these days. We’re out of the work habit. We’re all about ease of access instead. We’ve become lazy; we are all about convenience. Generalisations, of course, but there’s truth there, nonetheless.
It is, however, necessary to do the work. Inspirational quotes that aren’t acquired via a margin of effort live only for the time it takes to scroll past or finish a cup of coffee.