Poets, authors and other social commentators from Confucius to Chris Rock have been compelled to summarize their observations of the human condition or capture the wisdom of the ages in short, ‘impactful’, cleverly written quotes or sayings for centuries.
I understand the compulsion and have benefited from some of the more meaningful pearls. Lately I’ve become hyper aware of a new wave of gems like this one permeating FaceBook status updates and blog tag lines.
There can be a fine line between a proverb and a cliché. Often a cliché is just a proverb that been overused to the point where humankind doesn’t value them any longer. Even so, at its core, a cliché is true, typically, and makes sense in some way … this new iteration of non-axioms is neither proverb nor cliche – it neither make sense nor adds value to our lives.
The one pictured here is a primo example of what my grandfather was referring to when he talked about people trying to baffle with bullshit because they lacked the brilliance to blind.
It’s not that this example is worse than others I’ve seen … it’s just that it happened to pop up in my Google+ stream when I had a few minutes to spend on it.
So in the spirit of what I call the effort to “stop spreading the stupid,” I submit the following litmus test to apply before inserting what seems like a clever axiom into your e-signature or sharing with your virtual friends.
1. Does the statement contain absolutes, using words like only, every, always, never?
This is an immediate red flag as absolutes rarely apply to the human condition. I use to love the line from Episode III where Obi Wan yells pleadingly to Anakin, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” It was even my FaceBook quote for while until I figured out the saying, itself, was an absolute.
Other examples: Every dog has its day. Never say, never. For everything thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.
2. Is there an obvious play on words such as repeating a word or base form of a word but with different variations.
This is a cheap parlor trick that gives something an air of profoundness but it’s a thin veil that easily evaporates under the light of scrutiny.
Other examples: I’m a nobody, nobody is perfect; therefore, I’m perfect. If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it’s still a foolish thing. When you fail on love, love will fail on you.
3. Does the statement make sense? If so, is there truth to it (remember even cheesy clichés are, at the very least, true?) If it were true, would it help you live or make sense of your live?
Other examples: Early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. Shoot for the moon because even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.
Though the statement “Only boring people are bored” makes sense insofar as we can understand what it’s trying to say, it is patently untrue. People who are not boring get bored, as well. I was trapped at a table with a coworker who droned on about annuities during lunch two days ago – he’s a boring guy but I was the one bored. I believe he was actually pretty excited.
Even if the statement were true, what is society suppose to do with it? How would I use this nugget to reconcile the fact that my aversion toward discussions of personal finance during my lunch break is due to my boring personality, not Larry Finkledouche and his fetish for asset allocation strategy?
My plea to the reader is stop and assess these things before passing them on … the information superhighway has the capacity to create a smarter, more tolerant, more connected world – don’t distract folks with this rubbish. Don’t help spread the stupid.
After all, it was the late social commentator Chris Farley who said:
“You can get a good look at a butcher’s ass by sticking your head up there but wouldn’t you rather to take his word for it? What I mean is, you can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking your head up a butcher’s ass … no, wait …”