We all have that one friend who keeps cluttering up our Facebook newsfeed with pseudo-philosophical or spiritual quotes, accompanied by calming imagery.
Often it’s minions.
Maybe you’re even that friend. I’m not against this practice per se, and the quotations might be useful or thought-provoking ones. But sometimes they seem either vague to the point of uselessness, or excusing undesirable behaviour. I thought I’d take a look at a few of them and see what they actually seem to be saying:
It doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty. Be thankful that you have a glass and grateful that there’s something in it: First of all, we don’t have much control over whether we’re optimistic or pessimistic. It’s generally just part of our personality. And second, this seems to be a variation of the common notion that we shouldn’t worry about little things (or “first-world problems”) because there’s always someone worse off. While that can be useful to help put things in perspective and maintain our empathy, we can still worry about small things even if we’re concerned about big things, and it can help to make progress in life, by motivating us to fix little problems. That attitude also seems disturbingly passive and accepting of problems or injustices: just because there are terrible things happening in some parts of the world, doesn’t mean that everything is fine in other places, and we shouldn’t try to change things.
Let go of those who bring you down, and surround yourself with those who bring out the best in you: sounds good at first, but letting people go? That’s a bit harsh. How about looking into why they’re bringing you down first? Do they make you realise something about yourself that you don’t like to face? Or are they depressed and in need of help?
The people who are meant to be in your life will always gravitate back to you, no matter how far they wander: except when they don’t, which happens all the time. And if you expect the people who’ve moved away from you to come back without strong reason to believe they actually will, isn’t that going to make you less likely to connect with new people?
When my circle got smaller, my circle got cleaner: Yes, but obviously nobody likes you.
Don’t forget how blessed you are. Don’t be negative when you have so much to be positive about: Again, this seems to be saying Don’t complain, be grateful, but also Accept things how they are and don’t try to fix them. But maybe we’re not all blessed, and complaining about things can improve things. People wouldn’t protest about things they feel strongly against if they followed this advice, and wouldn’t affect real political change.
I am full of mistakes and imperfections, and therefore I am real: Very true, but I feel that people who always share quotes along this theme don’t want to make any positive change in their lives. Yes, none of us is perfect, but isn’t it good to look at ourselves and our flaws, and question if these are things we can and should change?
If you want to fly, give up everything that weighs you down: Ok, but just don’t take this literally.
Why do we close our eyes when we pray, kiss, cry, or dream? Because the most beautiful things in life are not seen, but felt by the heart: First of all, we close our eyes when we dream because we’re asleep. Second: what!? That doesn’t actually mean anything, when you think about it. Surely we’d still feel them with our eyes open. I also don’t think that dream I once had about being chased by velociraptors around an old fishing boat was one of the most beautiful things.
And finally, the classic…
I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I’m out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best: First of all, Marilyn Monroe never said this. Second: even if she had, she was a very troubled individual with well-documented emotional and psychological issues, and therefore probably wouldn’t be the best person to get relationship advice from. And just look at what it’s saying: I have all of these many, many flaws and behave just terribly. I’m really a terrible person. But if that makes life difficult for you, it’s your fault! Huh!? What a complete avoidance of responsibility for one’s behaviour and excuse for being an awful human being.
Which is my problem with a lot of such quotes. They can be ok to provoke a little thought now and then, but it seems to me like people use them to justify their own flaws, by framing them in a pseudo-philosophical/-intellectual context: Well, if this unattributed quote superimposed over an image of a man fly fishing at sunset says it’s ok to have flaws, I don’t need to change anything about my life!
And worst of all, they seem to abdicate critical thought and self-reflection. Why go through the difficult process of examining yourself and your life and looking for areas for change, and come up with your own ideas? Instead, why not just take this quote which seems meaningful at first glance, and tell ourselves that’s the key to a fulfilling life?
We can’t go around crippled with self-doubt, of course, but while Socrates’dictum An unexamined life is not worth living is a bit strong, self-reflection is probably the single-best path to self-development.
Plus, it really declutters people’s newsfeeds.