Insightful or insipid: a handy guide to platitudes
By Danielle Stimpson
Ah, inspirational quotes. Tiny little word bombs set to explode with enlightenment everywhere from your timeline to savasana. Though sometimes, the trajectory is a bit off. Any phrase can be typed out with quotes around it, but very few deserve to be Photoshopped over a sunset and posted on Pinterest. The yoga world has been up to their crown chakra with these things for as long as I can remember. So which quotes do we take to heart, and which do we not feel bad about rolling our eyes at? Let’s enjoy a chuckle while we separate the pithy from the profound.
Many quotes are keen, but can have unintended subtext:
A longer life is certainly preferred, but I see what he was getting at. I’d hold off on using this one in certain situations (i.e. if someone is battling cancer right now, it’s pretty insensitive).
Sometimes, the only thing wrong with a quote is that the author’s identity gives it a sense of unintended irony:
“The creative cycle begins shortly after the destructive cycle ends.” — James Arthur Ray
I bet he hopes so. He’s currently serving time for three counts of manslaughter stemming from a sweat lodge accident at a “Spiritual Warrior” retreat he led.
It seems the laws of physics are none too popular in the New Age:
“Light itself has neither color nor brightness. Awareness imbues it with those properties. We are the makers of reality.” – Deepak Chopra
“Empirical facts are not a description of reality but a description of modes of human perception.” – Deepak Chopra
There are quotes so thoughtless and trite, I feel my neck tense up upon hearing them:
Maybe this will help:
“You can change your emotion immediately… by thinking of something joyful, or singing a song, or remembering a happy experience.” – The Secret
Next time I’m at a funeral, I’ll just think about kittens. Poof: All better! I’m pretty sure that’s called denial. Maybe even dissociative disorder. What it is not is well-adjusted.
I wonder what Buddha would have to say about this all:
“Life is suffering.” — Buddha
Bummer. Buddha, you’re such a buzzkill.
Some so-called inspirational quotes are really overly generalized statements of “victim blame” masquerading as a “universal law” (in other words, if something bad happens to you, it’s because you manifested it):
“EVERYTHING in your life you have attracted… accept that fact…it’s true.”-The Secret
“Simply put, you believe that things or people make you unhappy, but this is not accurate. You make yourself unhappy.” – Wayne Dyer
Imagine saying that to someone in a concentration camp, someone being held hostage against their will, someone being actively tortured, or someone living in a war zone. Takes on an entirely new meaning now, doesn’t it? If you can’t imagine looking Anne Frank in the eye and saying something, best keep it to yourself. Or, try something like this instead:
All too often, an otherwise thought provoking statement can be taken far too literally and used to excuse asinine actions on the part of the user:
“What you see in something or someone else is just a reflection of what is inside of you.” – Unknown
In some cases, this is probably true. But then again, it might just be that the someone or something else is out of line, acting unacceptably or actually at fault. I’ve seen many of the allegedly enlightened act as though this statement gives them carte blanche to treat others terribly, saying some of the most thoughtless, despicable things one can imagine, because if the other person chooses to be hurt or upset, that is their problem. As if to say, I hit you with a baseball bat and you bruised, so that’s on you. The bat is a benign instrument, and my action is nothing but how you choose to receive it.
Let’s balance that last quote with this one:
“Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
If someone treats you like crap, it does not necessarily mean that you are crap. It may, in fact, mean that they are.
And then there are quotes that seem to fly in the face of common decency while thumbing their nose at compassion. Just inexcusable dribble that really helps no one:
“Nothing can steal happiness, peace away from you: if anyone does make you angry, you are the loser; if someone can allow you to lose peace, you are the loser.” -Bikram Choudhury
Many of my clients are survivors of incest and rape. They are all working on releasing anger, on bringing peace back into their lives, and I would never, ever call any of them losers. I call them heroes for getting up every day and working to live a full life, in spite of unspeakable trauma. That kind of courage is a testament to their character, something Mr. Choudhury fails to consider here.
This works a little better:
“We don’t get to chose what is true. We only get to choose what we do about it.” – Kami Garcia
So there you have it: the good, the bad and the vapid. Next time someone else’s purported wisdom makes your stomach turn, don’t immediately blame yourself—it may just be clichéd crap after all. In closing, while I could leave you with something poignant, I think this sums things up pretty well:
About Danielle Stimpson
Danielle is a Shamanism & Reiki Instructor based in Philadelphia and State College, PA and is the host and content producer of Healing Arts Radio on Para-X.com. She is a New Jersey native who holds no degrees, has never sought higher education, and has no plans to do so. As a recovering anorexic and domestic abuse survivor, she often finds spiritual clichés trite and dismissive. While Danielle celebrates your connection to your yoga practice, she enjoys her asana-free lifestyle and feels no need to justify it to anyone else. She is a proud nerd, tattoo and piercing enthusiast, avid book reader, and animal lover. Find classes with Danielle at www.learnreikiphiladelphia.com, read her blog at www.daniellestimpson.com, or download past installments of Healing Arts Radio Free on ITunes (link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/healing-arts-radio/id525325553?mt=2&ign-mpt=uo%3D4).