Insightful or insipid: a handy guide to platitudes

Published on August 23, 2012 by      Print
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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). 

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28 Comments !

  1. C init says:


    I love your for this!!!!!
    I have been wanting to write about this for a long time. I did make a small comment on facebook about it….but this is so succinct and I could not have done better. I immediately shared this, and I hope others can get a little perspective too. I’m not slamming the platitudes either, just love the critical thinkers.
    Thank you!

  2. Danielle Stimpson says:


    C, Thank you so much for the support! Truly appreciated…and thank you for “getting it” :-)

  3. Susan says:


    I will have to link this blog to my own ASAP.

    I love your wit. It totally rocks and we need more of these reality checks in the world of OM.

  4. stephanie smolik says:


    first i have to say whats up from philly, i am also a DA survivor amongst other things. loved this post, you summed up why i dont post quotes on facebook or read them in class. thanks for this, about to go check out your blog xoxoxoxox

    • Danielle Stimpson says:


      Philly Girl Fist Bump! Just checked out your site, keep up the great work. I really dig your body positive view on things. Hope to catch you round the 19147!

    • Jenifer says:


      Hey Stephanie! Great to see it all goes well!

      Also loved the article and also wanted to say the same: I’m don’t use quotes in my classes either. I really pared everything down to the barest essentials and otherwise use silence. It seems to be working for the students and me too.

      That must be a tough commute between State College and Philly. I used to whine about going from Collegeville to West Chester. LOL

      • Danielle Stimpson says:


        I could not agree more with both of you. There’s just something way more profound about silence. What’s more, it’s a precious commodity.

        And the commute is a lot, but I use the bus so I have some time to read, think and on occasion write. Collegeville to West Chester is nothing to sneeze at though, that had to be annoying!

        Thanks for commenting.

  5. Caroline says:


    Ah, such a breath of fresh air. Some thoughts and frustrations over this have been simmering away in me for a while now, and I haven’t been able to find the words to let them out. Thank you for writing this!

  6. Kate says:


    Well said! I love this – thank you!

  7. forsakinghalfloves says:


    I’m guilty of posting some of these quotes and their variations years ago on Facebook or on my Tumblr/Posterous pages. One day I decided to stop, and I couldn’t really explain why. Now I just post poems that I like or excerpts of articles that invite discussion and critical thinking. Thanks for this post!

  8. swami nobodhi says:


    ……How about this one…. WE make war so that we may live in peace. Aristotle.
    Thats insane!

  9. Emily says:


    Thank you for the thought provoking article. I tend to find most quotes don’t apply to most situations and tend not to throw them around. I’d like to start collecting quotes that really, really speak to me. They wouldn’t be for throwing at others but my own consumption and pondering. Your Maya Angela quote blew me away. Like a mental bomb. Thank you!

    • Danielle Stimpson says:


      I think you bring up a great point, and I agree-many quotes that are tossed about are NOT applicable to all situations and never were intended to be. Context is of great importance. And yeah…that Maya Angelou quote is something I have thought about having tattooed on my wrist for several years as a reminder. Perhaps it’s time. Thanks for your thoughts, I’m glad you enjoyed!

  10. Kanani says:


    We were just discussing this over on my FB page the other day. Almost all my followers are veterans, & military families. Most are seeking a degree of quiet and reconnecting with themselves in the aftermath of war.
    Follow us on twitter @warretreat.

  11. Links? I Like Links! | Anytime Yoga says:


    [...] Insightful or insipid: a handy guide to platitudes by Danielle Stimpson at Recovering Yogi — “Any phrase can be typed out with quotes around it, but very few deserve to be Photoshopped over a sunset and posted on Pinterest.” [...]

  12. Insightful or Insipid: a Handy Guide to Platitudes. ~ Danielle Stimpson | elephant journal says:


    [...]  This story originally appeared on Recovering Yogi.  [...]

  13. Denise S. says:


    Yippee. Yippee, Yippee, I So agree, I was just in a conversation about this, In particular, always blaming the victim. This made me take a deep breath.

  14. jenn says:


    I was just saying this to myself today, everywhere on Facebook are these ‘inspiring quotes’ like we have all gone mad to give each advice. Too much advice giving is what I call it. thanks for your insight and humour

  15. pat says:


    Manna from heaven. I have been in the yoga world for a long time and this article speaks truth to the nonsense of so much of what goes on, not just in yoga, but from the pseudo spiritual leaders and gurus(?) who are nothing more than opportunists taking advantage of and primarily taking the money of vulnerable people.
    Such a breath of fresh air, hope this web site expands greatly.
    Also the damage, especially to many women who already feel like victims from conditioning, of telling people they created all of the “bad stuff” in their lives.

  16. Sanebutspiritual says:


    Love this post. :)

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  20. Derek says:


    In regards to the Choudhury quote, I am not sure how you have worked it to be about your students who are healing from rape / incest, but it is quite a stretch at best. Choudhury uses the term ‘loser’ as in, you have ‘lost’ your peace if someone else steals it from you. You are therefore the ‘loser’ of your ‘peace’. The flip side is if you stay focused and mindful as a yogi should, other people’s attempts at stealing your peace will deflect off of you and back onto them, where it should be. There is a short Buddhist story about how a man who is being verbally assaulted simply ‘does not accept the offering’ of the attacker’s negativity…he simply leaves it with the attacker and can go without.
    Nice try though. You might want to understand what the source of such statements actually mean before molding them into your own versions.
    One other note, kind of ironic that you would use Choudhury – an accused rapist and sodomizer a few times over – as an example involving your students who are recovering from rape. Think about it.

  21. C. Crowley says:


    Well-written, Ms. Stimpson! And a much-needed analysis of some too-common sayings.

    Cheers from Texas,
    C. Crowley


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