Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Pearls of Wisdom

Ever had one of those boring days?

That’s what today was for me. It was like an entire days worth of the 7pm on a Sunday night when you have school the next day. All that was missing was the theme tune from ‘Last of the Summer Wine.’ You know…the long dark teatime of the soul.

In fact, it got so boring, I found myself flicking through a copy of the wife’s ‘Woman’s World’. You know the type of magazine I’m talking about. Recipes, romance fiction, pictures of kittens…

Well, one item in the contents piqued my interest. It was ‘Inspiration for Today’. I was so bored out of my tree reading Woman’s World; I realized that I could use a little inspiration, so I turned to the page. It was a one-word sentence. It read:

“When you face forwards, your shadows lie behind you.”

‘Hmm.’ I thought and put the magazine down. Still bored, I picked up the remote. Maybe I could catch 5 minutes on TV without Mr. Lego Hair telling me to send him money to save my soul, or even a couple of minutes without an over excited man with a strange mustache trying to sell me the latest gimmicky kitchen appliance.

I couldn’t concentrate. Something about that ‘inspirational quote’ was bugging me.

I opened the magazine and read it again… Finally it hit me.

That ‘quote’ was complete bollocks.

I mean complete bollocks. Meaningless drivel. A pure waste of good words. The metaphor didn’t actually work, and it gave really, really bad advice.

Let me explain.

First, the metaphor. It simply doesn’t work. I mean think of it. If it’s before noon and I’m heading west, I’m walking forwards, but the shadows will be in front of me. I know that may be a little nitpicky, metaphors are meant to be a flowery way of stating something…but aren’t they meant to make sense?

Ok, maybe I’m being a little facetious here, but the actual ‘advice’ makes no sense either. I could be wrong, but I interpreted it to mean: “If you look to the future, it puts your problems behind you.”

Ummm. Nice sentiment, but can you imagine living your life actually believing that?

“I should have paid my power bill last Tuesday, but forget about it, I’ll look to the future, that problem is behind me now.”

Of course, a few days later, your ‘shadows’ would be all around you…you’d be sitting in the dark, wishing you’d paid your power bill.

This started me on a crusade. I started looking through every issue I could find in the house, trying to find a single ‘inspirational quote’ that fitted the following criteria:

a) Made sense.
b) Was actually inspiring.
c) Meant something.

5 issues later, I had nothing.

Apparently either someone figured out that they could get paid for writing a sentence that means absolutely nothing, or decided they could sound really deep and insightful by either stating the obvious in a roundabout way, or by simply making some shit up off the top of their head.

Every single quote was the same. As little meaning as possible, written in the most flowery way.

My personal favourite was the deeply insightful “Ride a rainbow of your dreams all the way to the stars!”


What does that actually mean? Think about it, either someone got paid to write that (I hope they did, it would be a very easy way to get paid), or someone thought that that was so meaningful and important…they just had to share it with the world! What’s next? ‘You can’t hug your children with nuclear arms’?

Let me try one…hmmm. “Let your dreams be the slingshot that fires your heart into the heavens!”

Can I have some money now?

I’d love it if life actually worked like that. I really would love it if I could be inspired and make my way to fame and fortune by reading bollocks in magazine. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. Wishing and dreams get you squat unless you actually put the work in.

The ‘rainbow’ quote reminded me of some of the best advice I’ve ever heard, which actually came from a comic moment from a Discworld book. It went as follows.

“Now remember. If you follow your dreams, wish upon a star and truly believe…you’ll get overtaken by all the people who didn’t bother with wishing, got off their backsides and worked for what they want.”

I mean ‘ride a rainbow of your dreams all the way to the stars’…it’s meaningless, it’s not inspiring…it’s literary masturbation is what it is.

You see, it’s the same thing that causes people to believe they can only find enlightenment a long way off (No one goes 15 miles on a voyage of discovery, they always go to Tibet or somewhere). Apparently, nothing can actually be deeply insightful, or truly meaningful unless it’s wrapped up in the most gaudy package of metaphor and simile possible.

The worst thing is that the people who right these things appear to have mastered the form, but not the content. If it sounds a little confusing, and you don’t get it right away…but a few minutes thought gives you an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment…it must be meaningful, mustn’t it?

The saddest thing is, is that sometimes you’ll occasionally come across one of these things that almost makes some sort of sense, but the author changed it because it didn’t sound pretty enough if you kept the meaning. Almost like ripping every other page out of a book so it will fit on your shelf. It fits in with your decorating scheme, just doesn’t actually mean anything anymore.

The people who write these things are the same people who tell you that ‘Dog’ is ‘God’ spelled backwards, and then look at you like they’ve just imparted some great and important universal truth.

What I’d like to see is some ‘real’ wisdom and advice in the tabloids. It wouldn’t be pretty or new age…and people probably wouldn’t like it. It’s easy to ‘ride a rainbow’, or ‘wish upon a star’. Or, in other words, people much prefer things that are pretty and meaningless (but have the appearance of meaning), rather than things that make sense, but aren’t flowery at all…and rely on you doing something other than just reading it to get the benefit.

Can you imagine the following in Women’s World?

“Get a job and keep it, or you’re screwed.”
“If you’re not dying, get to eat every day and have a warm place to sleep…stop whining, you have no problems.”
“Not everyone is good looking, talented or charismatic, but there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, so deal with it, and get on with it.”

Now that’s inspirational.

Ok, by now you’ve probably worked out that I could be described as a ‘bit of a cynic’, but it’s a sad and dark time for the human race when we look for inspiration and a reason to live in the supermarket tabloids.

We live in a time where we all want easy answers. We all want happiness, riches and a great life, but we don’t actually want to work for them. I wish there really where a few all-purpose inspirational phrases that put it all in perspective and made life easier, but life doesn’t work that way.

Confucius spent his entire life meditating on the human condition; I don’t think Mary T. from Nowheresville CA is quite qualified for the position of wisdom imparter.

Rather than actually look for meaning in our lives, we take the easy route. Why question, examine and think when we can look at our horoscope, or read “Enlightenment in 15 minutes or your money back!”

Horoscopes are a particular favorite of mine. A single daily paragraph that supposedly accurately tells my future and what I need to look out for. I went to college with a girl that took her horoscope so seriously; she actually once missed a week of tutorials, right before exam time, because her horoscope warned her of accidents.

She was willing to risk failing her finals…rather than take a chance that her horoscope might not be 100% accurate.

Considering each ‘prediction’ applies to 1/12 of the entire population of the planet, at every age bracket, I doubt they’re that accurate or reliable. I’m pretty sure a week old baby is not going to get in trouble at work or meet an old flame. I’m also pretty sure that a convict serving life for murder doesn’t have much travel in his future.

I’ll believe in horoscopes when 1/12 of the population all die in a freak accident involving carrots, and were forewarned by the National Enquirer.

Let me tell you, people, the meaning of life cannot be found in the pages of a magazine.

The only way to discover the meaning of life is to actually live it.

(Please note, the above ‘meaning of life’ ending is written for the purpose of irony. Please do not email me to inform me I finished an attack on inspirational quotes with an inspirational quote. I know. I meant to do it. It’s meant to be clever.)

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