Plagued by pandemic platitudes

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By Craig Nudelman

During the past few months we have had to deal with many things. Isolation, quarantine, homeschooling, a lack of exercise and a lack of recreational activity.

But we have also had to deal with a plethora of platitudes, memes and motivational quotes. There are three, in particular, that I hate. The first are four words that fill me with dread: “My fellow South Africans…” Even typing them makes me feel ill. But there are two other which irritate me to no end.

The first is “this too shall pass”. Now, I understand that we need to be hopeful, but I don’t need to be constantly reminded that this will happen at some unknown point in time. “But WHEN will it pass? When?”, I want to ask every kind-hearted person who gently reminds me that “This too shall pass”.

The second, and more frustrating for me, is those who say that this is “the new normal”. I do not like this for a several reasons. The first is that it is suggesting that there was a normal to begin with. This is not a normal time for me, or any parent who goes through any life changes. And growing up and dealing with existential issues aren’t normal either. I am not sure how to do anything normally, so when people say there is a ‘new’ normal, I get irritated.

Why do people always have to coin phrases to make us feel better? And do motivational quotes make us actually feel better? Some people would say yes. Words and thoughts are extremely powerful and can affect one’s mental and emotional health. In fact, they can even change the way we act.

However, we need to stay away from motivational quotes which can maintain the negative thoughts that we are trying to get rid of.

These are the following ‘thinking styles’ which can reinforce negative emotions. Black and white thinking is when you only think in extremes, usually using negative phrases motivate, like this from Beverley Sills, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”

Another is ‘Compare and despair’ — comparing ourselves with others to make ourselves feel inferior. To reinforce this, here is a nice quote from Jim Rohn, “Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.”

The third is called ‘high and inflexible rules’ – when people hold themselves to sometimes unachievable aims. A quote for this would be one by James Cameron, “If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”

There is also a lot of research into how motivational quotes have become a social media industry. In an article on wired.co.uk, Victoria Turk demystifies how people make money from just posting motivational and inspirational quotes.

Many people have been able to quit their day jobs by just being a presence on social media and writing inspirational quotes.

One such person is Laura Belgray, who wrote a piece published on Money.com with the headline, ““I Get Paid $6 000 a Day to Write Inspirational Quotes for Instagram. Here’s how I perfected this dream job.” (I’m obviously in the wrong job!)

Life is hard and it doesn’t get easier – when we adapt and change the world changes again so we have to adapt and change. It’s a never-ending cycle of recreating ourselves.

But we do need to stay motivated, especially during a pandemic that has crippled South Africa’s economy, education system, and brought corruption back into the picture. I am not putting a blanket ban on inspirational or motivational quotes. If something really gets you going, I’m happy for you. But I prefer to find my happiness in music, literature, art, friends, family, theatre, and film.

But if I could give one word of inspiration, if you want to hear it after my rant, it is this, courtesy of Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’: “Always look on the bright side of life”.

Chag Sameach and G’mar Chatima Tova. May your 5781 be much, much better than 5780!

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