In Praise of Silly Inspirational Sayings.
by David Kennedy Bird
If you’re new to the ‘All Flockbinkers’ scene, it will be helpful to you to know that this is a blog about philosophy.
Well, not really.
It’s actually an opportunity to horse around shamefully, using putative discussions of logic, metaphysics, epistemology, etc. as convenient excuses to commit random absurdity and senseless acts of whimsy.
However, this particular post actually is going to be about philosophy!
Well, not really. It is in fact going to be about the kind of pop philosophy that makes its rounds on the internet, often featured in a meme backed with a sunset and/or a mountain.
Perhaps you can tell that i’ve been spending a good bit of time on Twitter recently.
Now, i don’t know what your experience has been on Twitter, but i’ve learned that there are several things that i can depend on running into as i scroll through the tweets. Allow me to enumerate some:
- Opinionated election-year political rhetoric
- Verses of Scripture or quotations from classic philosophy
- Sound bites featuring apparently sensible business advice (like *I* would know)
- Highly condensed and sometimes very funny jokes
- Surrealistic art
- Pictures of kittens and rhinoceroses
- Photographs of skanky women
- Photographs of paperback books posted by writers promoting their latest novel
- [Note: there is considerable overlap between these last two categories]
- Offers from people who want to handle all my marketing needs
- A category that i like to refer to affectionately as “Twitter Poetry.” At its best, Twitter poetry can be quite interesting. The much more common experience, though, is some of the most abysmally horrific nonsense that has ever been violently stuffed into 140 characters.
But you know, of all the sorts of things that come cascading through my Twitter feed, i have a real soft spot for the category that i like to call “Silly Inspirational Sayings.”
I think you probably know what i’m talking about. It’s impossible that you have not encountered this sort of thing before. They’re everywhere on the internet: those encouraging statements that you often see featured in memes, along with a picture of a beach, a palm tree, and a beach chair and side table with a margarita on it. The statement says something like, “Every possibility is yours if you believe,” or “There is no greater you than the you that you are,” or something equally unintelligible and/or obviously untrue.
A famous example of the genre is one that has often been attributed (almost certainly inaccurately) to Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.” Groan.
Please understand: Not every encouraging or inspirational statement qualifies as a “Silly Inspirational Saying.” Some encouraging platitudes are actually helpful and accurate. In order to qualify as a Silly Inspirational Saying, a statement must be (1) a puff piece emphasizing how great i am, and (2) disconnected from reality.
Let me see if i can find an example of the sort of thing we’re talking about. Okay, here’s one:
Uh…no, they can’t.
The secret to these Silly Inspirational Sayings, i feel, is the picture. A patently ridiculous assertion, fortified with a picture of colorful balloons, suddenly becomes a nugget of elemental life wisdom. As a general rule, Silly Inspirational Sayings apparently seem more convincing when backed with suitable artistic reinforcement: an ocean sunset, a mountain summit or a cute animal.
The popularity of silly inspirational sayings leads to some interesting questions. Do people really find these statements convincing? Who are these people? Do they live next door to me? Is there someone out there in internet-land who, upon seeing a picture of a beach with the statement “every possibility is yours if you believe” superimposed over it, will hurl himself off a cliff and attempt to fly, or embark on a program of eating one box of Krispy Kremes per day, secure in the confidence that no harm will result? I wonder.
However, the ubiquity of silly inspirational sayings on Twitter has emboldened me to try and create some of my own. What follow are some examples based on a few recent attempts that i tweeted — several of which met with a reasonably warm reception, even though they were not backed with pictures of sunsets, horses, or the Grand Canyon. (If i am to pursue this idea more seriously, it’s clear that i really need to hone my skills in meme generating.)
“Be who you are, not who you’re not. But, wait a second, if you’re being who you aren’t, that would then become who you are. So you would STILL be being who you are. Wow. That’s awesome.”
“Be the you that you are. Because…trying to be the you that someone else is, is, well, it’s just metaphysically impossible.”
“Be the you that you are. Don’t try to be the you that you aren’t. Because, well, really, when it comes down to it, that’s just a confusing abuse of the pronoun ‘you’.”
“Be yourself; ignore the objective, informed input of other people. Because listening to what other people have to say might result in self-improvement. Oh, wait.”
“Don’t let other people tell you who you are. Have they cut you open to look at your brain and other organs? No. They have not.”
“Be the you that you have envisioned in your wildest dreams. No, not THOSE dreams. The other ones. Idiot.”
“Be true to yourself. Being false to yourself is a really bad idea. But now, as we come to think of it, we’re not entirely sure what either one of those would entail. Okay. Forget we said anything.”
“Be who you are. You are already the best version of you. There is nothing about you that needs to change. Sober self-examination is only for people who…um, we forgot where we were going with that.”
“The ‘you’ that you are is better than the ‘you’ that you would be if you invested effort into a program of self-improvement. You’ll just have to take our word on this.”
“You do you. Other people are going to do whatever, but you do you. People have attempted to point out to us that this is a meaningless statement, but we don’t care. We’re doing us.”
“You be you. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not. You be you. You b u. UBU. Sit, UBU, sit. Good dog.”
“Be who you are. You’re beautiful and special. Don’t ever change. And certainly don’t take into account the helpful, objective input of other people. Narcissism is the new black.”
“Be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody else. Definitely not cool. Identity theft is taken very seriously these days.”