How motivational platitudes are undermining America

Image: Twitter

More than 300,000 people follow the Twitter account Motivational Tweets. You can really appreciate the vacuity of motivational platitudes when you get them multiple times an hour, interrupted only by ads for horoscopes and diet plans. Reviewing this feed has shown me why our country is a mess.

Sayings like this are a pernicious assault on reality. If they actually motivate you, please slap yourself. To get anywhere in life, you have to solve your problems, not just soothe yourself with weak broth like this.

If you are an upbeat and cheerful person, turn back now. This is not going to be pretty.

You know I hate extra words. So I’ve re-rendered these sayings as briefly as possible. Are my versions (in italics) truer? Are they more motivational? What do you think?

When life gets harder, challenge yourself to be stronger.

You are a wimp.

Dear God, Today I woke up. I am healthy. I am alive. Thank You, I apologize for all my complaining. I’m truly grateful for all You’ve done.

God hates a whiner.

Whenever you feel weak, remember the things that made you strong; whenever you start to doubt yourself, remember those who believe in you.

Ignore your problems.

Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done.

Pacing yourself is for losers; work yourself to exhaustion.

A good life is when you smile often, dream big, laugh a lot and realize how blessed you are for what you have.

Act like you’re on drugs.

Be thankful for all the struggles you go through. They make you stronger, wiser and humble. Don’t let it break you. Let it make you.

You are the sum of all your past mistakes.

Success is not something you pursue. Success is something you attract by the person you become.

Ambition is futile; keep your head down and act like a sheep.

Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.

Pursue failure.

Your past is done, so forget it. Your future is yet to come, so dream it, but your present is now, so live it with no regrets!

Learn nothing, do nothing, think nothing.

Grow stronger from the pain, don’t let it destroy you.

Life is suffering; become a masochist.

The longer you wait for something, the more you appreciate it, because anything worth having is definitely worth waiting for.

Embrace doctors’ waiting rooms, checkout lines, and red tape.

If you don’t fight for what you want, then don’t cry for what you lost.

Your failures are all your fault and grief is fake.

Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly in the path of the best things that will ever happen to us.

Luck turns, but don’t count on it.

Do hugs, not drugs. Spread love, not legs. Respect, don’t judge. Listen more, talk less. Understand, don’t assume. Forgive and forget.

Avoid all fun, but hold yourself to an impossible, contradictory standard of positivity.

Be strong when you are weak, brave when you are scared and humble when you are victorious.

Deny your own emotions — bravely tread the path to mental illness.

On the road to success, there’s a curve called failure, a loop called confusion, speed bumps called friends and red lights called enemies.

Once you conceive a metaphor, drive it into the ground.

Learn to appreciate what you have, before time makes you appreciate what you had.

Things are getting worse.

Being honest may not get you a lot of friends, but it’ll always get you the right ones.

Thanks to all the followers of this blog. Screw the rest of you.

This exercise is a metaphor for our country

As I read these sayings all together (not recommended), I recognized that they reflect an actual philosophy of life.

That philosophy looks like this:

Stop complaining, put your head down, enjoy what little you have, and trust in God.

This is the philosophy of a loser who has given up. It is telling you to be a sheep, keep struggling, and settle. And above all, it is telling you that your problems are not your fault.

My philosophy is different.

Ask why things are the way they are. Pursue change. Be ambitious. Build something. When you fail, forgive yourself, but learn something.

This is not incompatible with faith.

If you want to believe in and depend on God, good for you. But God is not going to solve your problems. You have to solve them yourself.

Stop reading these stupid sayings and strive for something better. And you can quote me on that.

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  1. The motivational quotes are worse than empty and meaningless to you, they’re harmful. That’s clear.

    If you’re up for it, my answer to that would be to think about the possibility that we tend to see in the world what is inside of us.

    Just a stay at home mom who reads.

  2. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

    It’s your fault if someone gave you trauma or abuse symptoms. A famous person said so.

  3. I agree with Tim and Kate. And I’d like to see what Michelle Wolf would do with these…

    On a personal note, when I interview people who are dealing with the life-changing challenges of blindness and disability, what I’m seeking is their thoughts on what makes someone resilient. Sometimes they fall back on values, religion, or platitudes handed down from their parents. I recently interviewed a veteran who said “Soldiers don’t have problems, they have challenges.” That’s an organizational mindset that can be easily internalized.

    There are the facts, the story that’s told about the facts, and our reactions to the story. Unlike what some in this administration would lead you to believe, we can’t change the facts. But we can change the narrative and our reactions to the narrative.

    I see these platitudes as an attempt to get people to change a narrative and their reactions to a narrative that currently has them feeling powerless and stuck. I think it’s all too easy for someone to let an event change the story they tell about themselves (identity), rather than learning from the event and moving on.

    That said, I don’t like platitudes either. But there’s nothing wrong with stepping back and trying on a different perspective, showing gratitude, thinking of someone besides oneself. Sometimes, that takes a nudge.

    You can’t just tell sheep to stop being sheep. If that’s your point, you’re falling into the same trap as people who share platitudes. But don’t try telling that to Tony Robbins or Dr. Phil…