I enjoy a good quote. I generally don’t even mind that the original intent of the speaker/author might be lost through interpretation because, as a reader, I know that the words that linger with me the longest are often those which reach out and touch some part of my life that the author couldn’t possibly have predicted. The book club I belonged to for years was full of people interpreting and applying the words of others in vastly different ways- at least this was true with the books we most enjoyed discussing. And because I was an avid reader long before I was a writer I know that once my words are shared publicly I don’t really own them anymore. For instance, I generally have several Facebook shares when I publish a blog post and privacy policies prevent me from knowing who shares these posts or what they say about them. Some people may be sharing to rant about how wrong I am. Others might be completely misunderstanding my point. As a writer those scenarios would be unfortunate, but as a reader I understand. I suppose ultimately I simply hope that once in a while my words manage to reach into people’s lives and show them something about themselves, even if that something has nothing to do with me or my original intentions.
That being said, some quotes really annoy me.
Or perhaps it’s not the quotes that annoy me but how they’re used. For example, when a quote is used as punctuation to prove that a person’s opinion is superior I find it grating. Finding someone who agrees with you, no matter how famous/intelligent/noble the person may be, does not automatically make you right. Deliberately taking someone’s words out of context to suit an agenda that directly contradicts what the person publicly stood for is also quite frustrating. A combination of these two often brings about head-exploding rage, at least for me (and it seems for others as well if you’ve ever dared to venture to the dark, dark place on the internet called “comments”). Equally annoying is the “inspirational” quote that is meant to be profound but upon closer inspection is so ambiguous it’s practically devoid of meaning. Which brings me to the inspirational quote that, uh, inspired this post:
I don’t know if Lucille Ball actually said this, or if she did under what circumstances, if she said something similar that’s been misquoted or if it’s simply been falsely attributed to her. As I said before, it’s not really about her at this point; it’s about the reader. So, for the reader, I do understand what this quote is supposed to be about. Taking risks, living fully, grabbing life by the horns. These are all ideas I support wholeheartedly. And yet, I cringe every time I see this quote. More than cringe, I actually have a visceral reaction to this seemingly innocuous sentiment.
I think the reason this particular quote bothers me so much is because it’s a false dichotomy. Life isn’t full of things we’ve done and things we haven’t done. Life is full of things we’ve done instead of things we haven’t done. Every choice we make is a choice NOT to do something else. My choice to homeschool my children was a simultaneous choice not to retain a tenured position. My choice to focus on creating a comforting oasis at home is also a choice not to take a trip I’ve been dreaming about. My choice to enjoy a quiet day of relaxing with my family is a choice not to spend time with a friend I’ve been missing. Whatever my choice I’m choosing not to do something and I may regret it. Furthermore, because I am constantly growing and changing I sometimes find that my past self has needed to make the opposite choice of one I’m currently making- formerly choosing not to do something I’m now doing or vice versa. I make the best choices I can with the knowledge, tools and self that I am in a given moment. That’s all I can do. I could drive myself crazy thinking about the things I have or haven’t done (or worse, use the sentiment from the quote to justify a choice I know was a mistake) but what good would that do? I am not a prisoner of my former choices, I can choose to stay on or leave that path at any time (albeit with more complications, implications and limitations after certain choices). Once I understood this I was able stop dwelling on and wondering about the alternate path because I realized that the two paths could not co-exist.
Which reminds me of a quote that I do actually find inspiring and not at all annoying:
I find this much more helpful as I navigate through life- career, motherhood, marriage, friendship, etc.- because it doesn’t paralyze me with fear that I’m going to miss out on something. It reminds me that of course I’m going to miss out on some things. But I get to choose, at least to some degree, which things.