As a New York native, it isn’t difficult for people to irritate me with the content of their verbal messages. Luckily, as a communication studies professor, I’ve been able to make a career of complaining about what sticks in my craw the most. Lessons about ignorance of or bigotry towards other cultures, a lack of willingness to truly listen to other people, and treating people like objects instead of humans — they’ve all had a turn over the past 13 years. My latest target, however, has been cliches or platitudes and how their incessant, thoughtless, cross-contextual use has made them, at best, trite. At worst, they are insulting, offensive, and promote the idea that spouting nuggets of tired advice makes you seem intelligent. Below, I deconstruct my least favorite platitudes and explain why I’d love to never hear them again:
Things happen for a reason
UGGGHHHHH, you constant pain in my ass! Any time I hear someone say this, which is often, I immediately assume the speaker has never had anything truly bad happen to them. I doubt there’s many parents who have lost a child or victims of violent crimes wandering around using this phrase to rationalize the terrible events in their lives, so maybe everyone else should stop with it.
Obviously the point of the this insufferably frequent saying is that we should take stock of whatever happened to us and learn from it. Alright, but is there no other way to learn from life events without framing them as part of some sort of cosmic determinism? For instance, someone I was friends with a long time ago was molested by her uncle as a child. Would anyone seriously feel comfortable saying this stupid phrase to her, telling her that this had to happen and that she should be learning from it? It doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed who she is. It likely made her a more protective parent than her mother was, but she had to be raped by a family member first? Really?
Never hit a woman
Let me start with saying that I’m obviously not telling people to go out and slug a female. I’m just tired of hearing this said over and over without any common sense or context behind it. I don’t want to not be hit because I have lady parts. I want to not be hit because there’s never been a moment in my life where I deserved it. I have been punched, both by men and women — usually they were drunk idiots at clubs or concerts — but I didn’t feel slighted because of what genitals I happen to possess. I was just pissed because there was no reason for it at all.
Clearly, the phrase started to help give women who were being physically abused a voice and to end the norm that husbands own and can do whatever they want to their wives. But it also perpetuates the idea that all women are helpless, weak victims and all men are always just dying to hit us (until this magic phrase is uttered, of course). It also puts the focus solely on physical abuse and neglects how devastating emotional/verbal abuse can be. Perhaps a more thoughtful and well-rounded understanding of relationships outside of this useless phrase is necessary for us to be successful in this context.
That’s just the way it is
I noticed early on in life that the most frequent response when I questioned a social norm would be a shrug and this phrase from the opposing party.
My inquiries such as “Why aren’t women given as much power as men in religion,” “Why do all work meetings have to be really long and completely pointless,” and “Why are graduate students expected to succeed (or even live) on pay well below the poverty level” were all met with this. I don’t know if the other person never questioned these things and was at loss for an answer, if it was said to shut me up, or both. And yet, asking questions is how all social change begins. This particular platitude silences any naysayers by pushing them to accept one objective reality in which nothing can be improved. It’s human beings who created social norms, and human beings who can change them. At the very least, if I ask a question, I think I deserve a response that doesn’t involve being spoken to like an unintelligent five-year-old.
Practice makes perfect
Watch the first two or three episodes of any old season of “American Idol” and tell me this sayings holds any water.
The only thing these sayings do for me is highlight that the person speaking doesn’t think before they open their mouth and that they’ve assumed I’m easily impressed by their regurgitation of cliches. To actually have effective communication with others, try actually listening to what the other person needs, and tailor your messages instead of spitting out tired mantras. Or better yet, don’t say anything at all.