This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday.
“I get bombarded with inspiring quotes and memes on Facebook and Twitter. Is there any evidence that reading them helps people?” Cynical
I hate inspirational quotes. Okay, hate might be strong, but I’m not a fan. They’re the M&M’s of self help: appealing, tasty, addictive, and completely devoid of any nutritional value.
However, just like junk food, they seem to be more popular than ever. Now regular readers of this column will know I’m a horses for courses kind of guy, so if they work for you: then more power to you. But my main objection is that most of the time they’re, well, just words.
Changing behaviour takes work, and it takes time. You can’t create happiness, or calm, via an Instagram post. In fact, to reduce the idea that change can be achieved through something as simple as inspiring ideas, positive thinking or seeing something from a different point of view, seems absurdly reductive.
In fact, much like “positive thinking” it can be downright unhelpful and invalidating to someone who is really struggling to read they “just need to change their perspective”, or “count their blessings”.
Therapy is about engaging with reality, learning to live with all of what life throws at us, and learning to not run away from the painful bits, even though it’s human nature to do so.
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As inconvenient as it might be, real change comes from hard work. It comes from allowing ourselves to fully feel and live with what is. And so much of what is often represented by the self help, inspiring quote culture is shallow and devoid of reality: junk food for the soul.
What I find inspiring is not to be found in clever phrases pasted over stunning landscapes. What inspires me is real peoples’ stories. Everyday tales of despair and triumph. Real people doing everyday things, and extraordinary things.
And at the risk of sounding like an inspiring quote, inspiration is all around us, life in all its complexity is pretty amazing when you take the time to notice it.
The irony, of course, is that clever words on a screen, detached from the reality around us, should be the last place to look for, let alone find, inspiration.
I believe people who come up with these things, and indeed the millions of us who share and circulate these things, mean well. But I wonder what it would be like if instead we all shared one personal, real difficulty we had that day instead.
If instead of junk food, we shared real nutrition for the soul: our vulnerablilities and fears, the reality of life.
That’s almost quotable…
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