I fell in love with The Count of Monte Cristo and became entranced by the words of The Brothers Karamozov, often finding an incredible sense of satisfaction when a truth, or sometimes a secret, was shared. But I wanted even more from books than an occasional truism, so I moved from the classics to non-fiction(1). Then, I slowly began to realize everything I was reading had been written by men or were about men, so I made a decision, for a while, to only read books written by women.
For the longest time, I didn’t believe I could ever be a writer, because authors had so much knowledge about life and what they shared helped me understand the world around me. Well, at least, most of the time. But I usually knew exactly what they meant, unlike this:
The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing and should therefore be treated with caution. – J.K. Rowling
But, wait! It’s J.K. Rowling! But, wait! Why should I be afraid of pointing out the obvious? Surely, you’ve read The Emporer’s New Clothes. When people are afraid to speak out, things get beyond ridiculous. All I can think when I read this is, “Since when? There are a lot of truths that are one or the other, so there is no reason to treat truth with caution in every case. The truth is I love my kids, there’s no need for caution when I tell them that. As far as I can see, we only need to use caution when we’re trying to predict people’s reactions when we’re sharing a difficult truth. We try to determine whether or not they’re going to consider what we share either good or bad and we may try to approach it gently depending on how we believe they’re going to react to it.”
Then I saw this:
It is our choices that show who we truly are far more than our abilities. – J.K. Rowling
Is it truly “far more?” How can she be 100% sure?*
Through the wonders of technology, we’re now inundated with neat and tidy little phrases, purporting to be conveyors of some of life’s deepest meaning without anything more to support them. They’re everywhere, offered by everyone and anyone. They’re revised, revamped and repeated. By the way they’re presented, it makes it seem like we’re supposed to automatically believe all of them. Like they’re all no-questions-asked, self-evident truths.
And I started to notice that I didn’t agree with a lot of them.
At first, I figured I’d just blow them off. Surely everyone else could fend for themselves. But, then I’d see thousands of people liking a post. So, once in a while, I decided to disagree, hoping I might get someone’s attention. But what’s the point of getting a single “like” on my comment from the person who posted it when she has thousands of like’s for her post?
How do we know what’s real or true and what isn’t?
I’ve learned to quickly sort out whether or not I want to pay any attention to what some of them have to say by watching for words like should, never, everyone and always. The idea that we should all think, feel or act in the same way is our first clue.
There are always exceptions. It’s pointless to make far-reaching assumptions, to suggest that there are “truisms” that apply to everyone. Even Mother Theresa’s quotes about smiles don’t hold up—apparently she never encountered a sociopath. And, if they even come close to really applying to everyone, they become as mundane as the word truism implies, like this one:
People who love to eat are always the best people. – Julia Child
I can easily disagree with this one. I know a number of guys who love to eat that I consider to be bastards.
Here’s one that’s apparently supposed to help us understand what’s important in a woman:
A pretty face gets old…a nice body will change, but a good woman is always a good woman.
As of today, the post I saw with that quote had almost 3,000 likes. I can’t help but wonder if any one of those people stopped to think, “Who defines what is good?” They’ve apparently assumed that everyone is operating from the same imaginary handbook and there’s a section called: “Things that make a woman good.”
If anyone even thinks of questioning it, surely, that must mean they’re bad. Merely the assumption that this is a “truth” can make people afraid to question it. And that’s not good.
I also saw this one recently:
We’re all equally [screwed] up; some of us just hide it better.
– I Speak My Mind
I just can’t agree with this statement. I’ve found a path to incredible peace in regards to who I am and where life is taking me.
Then, there are guys like this:
Don’t waste your time with explanations, people only hear what they want to hear. – Paulo Coelho
Why should I listen to some random dude tell me what to do or not to do?
I’m starting to see this kind of garbage everywhere. People telling us to not even try to share our point of view because, well, there’s simply no point, while, in their next breath, they’ll be doing exactly that.
I am not saying there are no truisms or that the good ones aren’t worth sharing, I’m just hoping people will give more thought to what some of them mean and we can reduce some of the garbage. You know, just another way to be environmentally friendly.
Here’s one I really like that’s been around for a while and was written by someone who many people in the world regard with great respect:
Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance. – George Bernard Shaw
UPDATE: Here are some more thoughts on second quote by J. K. Rowling:
It is our choices that show who we truly are far more than our abilities. – J.K. Rowling
If I think about who I am, my ability to write is showing people who I am at least as much as my choice to do it or share it. And, as a writer, my ability may be the determining factor about how far and wide it’s shared (I’m aware that what Rowling is assuming we get from her statement concerns how “good” we are, but I hope you’ll bear with me a little further). We’re both capable of putting ideas together in a manner some people can’t—telling stories—and those show who we are, but if I can only put words together in a haphazard, tedious manner, readers probably won’t care to get to know me any better.
I am also an artist, which I believe, in many respects, shows who I am. It affects a lot of my decisions. If we assume, for arguments sake, that there have been some artists who have made bad choices and some of them could possibly not even be considered “good people” by other people’s standards, but they have an “ability to perceive the world around them that is unique,” do they have to make a choice to express it or show it? Isn’t it sometimes enough for someone to simply know more about who they are? Choices seem irrelevant here, especially if someone is not worried about “having an audience who might be watching/judging them.”
For me, the ability to recognize the value of, or harm from, something comes first. Then, we make our choices. If we don’t have the ability to recognize what has value for us, we may make poor choices for ourselves. So I could say, “Our ability to recognize what is important to us shows us who we truly are. Then, we make the best choices for ourselves.” We’re back to “Know thyself.” Then I could say, “The importance we place on expressing our unique selves to the best of our ability is certainly more important than some of the stupid choices we may have made along life’s journey.”
If someone is going to speak “the truth,” to me it has to be “the truth,” not just “kind of the truth” if we think about it in a certain way.
(1) Partial Reading List
1. Farhenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
3. 1984 by George Orwell
4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
5. The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
6. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
8. Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins
9. Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
10. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
11. The Pearl by John Steinbeck
12. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
13. The Bible
14. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
15. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
16. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
17. QB VII by Leon Uris
18. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein
19. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
Non-fiction books by men:
1. Family Ties That Bind by Dr. Ronald W. Richardson
2. Scripts People Live by Claude Steiner
3. Bradshaw on: The Family by John Bradshaw
4. Asimov’s Guide to the Bible by Issac Asimov
5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl
6. What Do You Care What Other People Think by Richard P. Feynman
7. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
8. Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft
9. Born to Rebel by Frank J. Sulloway, Ph.D
10. Misogyny by Jack Holland
11. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Non-fiction books by women:
1. Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum
2. Daughters of Copper Woman by Anne Cameron
3. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
4. Without a Net edited by Michelle Tea
5. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
6. The Bitch in the House edited by Cathi Hanauer
7. Flux by Peggy Orenstein
8. Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman
9. Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen
10. Backlash by Susan Faludi
11. Women’s Way of Knowing by Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger and Jill Mattuck Tarule
12. Women Spirit Rising by Carol P. Christ & Judith Plaskow
13. Maternal Thinking by Sara Ruddick
14. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
15. Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf
16. Crazy Time by Abigail Trafford
17. Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher
18. handling the truth: on the writing of memoir by Beth Kephart
19. Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich