So, there’s this chiropractor’s office on the way to school that someone gave a lettered sign to. I’m not really sure what the prope name for them is, those signs with three or four lines that you slide the letters into. Marquee signs, maybe? Anyway, not entirely relevant, really.
A few weeks ago, they had the following saying up: “Worry is interest paid on a debt you don’t owe.” Or something very similar. I’m not sure, because every time I saw it I started getting too irritated to think straight.
I don’t mind platitudes, aphorisms, sayings, whatever. I find them useful from time to time. Even the ones found in the chiropractic propaganda publications (likely found in every chiropractor’s office; if you’ve seen them, you know what I mean.) I cut one out from one of those publications a zillion years ago and kept it for a very long time: “Some people grin and bear it, others smile and change it.” I like this saying. It avers to proactivity in a relatively non-normative and non-dismissive manner. Good saying.
Another one, of my own: “It never stops needing to be done.” Non-normative, non-dismissive, just a reminder that even when the last thing I want to do is X, of it needs to be done, it *needs* to be done. No way around it. Want is want, and comes and goes, but necessary tasks don’t go away. You do them now, or you do them later, but there is no not doing them. Some people find it a little too negative, and that’s okay. It’s my saying, and I’m not getting one of those signs anytime soon.
Point being, it’s possible for sayings to say everything they need to without getting into that problematic little area of nuance. Which never seems to fit on those signs.
What I don’t like are sayings that are patently false, normative, demeaning, and in this case, simplifications ad absurdum. Worry is often non-fruitful, it’s true. But this saying diminishes the concept of worry by being dismissive of a singular facet of worry. A husband worrying over his wife in surgery is understandable, and the emotion must be given its due. Dismissing the emotion is demeaning. If I worry about being able to pay my bills, then I probably need to worry about it; worry keeps the matter fresh in my mind, so I can look for ways to assuage my worries, either by confirmation of my capacity or creation of said capacity. Telling me not to worry is *counter-productive,* because without that stimulus, I may ignore my obligations.
Another one that I see from time to time that makes me want to stab my eyeballs is: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.” Apart from the spurious attribution – it’s often credited to Albert Einstein, sometimes Mark Twain, but in reality has no identifiable source – if you have ever actually met a person suffering from any of the mental illnesses that are dismissed as insanity, you generally know that it’s a good day if they can summon the attentional intention to do the same thing even twice and recognize any result whatsoever. In general, I refer to people who do the same thing expecting different results either scientists, or deluded optimists. Occasionally, there is little distinction between the two.
Getting back to my point, I think sayings like these do more harm then good. They spread a kind of disinformation that is insidious in its resistance to logic and rational acceptance of human qualities. A good example of this is someone having said to me – I was a senior, and made some comment about being stressed because of upcoming finals, a musical opening, etc. The person I was talking to said blithely “Oh, you’re too young for stress!” That dismissal stuck with me, for a long long time. I know better now, but it did its share of stress in the interim.
Maybe that’s why I’m so sensitive about these. Who knows. But this isn’t psychoanalysis, it’s ranting. Right?
Now, I’m not knocking the signs themselves. It’s what their owners choose to do with them. There’s an Adventist church I pass every day that regulary has things like “Prayer? We have an app for that.” Of course, they’re also guilty of “When you can’t, God can” which I take exception to because the question is so much more nuanced than that. Based on the standard conceptions, of course He can; it is the matter of His willingness to do so that has some serious theological meat on it.
I remember one church on the east side that had a pre-Easter sign that read “Not once in history has a rabbit ever died for our sins,” which I STILL find hilarious, if only because they obviously know nothing about the history of pregnancy tests – Aerosmith could help with that one. Or maybe they do, and don’t think sex is a sin, in which case, maybe I should go hang out with *them.*