An excerpt of this column originally appeared as a special to the Kenosha News, Sunday Mornings With Basil Willis, August 21, 2011
I heard a great saying the other day: “Holding on to anger or resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” It is a wise testament to letting go and taking ownership of your feelings. My mom is fond of a similar phrase: “Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Both of these quotes lead to the same place, a passage by Charles Swindoll that speaks to the control we have over ourselves and our view of the world. “The only thing we can do is play on the string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”
Cognitive psychology is a relatively recent discipline of psychology that focuses on how people perceive, think and solve problems. From this, cognitive therapy developed as a way to treat patients with difficulties by identifying and changing dysfunctional thinking. In 12-step programs they call it “stinkin’ thinkin’.” Part of the therapy is to build mechanisms that combat negative thinking, for which memorable quotes are perfect. They are the Hershey’s Miniatures of knowledge; tasty, self-contained, individually wrapped and easily consumable.
I have always tended to think people who have a quote for everything can come off as a little pompous, unless they’re from the South, when the trait becomes endearing. But I realize I love a good quote just as much as the next guy. We use motivational quotes to get us through the daily grind, when we are faced with fear, things we can’t change, or things we don’t want to deal with. We use quotes to keep us from drinking. Or to get the party started. And in some cases, how we should party: “Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.” It’s true, kids.
People who find solace in religion often have a pocketful of parables for any given situation. If you’re in dire straits and you’re trying really hard and nothing works, you need to ask God for help, need to let go and let God. Or maybe you’re not trying hard enough, because God only helps those who help themselves. And then there’s the one about giveth and taketh that to me pretty much means life isn’t fair, deal with it. The different, sometimes conflicting messages confuse me so I’ll leave that to the theologians, but I know it helps a lot of people.
Of course there are quotes that can be incredibly annoying, such as the ubiquitous, “it is what it is,” which is completely bereft of meaning. In the corporate world there is an entire catalog of catchy/idiotic phrases meant to inspire, induce fear or shift blame. If you make a suggestion or observation during a meeting and someone says, “Let’s take that offline,” you’ve just been told to shut your stupid pie hole. If, at the end of that meeting someone asks, “What are the key takeaways here?” that means you’ve been sitting around for an hour but haven’t really done anything, so you need to bang out a couple bullet points to email superiors as proof of accomplishment.
Perhaps my single biggest source of quotes comes from W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, a tome which eloquently and simply explains the meaning of life. Even though he is a source of many great nuggets, Maugham reminds us to not quote too much and takes a gentle jab at those who do: “She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit.”
My other sources of daily inspiration seem to come from science fiction. When I ask something of coworkers or friends and they say, “I’ll try,” I retort with the wisdom of Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” The Matrix is another movie whose dialogue has worked its’ way into my lexicon. There are hundreds of money quotes from the trilogy, including the fear-abating “there is no spoon,” and the Merovingian’s thoughts on busy schedules, “How can we ever have time if we don’t take time?”
My newest favorite saying has been popularized by Greg Jennings, wide receiver for your NFL champion Green Bay Packers. The day of the Super Bowl, as players were getting themselves psyched up in the locker room, Greg was telling teammates, “Let’s be great today!” I follow him on Twitter and he’ll often tweet it before he goes to practice.
I’m not playing in a Super Bowl, but I try to approach everything I do like that. If I’m mowing the lawn, I want it to look like a golf course. If I’m doing a presentation, I want to be as interesting as Cirque Du Soleil, and if I’m unplugging and watching guilty-pleasure TV, I want to be really good at that too (I have perfected the fine art of doing absolutely nothing and not feeling bad about it – at least I’m great at that).
Every day I do or deal with things I don’t really want to, but I’m going to do them the best I can, because I have a choice and that’s how I roll.
I’ll second that, Greg. Let’s be great today.