Thursday, July 16, 2009

Comforting Maxims

There are some sayings that are plainly not true, but people like to repeat them anyway. Here are a few. If you have any more, please add to the comments.

1. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.


This maxim is often attributed to Frederick Nietzsche. I found an application of this maxim to the history of Turkey by adriangzz.

Geva Perry adds: "In Israeli military we used to say: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and what DOES kill you makes your mom stronger."

The satirical website Newsbiscuit mocks the maxim. "What doesn’t kill you may not actually make you stronger, warn doctors."

"Doctors have discovered that among those conditions which won’t leave you feeling better than before are cancer, HIV/AIDS, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, a broken spine, Ebola, heart attacks, radiation poisoning and massive trauma to the head. ... There are no recorded instances of a rejuvenating bout of typhoid or a restorative case of the clap."


2. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.


Oh yes they can. Robert Fulghum, US author and Unitarian clergyman, coined a counter-maxim: "Sticks and stones will break our bones, but words will break our hearts..." (via Suzette R. Hinton, eZine Articles).

Commentary


Clearly there is a short-term purpose in these comforting maxims - to comfort those who have suffered or are suffering, and to encourage people to take command of their lives and move on. But there is also a disturbing erosion of truth, which ultimately lead us to regard all such maxims as vapid cliché, and to distrust the old wives who supposedly tell these tales. As Francis Bacon said (not the painter, the other one)

"So whosoever shall entertain high and vaporous imaginations, instead of a laborious and sober inquiry of truth, shall beget hopes and beliefs of strange and impossible shapes." (Advancement of Learning)

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