Thanks to the sharing economy on social media, we have a plethora of image-based inspirational quotes available to us on pretty much every major life occasion or holiday. There are endless quotes that attempt to encapsulate the complexities of love, loss, success, failure and beyond. But are memes really all they’re cracked up to be?
There are actually entire brands built on pithy inspirational phrases. Many of them live in my corner of what we can call the “mindfulness community.”
The Queen of Say It Like It Is, Danielle LaPorte has her Truth Bomb deck, my friends Elena Brower and Erica Jago have their beautifully designed Art of Attention deck, Gabby Bernstein has her uplifting Miracles Now deck and so on.
I think daily affirmations and inspiration are essential to finding perspective and doing good self-work. I have most of the decks listed above, plus a few others. I use them in my daily meditation practice as a form of ritual and inspiration.
I do not, however, think it’s always appropriate to push quotes or memes out to the masses with the attitude that it is universally helpful at all times. In truth, much of what I think might be inspirational can actually alienate entire segments of our community. And they often do.
Let me give you some examples.
Check out this relatively empowering Helen Keller quote I found on Instagram the other day:
I’m currently driving around the country for three months, by myself, teaching movement, meditation and writing as a means of self-care and healing. I’m definitely living an adventurous life at the moment. So, when I read this quote the other day, I thought, “Hell yeah it is. I’m awesome.”
But four months ago, when I was working a 9-to-5 I didn’t like, drinking more than I should, eating take-out every night and crying a lot, I would have read that and thought, “F*ck you, Helen, and f*ck you whoever posted this. I’m doing the best I can and it’s not nothing. It’s hard and I feel alone and scared and this quote just made me feel more worthless.”
Alright, so first, if you don’t know who Confucius is and what he stood for, you should. Especially before sharing that quote (I’m talking more than speed-read of a Wikipedia entry). Beyond that, holy crap this is unhelpful. Our culture rewards being busy and rarely slowing down. In fact, we only treat ourselves to slowing down after we’ve completed enough tasks.
We treat rest as a reward rather than a necessity for healthy living. Fatigue is a real problem in our society and regular rest is really the only way to prevent it.
Case in point: I recently went to an acupuncture clinic in Asheville in to treat some issues I’m having that are related to fatigue. I had planned to see my cousin, go on a hike, make a big dinner and have a great day after that. When I returned to the home I was staying in, I crawled into bed and slept for hours. My body just shut down and said, “Stop. Sleep. Now.”
When I read that quote I felt guilty. Like I should have found a way to simply slow down rather than stop completely. Not helpful.
I wish you could see how red my face is right now. This is NOT inspirational. Do you know how much shame that induces? Who decides what mediocre looks like? If you do basically a good job at your corporate gig and you go home and make dinner for your family and then you watch some TV show you like and have a glass of wine and go to bed, does that mean you’re mediocre? Why can’t that be okay? Again, who decides? As someone who is terrified of “mediocrity” and living a life of no meaning, that quote makes me question all my plans for the day. Should I be more impulsive?
I realize these are just quotes and phrases and no one said they had to apply to everyone. They are intended to positively influence people and what’s really so wrong with that?
To be fair, I’ve scrolled my feed a million times and shared quotes like these. But this was before I realized not everyone is a young, fit, college-educated white woman who hasn’t really ever had a hard time getting a job or making friends or picking up a new skill.
I also understand that we can’t be so politically correct, as it were, to assume that everything we share will be applicable to everyone who follows us online. I do however, think it’s okay to request that we pay closer attention to what we’re putting out there.
I think we can do more good as a community by stepping away from the sharing economy approach to providing help and connecting on a more personal level.
Would it be so terrible if we were to try to be more authentic and transparent about our struggles and our triumphs? What’s the harm in sharing from a place of truth and inclusiveness? Instead of tossing out a quote or a platitude, what if you we were to attempt to connect more deeply on a personal level so we could strengthen our ability to be empathetic?
This is hard for most people because it asks us to be vulnerable. And vulnerability is scary. But no one ever said living a life of integrity and grace would be easy and void of challenges.
I’d love to hear from you, what are your feelings about inspirational memes and all the quotes that get tossed around online? Are you a fan? Or not so much? Or somewhere in the middle? I’d love to know, share your thoughts in the comments below!