Few things preoccupy a writer who produces a large quantity of material more than clichés. Some turns of phrase are so ingrained in our minds that when we use them to express ourselves we don’t even hear them. Sometimes, we honestly aren’t even sure if the phrase is our own, or a cliché we’ve heard in passing long ago. In those cases, thanks for existing, Google. You’re really helpful there.

There was a completely appropriate amount of online outrage about this and other t-shirts found at The Children's Place. How else could girls think when we dress them this way?
Here’s a dangerous cliché still having real negative impacts: girls are bad at math. Talk about wanting to punch someone in the ear.

But some clichés go beyond a meaningless way to express an idea, but the ideas themselves are so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even stop to consider whether or not they are correct. We encounter a situation, we know an expression that seems to apply, and, well – dare I say it? – if the shoe fits, we wear it.

What we sometimes forget to ask what shoes were being worn when the wisdom in question originated. Sandals? Spats? Those horrid-looking Victorian shoes with all of the hooks and tight laces?

For example, the expression, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” makes me want to punch someone in the ear. And guess what? I believe that would make the person neither stronger nor dead. This expression that tells us that we can always take more. That no matter what hurts us, we will not only recover, we’ll get better. It asks us to celebrate pain. It does not encourage us to evaluate what’s hurting us and make it stop.

Here are some others:

    • Winners never quit and quitters never win: Nope. Sometimes the game/job/relationship you’re playing/working/in is bad. And you need to quit.
    • Time heals all wounds: Nope.
    • Behind every great man…: Seriously, don’t even get me started.
    • Dance like no one is watching: Sometimes people watching is what makes us conform to important social norms. Like, ‘don’t hit’ and ‘be nice.’ I know. I’m no fun at all. But secrets don’t make friends. That’s a cliché I can get behind, because bad shit happens when no one is watching.
    • Actions speak louder than words: Some actions are more effective than some words. And other times you need to say something.
    • You can’t help who you love: Actually, that is pretty much the only thing in life you can absolutely control.

Perhaps this is what makes clichés so dangerous in the first place. When we say something in the same, rote way all of the time, we not only lose its meaning, we lose track of whether or not it’s actually true. Or if we’re just mindlessly recycling bad societal norms that deserved to be chucked long ago.

2 thoughts on “Beyond cliché: the things we keep telling ourselves

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