26th JULY 2014
I like metaphors. No, I love metaphors. I like images of birds on branches, I like concise sayings that sum up the human condition. I like sharing, sure, and I like being positively affirmed by strangers every now and then. Who doesn’t, right? But I’m becoming increasingly cynical about the meme-ifying of “author unknown” quotes that are readily and thoughtlessly shared around social media without analysis, context or commentary. It’s the equivalent of my students “quote dumping” in their essays, rather than weaving examples cleverly into their own sentences and opinions. Yes, being an English teacher brings about unexpected frustrations every day, especially now that mass communication has become such a perpetual part of our lives, but reposting anonymously written “inspirational” quotes has got to be the laziest form of self-expression yet.
When I first skimmed through my news feed and found a friend had posted the above, I thought that’s quite nice, yes, ok, let’s all believe in ourselves a bit more. It was actually quite timely and a reminder to trust my instincts on an issue that had been stressing me out for some time. But then I read it again and kept thinking about it and it started to make me mad. Yes, we could make like a bird and trust that no matter what happens we can always fly away, but where’s the hope in that? Where’s the sense of community, humanity or belief in the innate good of others? What this quote is really telling us is that other people will let you down and you can only rely on yourself (there’s bound to be a meme circulating with exactly that message on it too, of course.) A lot of people do believe this, but I’m worried that the more we imbed this in our collective psyche, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people are not to be trusted and we can only rely on ourselves, then we become suspicious, selfish and the kinds of people who are not to be trusted, because we’re only looking out for ourselves! That sounds like an incredibly isolating place to get to as a society.
The false sense of community that is created by liking and sharing each other’s memes on facebook is merely proof that most of us are very pessimistic about society and are really not interested in connecting with or building trust in others. Perhaps many of us have reason to believe this: we’ve been hurt, people have let us down, we’ve learnt to look to ourselves for strength. That’s fine, but there has to be some hope, right? We have to be able to keep trusting each other and keep letting each other know that we believe in each other (not just ourselves) if we are to help each other become better people who look out for others. Knowing someone is relying on you is a huge motivation to be reliable. Personally, I’m sick of having to fly away and move on just because someone else lacks the integrity not to snap or break branch-like beneath me. Believe in yourself, definitely, but let’s start believing in each other too.