One Famous, Stupid Quote We Should All Stop Sharing
There's this one famous quote on the internet I just hate so much. Obviously it was famous before the internet, and somehow survived to be meme'd into every inspirational Facebook and Instagram post you could ever possibly stomach. It doesn't pop up on the fitness blogs so much. It's usually mentioned by self-help bloggers and leadership gurus. And "synergistic thought leaders".
It's just terrible.
You better buckle your seatbelt, Eleanor, because I'm about to make you regret saying this. I'm about to make you feel inferior without your consent. Shots fired.
Yes, I've fired across the bow at a famous historical figure who is now long gone. Yes, Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for more than just this stupid quote. No, I don't expect to bludgeon her reputation into obscurity with my words. But I do hope to forever ruin them for your reading, so you'll disagree with them from this point forward.
And maybe–just maybe–we can all be a bit more objective about the "inspiration" we find on the internet.
Let's work backwards, and take it step-by-step. "Great minds discuss ideas."
Sounds about right, on the surface! I don't know about you, but this statement all by itself evokes images of Einstein, Freud, and Plato all smoking cigars and whipping off brand new theories just to amuse one another. When there's a pause in the small talk, Newton comes back from the kitchen bringing martinis and a brand new form of math for everyone to peruse.
Or maybe you imagine all the deep thinkers you know starting reflectively off into the distance. They're grasping the mysteries of the universe so gently, maybe even a whisper could break them. They have to speak very slow and pause often. They're talking about theology, or the political climate in our nation, or they're lamenting general "unrest". They don't have time for petty things. They're above Facebook, unless they can argue about something. They can't be bothered with movies or sports or anything trivial. They skip fiction because they don't have time for imaginary stories! Their thoughts are a gift to the world.
Of course, when you imagine these scenarios, it all sounds a bit pretentious, doesn't it? We know this isn't how the real world works. In the real world, if you leave the company of "lesser minds" and stick to big concepts with your philosophical friends, it's only a matter of time until you're lonely.
Why? Because we understand that while there is a place for ideas, the development of those ideas and the conversations which spark them are a specific gift. Some are better at this than others. For those people who are naturals at "ideating", like a gym bro who always skips leg day, eventually the underdeveloped weaknesses in the rest of their personality show through–and the rest of us snicker behind their back. "Really? You guys have decided to debate that topic again?" "Can we give it a break for just one evening?"
If you're dealing with a person like this, they let the bad girl of history–Eleanor J-Is-For-Judgement Roosevelt–steer them wrong. Way wrong.
I know, because I am one of these people. I tend to look down at small talk and trivial topics. I want to explore the deep mysteries of the universe before the waitress comes back with our drinks from wherever waitresses disappear to. And my wife has to bring me back into the balance of reality!
Not everyone is impressed with your big ideas. This is good for you.
Besides, there is a world of difference between thought and action. Being an intellectual, or reflecting on big ideas in the midst of a conversation, doesn't mean you're helping. It surely doesn't hurt! But ideas in and of themselves do not create greatness. How many friends have mentioned their get-rich schemes or "sure thing" business ideas, only to not do anything with them? I've been that person.
The truth hurts, but you need to hear it: good ideas are a dime a dozen. What you do with those ideas is what matters much more.
Okay, so what about the more modest saying, "Average minds discuss events."
I suppose, on it's surface, I agree with this. If you take the literal meaning of the word average and apply it here, of course average minds discuss events! "Say, did you just feel the earthquake beneath us?" "I am lamenting the traffic jam caused by this Nickelback concert!" "I know it's so average of me to say this, but thanks for inviting me to your birthday party."
In the context of the first saying, though, this statement has a negative connotation. And that's stupid, because events, by their own ordinary definition, are meant to be discussed by everyone–this is what makes them events. Notable, exceptional things have happened. Things worth sharing! Things which will help your friends and acquaintances understand the world around them. Things which give them perspective, when they're stuck between two HEMI trucks just blasting "This is How You Remind Me".
If Eleanor wants to take her quote back and tweak it a bit to say, "Average minds discuss Facebook events", then I'm in total agreement with the First Lady. Otherwise this is just dismissive posturing.
What about everyone's favourite non-event: the weather?
Well, I used to hate the topic. It felt like a failsafe; a standby; a holding pattern until a more interesting topic came along. And the truth is that talking about the weather often is a stalling tactic for many people. But I've since met a beautiful man named Leonard who proved me wrong about the weather. He sits outside of my favourite coffee shop, almost every day. Without fail, he greets all the regulars–and the topic of conversation never changes.
Yes, it's the weather. Yes, our province is unpredictable! But Leonard uses this safe, common experience we're all sharing to make a human connection with everyone he meets.
Now, I don't resent talking about the weather anymore.
It gives me the chance to at least begin With someone new.
Finally, Eleanor comes to the damning conclusion: "Small minds discuss people."
This, by far, is the most ridiculous judgement of the lot. I will be gracious right off the top and assume Eleanor was trying to criticize the vacuous airhead socialite characters in "The Great Gatsby". I'm sure Mrs. Roosevelt would find TMZ revolting and she'd purse her lips in disgust at someone like Perez Hilton.
But have we gained anything by deriding celebrity culture? Sure, none of us should care who Leonardo DiCaprio is dating. If we find out and it sticks in our brain, can you blame us? And if you can, what does it say about your more important events and ideas which can't even make it past the entryway into our small-mindedness?
I'll give you celebrity culture, at least for now. God knows, there are enough stupid things happening in Hollywood and all over the internet. As of this writing, women are putting suction cups on their lips in order to look like swollen ducks on Instagram.
The whole thing is an easy target: if you want to call someone small minded, pick on the people who relish the needless drama of strangers or coworkers or extended family members, too.
There is a deeper criticism here, though. It's the implication of it all. People matter least. People are trivial, in comparison with loftier intellectual pursuits. Do you want to care about people? Go ahead. Just be prepared to part with some of your brain capacity.
Do you see how destructive this kind of judgement is?
When it flies under the radar in the form of an inspirational quote, people take it for granted. And then I find myself feeling resentful at a dinner party where my friends spend most of their time discussing someone's new baby or recent heartache. "Where's the meaning in all of this? Where are the big ideas? Why can't we at least just talk about current events, or something?"
I've let an ugly assumption fly right on by. I remove myself from the present. Eleanor Roosevelt and I turn our noses up on people, and the people who care about people, because we can't stomach such meaningless topics of conversation.
I've changed my philosophy. I've decided to love talking about people.
It isn't always instinctive for me! Because of my overdeveloped strength in one area, I find myself drifting off into distraction at all the wrong times.
For example, one time when Leisha and I were still dating, we went to a movie. Before the lights went down, she turned to me with eyes brimming with joy and let the moment just hang there–until finally, she said, "I love you!"
And I responded with, "did you know we're slowly becoming a cashless society?"
What a romantic. I'm surprised she didn't clock me and my big brain right then and there.
The truth is, people are worth discussing–not because gossip has become a virtue, but because people deserve to be celebrated in our conversations. As you value talking about them, you'll discover the hidden joy of other people, with or without their big ideas and events.
It seems like Eleanor would've enjoyed a date with the former me. I'm still putting an end to her outdated way of thinking, though–and I'm always going to hate whenever someone posts her stupid quote on Instagram.