The Wisdom of the Ages

Finding value in meaningless platitudes.

In her book, You Learn By Living, Eleanor Roosevelt quotes from another book called South Wind written by Norman Douglas.  Here is the quote.

“What is all wisdom save a collection of platitudes? Take fifty of our current proverbial sayings – they are so trite, so threadbare, that we can hardly bring our lips to utter them. None the less they embody the concentrated experience of the race, and the man who orders his life according to their teaching cannot go far wrong. How easy that seems! Has anyone ever done so? Never. Has any man ever attained to inner harmony by pondering the experience of others? Not since the world began! He must pass through the fire.”

The problem with platitudes is that they are so simple they are useless in real life. Reality requires a more nuanced approach.  This is why Humanists embrace situational ethics.  We recognize that in certain situations, our normal rules of conduct may not apply.

But that doesn’t mean they never apply.  Because most of the time they do.  It’s just that in the real world we need to be prepared for the exceptions.

I think the key to understanding the value of a platitude is to understand why the adage or platitude for how to live was devised in the first place.  That way you understand the intent of the platitude so that you can adjust your behavior when the situation requires, thus getting the benefit of this “ancient wisdom” without falling prey to the inane meaningless simplicity of it all.

What do you think? What is your favorite platitude and why?  And which ones should never be uttered ever again?

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