About seven years ago, a young guy named Kevin was working for me. Nice guy, funny, hard-working, but not necessarily the brightest star in the firmament. One day, I happened to bring up some of Shakespeare’s famous quotations and he kept replying (with a straight face), “Man, that Shakespeare was nothing but cliches.” I proceeded to explain that they actually weren’t cliches 400 years ago, when he came up with them, but the words didn’t make an impression. Kevin also said, “Ya, know those Beatles…what’s the big deal?” followed by, “And who the hell is Johnny Carson?” I rest my case.
Truth is, the very word, cliche is an insult to a concept whose only sin is that it’s a lasting truism. The stuff that’s false doesn’t stand the test of time and never gets promoted to cliche status. Maybe we need to come up with a more appropriate term…one that’s not insulting and invites the young and the inexperienced to learn profound truths and wisdom without having to...reinvent the wheel every generation. A cliche, in itself, though it strangely works every time.
When I was young, my mom, who was as my mentor and idol as well, gave me a small handful of gems which have not just stood me well but helped shape the way I run my life. Here’s the first one. You probably already know it…but do your kids???
The Harder I Work, the Luckier I get. This doesn’t require any sort of explanation so I won’t insult you with one. But to anyone who’s been on the planet a while, you know it’s true, seriously true. Sometimes you want to scream it in the ear of someone a bit younger than yourself, but the fact is…we’re just too old to have any valid answers. “Hey– You’re not stupid… you’re just old.” (Please note the quotes.) This is something that was recently explained to me. What a fun thing to hear!
When the Winds Fail…Take to the Oars. Yes, this is another one of Mom’s and its so simplistic that younger, much faster brains say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Big deal. So what?” It is, by definition, a cliche. But, oh baby…is it ever important. It has to do with not giving up….EVER. Do some of you out there, get what I’m talking about? Of course you do. It means, when everything…everything has turned to shit, you curse the sky and kick the fence post. But then, you get up and…(cliche alert) get back on the horse. Yeah, that’s the truth of life…for the winners that is. The quitters just think these words are a bunch of cliches.
To Thine Own Self, be True: This one’s so simple, it’d be real easy to skip over. Oh, sure I know that one. I get it… Are you really sure about that??? What it means is that we all have to bullshit at some points in our lives or more accurately some points during the day. But, if you can’t keep it straight in your head what’s up and what’s down, what is right… and what is wrong, you are in serious trouble. To survive, to thrive, you have to be straight with yourself. Otherwise you’re lost.
Here’s one you may not be familiar with. Steinbeck wrote it. I took it to heart: It’s a cliche, but it allowed me to be a somewhat kinder person than I otherwise would have been. Many grownups, particularly grownup men, were out to lunch when this one was posted. You Have to Be a Sucker for Someone. You have to believe in someone, you have to be willing to slide all the chips to the middle for someone, you have to be willing to be fooled by someone because….. Care to guess why? Because, if you’re never a sucker, if you never fully believe in someone, some thing, your heart is too hard to love or be loved. I’m a sucker for my wife. I’m a sucker (many times a day) for each of my dogs. I’m a sucker for most of my friends, with zero regrets. It’s worth it. Not being a sucker, never getting fooled ever, is not a life I’d care to live. Too harsh.
Glovey… Another one from my Mom. Man, she was something… This one’s a bit crass, but it has worked for me. For brief periods in my life I’d wander into relationships with people who were less than stellar. People whom I never would consider introducing to my folks or friends. One time, however, this did happen. It was during college. Mom was cool, I guess, but after this really nasty knuckle-dragging guy had left the house Mom said, ” If you take a white glove and plunge it in a pile of shit…the shit doesn’t get glovey.” That’s all she said. She let me figure it out. She was right, by the way. Choose wisely who you hang with.
Bridges Burned: Here’s a cliche I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard…or if you have, I bet you don’t know where it came from: “It’s Not the Bridges Burned That Bother Me, but the Ones That I’ve Never Crossed.” Derivation? An old 60s song by The Association. That one sentence, that one cliche has been a guiding star in my own life. Playing it safe, taking the safe or easy route, avoiding confrontation…guarantees you NOTHING. Life is going to follow you around as long as you’re alive and deal out good luck and bad. You can’t avoid it. Don’t be stupid, but life is, by definition, a game of chance. That’s where the fun is and that’s where the glory is. I would hate to come to the end of my life and think, “Damn….I shoulda gone for it.”
Capt. James T. Kirk: Whether you love him ( I do) or hate him, Bill Shatner is a walking cliche. But it works! Many of his ethical and leadership techniques which seeped slowly into my brain in high school and college…played out in the real word of the Air Force. They were Greek morality plays…in space. A quick one comes to mind: In civilian flying, you lose an engine…you look for a place to do a forced landing. In the military, you learn, if you flame-out…the prime directive is to get the plane away from the humanity below. Your life is secondary. They’re not joking… That’s the deal.
A second, seemingly silly thing I “learned” from Jim Kirk: Where your men are concerned, anything goes to save your men. Lie, cheat, steal, sucker-punch, whatever it takes. He displayed this many times but he was taken to task for it when he cheated on the “Kobiashi Maneuver.” It was a test that couldn’t be won. The decks were stacked so that it was impossible. Kirk flat-out cheated because cheating meant saving his men. Yeah, yeah, it’s a cliche, but when the chips are down sometimes those little morality plays are all you have to guide you. No regrets.
Last Cliche: (anybody yelling yaaaay?) This one goes back to my majoring in philosophy. Of all the umpteen thousand pages and hundreds upon hundreds of books I’ve read…this one comes to mind. It goes back to Zen Buddhism, a philosophy, not a religion…an extremely important distinction. Here we go. It’s soooo simple. If you think you have the answer…the one and only answer…you don’t. You will never have the complete answer. No one does. Life is a journey toward the truth. Conduct your own journey well… for that is what life is about. Life is not a destination point….it’s the path you take toward the destination.
P.S. Strangely, I feel more strongly and more seriously about these “silly cliches” than I do about most things. They work. They are diamonds, that have been polished to simple brilliance. And to end up with the very best cliche in the universe: The Golden Rule: Do Unto Others as you would have them do unto you. It’s such a simple sentence. And our usual reply is, “Yeah……but….”
Cliches are an important part of the learning experience. Long ago, Aesop’s Fables did an elongated version to teach valuable lessons to the youth. The messages were the same as today.
Many teens think that their parents are stupid or benighted…what could parents possibly know! Then when the child comes of age and has to confront similar problems, miraculously his parents aren’t so dumb after all. The circle is complete.
Yes, yes, and YES! As a writer, you try to remember everything and, of course, you can’t. Aesop still works for me. His wisdom has never let me down. I use the one about the guy taking his donkey to market, and taking everyone’s advice on how to do it. You gotta decide for yourself.
Thanks, I enjoyed this.
Robert A. Piccone
Glad you enjoyed it, Robert. I’m betting you have about ten or twenty of your own in your ammo belt.
Thanks. For you in particular, I bet you have a heaping handful of your own favorites.
Once again, you’ve hit a home run.
Or dare I say that cliche?
This will be helpful to some family
members going through some tough things. Can’t wait to forward.
P.S., I’d also add
“Leave a place better than you found it.” and “Don’t do anything that will bring harm to your family or your family name.”
My favorite has always been, Treat others as you would like to be treated.” .
Now I know why Wade and I have always liked you and Pamela.
In health, happiness and cliches,
Ahhh yes, “Leavin’ the campground better than you found it.” Excellent. If we could all indulge, just a bit, in following these old truisms, what a much better world we’d have.
Keep it comin bro. Love this stuff.
Nuggets of Wisdom. Somehow when I said “nuggets” to myself I heard it in
the amped-up voice of CBS NCAA commentator Bill Rafferty.
The older I get, the more it keeps hitting me… during the course of our lives we actually learn stuff…good stuff. That “stuff” remains in the form of cliches and then each new generation says, “Yeah, that’s all well and good…but…”
What’s the difference between Utopia and Paradise? Short answer…none…but you know it when you see it.
We have been going to Long Beach Island for 48 years. We own our little house called “Sunny Side Up” for 42 years. It is 100′ from the beach, third house back. I’ve included some photos of what the world can look like 100′ away. My wife, Pat, and I have walked the beach 1000’s of times and each time we say ‘this is the first time’. We pick up “stuff” on nearly every walk….tumbled glass, broken conch shells, drift wood, kids lost toys reworked by the sea, and some strange undefinable objects. We have filled up a lot of large brandy glasses with our findings. Nearly everyone we come across on our walks greets us with some pleasantry. Fisherman will smile and tell they are just drowning bait but it is good to be here. We said,”A bad day at LBI is better than anything else!” No body ever argued with that. This is paradise….in the eyes of the beholder.
That’s the best attitude you can have: Feels like the first time. I guess it goes back to Zen. There’s Utopia everywhere and Hell everywhere. Both of those realities take place between your ears.
Khayyam(Persian philosopher) said; you know, my friends, how long since in my house
For anew marriage I did make carouse
Divorced old barren reason from my bed, and took the daughter of the vine to spouse.
I was always really lousy at poetry. Does this mean what I think it means?
Hello dear Henry
Yes that’s what you think. Most of Khayyam poems are clichés, and people in here use them to make life more meaningful for themselves. If you have time, please search for Khayyam in the Web and you will find a lot about his life philosophy.
WITH BEST WISHES David