The beauty of common expressions (AKA “thought-terminating cliches”)

I saw this quote posted on social media, and thought I would explore it and see what I find.

What the quote calls “thought-terminating cliches” I prefer to call “common expressions”.

HOW IT IS FOR ME

In general, I love taking idea fragments – from quotes, book titles, or common expressions – and using them as a pointer for my own exploration.

I assume it’s like that for many of us, and for most or all of us sometimes.

I hear or think of a common phrase, and see what I find. Typically, I find the validity in it, in the reversals, in other ways to look at it and the bigger picture, and also that all of that are questions about the world here to help us orient and navigate in the world.

SOME COMMON EXPRESSIONS

What do I find if I explore the phrases in the quote?

It is what it is. For me, this is a beautiful expression. It reminds me that reality is what it is, and my experience of it and ideas about it are very limited. It is what it is, and I cannot know for certain anything about it. My thoughts are questions.

It’s in God’s hands. Yes, in a way everything is in God’s hands. Everything happening locally is the expression of movements in the larger whole. Everything has innumerable causes stretching back to the beginning of time and the widest extent of the universe. It’s good to be reminded of this now and then. (And not use it as an excuse for inactivity or harmful actions.)

YOLO. This too is a wonderful expression. I only live once. This moment will never return. What’s here in my experience is something I will never experience again. It’s something nobody has ever experienced before and nobody will ever experience it in the future. This moment, as it is, is infinitely precious. And it’s also all I have. My world is all I know, and I can only find the past, future, and somewhere else in my fantasies (sometimes very useful fantasies) happening here and now.

THOUGHT-TERMINATING CLICHES

What do I find when I explore the idea of “thought-terminating cliches”?

There is a valuable reminder in the idea of “thought-terminating cliches”, and that is that reality is always different from and more than our ideas about it. Reality is always far richer.

At the same time, the idea of a “thought-terminating cliche” can in itself become a thought-terminating cliche. We can agree with it and overlook the value and beauty of common expressions. We can overlook or reject the wisdom in them. We can overlook their value as a short hand to ease communication. We can overlook their value as a pointer and seed for our own exploration.

Perhaps most importantly, if someone hears or thinks of a common expression and doesn’t explore it further, then it says something about them. Not the common expression itself.


NOTES AND FRAGMENTS

The patterns making each of us up are unique variations on universals. That’s one of the reasons we have survived as a species up to now. Our diversity helps us look at and examine things from many different sides and that makes us more resilient as a community and species. (Unless we happen to live in a culture that strongly discourages this diversity.)

In this case, with the quote above, my experience is generally diametrically opposite.

HOW IT IS FOR ME

For me, it’s usually different, and I assume it’s like that for many, and for most or all sometimes.

I hear or think of a common phrase, and see what I find. Typically, I find the validity in it, in the reversals, in other ways to look at it and the bigger picture, and also that all of that are questions about the world here to help us orient and navigate in the world.

In general, I love taking idea fragments – from quotes, book titles, or common expressions – and use them as a pointer for my own exploration.

I understand that some may use or hear a common phrase and not examine it further. If so, that reflects their way of relating to life more than it says anything about common phrases.

At the same time, it’s not the common expression itself that stops further exploration. It’s the person. They chose to not explore it further, and they likely wouldn’t explore it further even if they hadn’t heard of thought of the “thought-terminating cliche”.

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