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By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

Resolving To Live


We live in an age of clichés. They surround us, influence us, often controlling the way we speak and think. They are nefarious in their ability to suck meaning out of important statements and events. And they are, in general, dead wrong (which, by the way, is a cliché.)

A few painful examples:

If you work hard you can achieve anything. Dreams really do come true. If you’re not first, you’re last. Which goes with winning is everything. True love. Love at first sight. You’re comparing apples to oranges. Change is scary. It’s never too late. Talk is cheap. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Better safe than sorry. Let’s take a look at these few select examples more closely.

Several can be put in the same “false American dreams” category, the mythic life is a fairytale adventure story we’ve been spoon fed in movies, pop songs, and comic books. The truth may be tough to swallow (cliché), but better our children understand reality than get force fed bitter gruel late in life. You can work hard—unbelievably hard—and if you’re not lucky, or your timing’s not right, or you don’t have the right connections, or things don’t just fall your way, you may not achieve what you set out to accomplish. Of course, you might. But the odds are better that you’ll end up a lawyer or the owner of a retail store than president of the United States. Same for true love. No such thing. Good love, yes. Great love, hopefully. True love? Love at first sight? Lust at first sight. Love over time. Only one true love? Then why do people remarry? Love is built. It grows. It is not instant gratification. That’s called sex.

And what’s wrong with comparing apples to oranges? Anything can be compared or contrasted with anything else? The sky to the ocean. England to Israel. A dog to a cat. Comparison is simply a way to organize and structure perspective. Apples to oranges? Both are fruit. Both fall from trees. Both are nutritious. Both are brightly colored. Both can be sweet or tart. Sounds like a comparison to me.

Change isn’t scary, talk isn’t cheap, it’s often not better to be safe than sorry, and sometimes, yes, it’s too late. Change is dynamic and energizing. It can reinvigorate life and reinvent possibilities. People aren’t scared by change, or the unknown. We’re curious, sometimes uncertain, anxious, nervous. But scared? Scared is for rabbits. Talk isn’t cheap. It’s easy. That’s the difference between talk and action. Action is hard, and it’s why we, as Jews, focus on the ability for words to hurt (lashon hara), but actions to have substance and determine who we are. 

And sometimes it is too late. I just started playing guitar at age 58. It’s something I always wanted to do. If you follow the 10,000 hour rule to expertise, and I play an hour a day, it will take me 27 years and 145 days to get really good. I’ll be almost 86 then. Ain’t gonna happen. But I can play anyway, and still have a great time, even if it’s too late. Same with opportunity. Sometimes it passes. Sometimes you miss it, and it doesn’t come back. That’s called life.

Which is why it’s often ok to be sorry rather than safe. A life of safety equates to a sheltered life, a life filled with missed opportunities, forsaken experiences, and, in all likelihood, fewer mistakes and painful memories. But it’s the good and bad, the successes and failures, the triumphs and difficulties in life that make us whole. Better to be sorry every once in awhile. You can always play it safe (cliché).

Perhaps the two American clichés I hate the most are “winning is everything” and “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” First, winning isn’t everything, and if a parent teaches this to a child they are setting the child up for a life of frustration and failure. The journey is everything. Doing the best you can, whatever that is, is everything. Becoming the most of who you are is everything. Winning? It’s a moment, the by-product of effort, a goal, but not an achievement. The achievement is in the doing. That’s the lesson we should impart to our children unless we want them to disregard all their hard work and suffer more often than not. That sounds painful to me. And speaking of pain, there’s no outright benefit to hurting until we wish we were dead, either physically or emotionally. There’s no joy in pain. There’s no law that says we have to suffer (or make others suffer) in order to be strong. Strength comes from an internal commitment to do good and live with integrity and be truthful to yourself.

Which leads me to the point of this painful deconstruction of false hope and pipe dreams. The penultimate cliché is nearly upon us once again. It’s called the New Year Resolution, and I challenge one and all to disregard it in its entirety. A resolution based on a point in time someone else has arbitrarily selected that has no real bearing on our lives has a far greater chance to be doomed than to succeed. Don’t make a resolution on a night notorious for drunken driving and indulgent partying. Make resolutions when you need them, when you mean them, and live them fully, wholeheartedly, and with real intent. That way, you’ll avoid the clichés inherent in contrivance. You’ll live fully, with purpose, and that’s an original resolution we can all believe in.

And that’s the good word for the end of the year.

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