Four Pearls of “Wisdom” We Should Outlaw TODAY

by Alaina Mabaso

Grandma wasn't always right. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Grandma wasn’t always right. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Ready to tell me I’m over-thinking this and being too negative? Too bad. I’m a writer deep in a depressive episode. You are welcome to rebut my take on these aphoristic affronts to the psyche on your own blog, with lots of smiley emoticons.

Image: © Nevit Dilmen. Found at Wikimedia Commons.

Image: © Nevit Dilmen. Found at Wikimedia Commons.

1)       “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”

The person who came up with this one probably never suffered anything worse than a runny nose in his whole life and thinks his existence is the standard by which all others should be judged. Or it was a person grasping at inspirational straws in her quest to keep choking down $9 gluten-free kale crackers.

I understand the sentiment here: you get only one body (until medical science can re-grow body parts in procedures 50 years from now which will cost $400 in Europe and $7,800 in the US). You should appreciate your health now because next month you could have a stroke or ovarian cancer or end up in rehab from whiplash after some texting 17-year-old idiot rear-ends you.

But as a person with a chronic mental and physical illness, I see this saying for the smug claptrap that it is. It’s demeaning to people who live and work with mental and physical challenges every day. If you don’t have Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or bipolar disorder, someone in your office probably does. Try telling that person, “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” when she’s pulling her weight at work and at home, just as well as you are, with the help of a good doctor, the right medications, and a hell of a lot of internal grit.

If you don’t have your health, you don’t have your health, and you live your life anyway. That’s it. It’s not like everything is either a mild cold or that episode of House where a girl almost dies because she gets a deer tick in her vagina.

1859's "The Kiss" by Francesco Hayez. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

1859’s “The Kiss” by Francesco Hayez. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

2)      “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

This howler could not have been coined by anyone who was ever actually in love. The saying should be, “Living with a partner acclimated to your verbal or physical abuse means never having to say you’re sorry.”

If the original saying is true, it would have to rest on one of two premises:

a)      People never, ever do anything, on purpose or by accident, that hurts or offends their lover.

b)      People in love automatically forgive any transgression, without the need for acknowledgment or communication.

I dare you to share your life with someone and never get on their nerves the teeniest bit (though I admit I’m a maladjusted individual – irritability is a symptom of depression). You are not perfect and you will make mistakes. You move forward by apologizing to the people you hurt. Don’t assume they’ll happily ignore your bad behavior because they love you.

From the mouths of (rabbit) babes.

From the mouths of (rabbit) babes.

3)      “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

The first time I remember hearing this gem, Bambi’s rabbit pal Thumper was getting an earful from his mom.

This one really rubs me the wrong way, because I’ve been scolded for writing about too many negative topics instead of something funny and nice, when my intention was to address a serious real-world injustice. Tell me how many problems we’ll solve if we all clam up unless we have something “nice” to say.

I get the message: tearing other people down or complaining just for the sake of it isn’t kind or productive. And I might not mind this one so much if, in my experience, all the people sharing variations of it on Facebook weren’t women.

Because women are particularly vulnerable to the poison of this mindset: that we shouldn’t open our mouths if we’re sad, or frustrated, or hurt, because nice girls smile when you ask them to and have good manners, no matter what. Readers and people in my own circle have said, as if they’re confiding something painful and surprising, that I seem “angry.” Well, guess what? I feel angry sometimes. But I get the feeling that that’s a crime because I’m a woman.

1)      “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

I’ve had some arguments with my esteemed friend and colleague Kile Smith, a writer and composer, but when I read his recent piece in Broad Street Review, where I’m the associate editor, it was like he took the words right out of my brain.

“All these decisions are small, but all work is small. (‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ is poster bilge, salve for indolence),” he writes of the minute but deeply consequential tinkering of the successful creative process.

Right on, Kile. Next time someone asks me how I became a writer, I’ll tell them it’s because I sweated the small stuff that sets me apart from a thousand wannabe writers.

Again, I admit the kernel of truth. Keep your sights on the things that really matter: your family, your health, your marriage, and salted caramel ice cream. Don’t have a coronary because some jerk cut you off in traffic.

But the truth is that any kind of success, especially career success, is all about sweating the small stuff: the details that make you excel. I’ll tell you who isn’t sweating the small stuff. Magazines that don’t pay on time. Writers who can’t meet deadlines. PR associates who don’t pick up the phone. Restaurant servers who can’t remember to put the dressing ON THE SIDE. People whose dogs have matted, dirty fur. Able-bodied people who park in handicapped spots.

Is this the ranting of a psychotic perfectionist?


I admit I’ve never read any of the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all small stuff self-help best-sellers by Richard Carlson, Ph.D (now deceased) and his wife, Kristine Carlson, but I really enjoyed perusing their website.

The couple’s other titles include Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love, with tips like “appreciate your spouse in new ways” and “look out for each other.” Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women touts tips for “debating effectively with spouses and partners” and “dealing with children and friendships.”

There’s also Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Men, with tips to “relieve stress, and gain more peace and joy.” These include, “learn about life from golf,” “spend more time with your kids,” and “have an affair.”

Yes, really. It’s on the website.

Now I can see why Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women also offers hints on “learning to laugh when all else fails.”

I guess a woman who gets upset when her husband cheats is sweating the small stuff. Because he never has to say he’s sorry, and if she can’t say anything nice, she doesn’t say anything at all.

What are your least favorite words of wisdom?

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