Talking with a client the other day, the subject of platitudes came up. Many of us use them routinely. Whether opining about inferences made, used polemically, or giving feedback to a friend or loved one, they’re used fairly often in all different kinds of discourse. These certainly occur in therapy, twelve step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Co-Da, ACA, Overeaters Anonymous, etc). We hear them at church/synagogue. They’re used copiously in political speeches and discussions.
Many years ago, a friend began saying to me when discussing platitudes, “Cliche alert! Cliche alert!” ala the robot from “Lost in Space”. It was his way of indicating that the user was often either not really saying anything, and/or wasn’t really aware of the content or context of the cliche being used.
One of my favorite quotes is from Gandhi: “It is because we have at this present moment everybody claiming the right of conscience without going through any discipline whatsoever that there is so much untruth being delivered to a bewildered world.” What I think he was getting at was pretty fundamental, and horror-producing… we all claim a right to truths and perceptions without really going through any real self or “concept” examination, and impose a subsequent template on the world in its wake.
That’s a fantastic way to create and/or perpetuate problems. Am bringing it up because it seems that platitudes are a common ways this occurs. Not that many platitudes or cliches aren’t true, just that we often don’t seem to examine if we’re using them, truly understand them, use them in context and the like. I often see therapists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use cliches and platitudes simply because they don’t know what else to say.
Going back to twelve step programs, one cliche that is often used is “attitude of gratitude”. With equal measure, it seems that an “attitude of platitude” is what is often in use. Ideas like “just do what you’re doing”, “keep it simple”, “I decide for me, you decide for you, we decide for us”, and more are arguably great ideas. These ideas even have utility for depression, relationships, self esteem, addiction, grief, loss and more. However, our command of the language doesn’t necessarily indicate a real handle on what they mean or how/when/what context to use them and make them practical.
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