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Words to Live By: Using the Cliché as a Mantra to Transform Your Life

Updated on August 24, 2013
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Melissa is a professional poet and writer. She currently has several works in her "vault" that she plans on publishing when she gets to it.

That’s So Cliché

We hear people say that all the time like it’s a bad thing. Sometimes I think people say it without knowing what it really means. A cliché is simply a phrase of commonplace wisdom that has been used so much it has lost its power or meaning—the glass is always half full. More recently, people have used the term to describe contradictions or stereotypes they notice in other human beings, the proverbial walking cliché.

Are Clichés Still Cliché If We Actually Mean Them?

I had this question enter my mind one day as I was imparting advice to someone younger than me, giving them some general wisdom about life. It was then I realized the purpose of clichés and why they exist in the first place. It’s the easiest way to pass down encouragement and wisdom. People remember clichés because they are usually catchy one-liners with a remarkable wit or surprising depth. They are often proverbs and maxims, some ancient and some modern, which have been carried through human language from one generation to the next.

What makes a cliché a cliché is us. We are the ones who either strip the meaning from it or forget the meaning of it entirely, using the phrases emptily or half-heartedly. We are what we believe. Think about that for a minute. What defines you? Isn’t it your thoughts before your actions? You don’t THINK what you DO. Human beings DO what we THINK. So it stands to reason that everything in our lives is meaningless if we choose to steal the meaning from it or allow the meaning to die through our own indifference.

The Power of the Cliché

Clichés can be as powerful as they are powerless in our lives. We control the power of those beliefs and thoughts and have the ability to use or discard that wisdom through our minds. When we believe in clichés wholeheartedly, we don’t just speak them vacantly to ourselves or repeat them like parrots to others, we live them out in our lives. They begin to transform and define us. They stop being clichés and become our personal truths. When I tell people my life story, most of the time they don’t believe me. They always have the same reaction and ask me the same question, HOW? They can’t understand how I’ve survived so many challenging experiences with the kind of easy-going attitude I have around other people. I always answer them in clichés. Perhaps they think I’m being trite, but these are my truths and the way I have chosen to live my life. They not only affected the way I responded to the difficult times, but they also affect the way I look back on those times now.

Some Clichés That Are Powerful in My Life Now

I live by many truths. I couldn’t list them all in one article if I tried, but I can tell you the main ones that may be a cliché in someone else’s life, but work effectively in mine.

Treat Other People How You Want to Be Treated

Otherwise known as the Golden Rule, this was wisdom derived from the Bible actually, but caught on in mainstream popularity. I’ve heard people say this mockingly because it’s kind of a “mom” thing to say, and it’s funny in that way as a cliché. Nevertheless, I latched onto this wisdom as a child, and it has shaped me into a more compassionate person. I’d say I have a natural empathy toward animals and people anyway, but this grew my empathy in a deeper way as a reminder to love ALL people equally NO MATTER HOW THEY TREAT YOU. It’s indiscriminate and unconditional love and kindness. It challenges you to be good to those who might not be good to you. It isn’t about how other people behave towards you. It’s about you behaving in an ideal way towards others. It’s a lesson in responsibility as well because the focus isn’t on the other person’s treatment of you, but on your behavior alone.

Can you imagine the difference in action between the person who believes he should only be good to those who are good to him and the person who believes in being good even to those who are not good to him? It makes a world of difference.

The Grass Is Greener on the Side You’ve Habitually Watered

This is an optimistic take on another cliché with a more pessimistic angle that the grass is greener on the other side. I was pondering the idea one day as I was figuratively looking over the fence at the other side of the grass and thinking to myself that I preferred my own lawn because of all the work I’d put into taking care of it and making it nice. Whether we are talking about life in general or relationships, the truth is we get nowhere without hard work and dedication. Nothing in life is free and nothing is handed to you. You have to create your own opportunities and grow your own love. I refuse to be a victim to circumstance or let what happens around me define me. I get to choose how I grow and how I maintain this life I’ve been given. I was not given a lot of love as a child. I could even argue that I wasn’t given any real love at all. However, I was given a seed of love through the compassion of God. I carefully tended to it and out of that seed I grew an abundance of love and have been able to give much more to others than I had ever been given. Love is the great miracle in me.

Sometimes natural disasters happen. A tornado or a hurricane can come and wipe out everything you’ve worked hard for in an instant. Storms in life are inevitable. Yet I marvel at the persistence in a blade of grass. Even after a nuclear winter, a blade of grass, if nothing else, has the audacity to grow.

Life Is 10 Percent What Happens to You, 90 Percent What You Choose to Do with What Happens to You

I’ve said before, life isn’t just happening to us. We are happening to life. I believe that. Even if it seems out of our hands at times, we always have a choice. I think the problem with most people isn’t that they don’t have choices, but that they are uncreative when looking for solutions. I understand creativity is a gift and not everyone has it, but be resourceful. If you aren’t creative enough to find a better answer to a problem you are having in life, then find someone you know who is creative or at least more creative than you and ask them to help you resolve an issue.

Also, we can’t control what other people do, but we can control what we do and how we respond to a situation. As a creative person, I see an infinite number of ways I can respond to any situation. I see it all at once in the moment which makes me fairly great at mediating conflicts for people because I can see all the way around the problem. Most of the time all people need is an option other than the one in front of them which is usually anger or frustration. Understanding that you have the greater responsibility and role in the interaction or situation because the cause-and-effect chain reaction rests 90 percent on your response to anything or anyone else in life gives you back your personal power even in unfavorable circumstances or trying times.

Love Grows Love and Hate Grows Hate

You don’t wait around for people to love you. You love them first and watch what happens. If you hate those who hate you, then you are only growing more hate and feeding into the problem. You’ve become the problem. When you show love to those who have hated you, it releases you from their hatred. The more you love them, the less you will feel affected by their hate towards you. What is love but understanding? You cannot truly love someone without some understanding of them. It’s an acceptance of who they are, their flaws, and taking the time to know something about what makes them do what they do or say what they say to you.

There’s a secret I know about all people. My knowledge of it comes from the understanding that we are all naturally self-involved and narcissistic to a degree. The poet John Milton said every human being is a world unto themselves. So in that sense we are all mini planets revolving around one another. We get up every day with our individual minds going into the individual lives we’ve created and choose to interact with one another on various levels. The secret is it’s never about you.

It’s NEVER about you. Once you wrap your brain around that truth life makes much more sense to you. Most people walk through life as if they are in an emotional coma, completely unaware of themselves. To that effect, their actions are like runaway trains. They are out of control in the way that they behave toward others letting their beliefs justify all kinds of bad or even cruel behavior. Freud would have called it the ego-driven personality. The human ego is like an unreasonable madman who hijacks a train and takes hostages along the way. Everyone in his path better watch out. Removing your ego from the driver’s seat takes some real work. You have to assassinate that guy and begin using your reason and self-awareness to guide you. Start looking in first, then looking out instead of just looking out for yourself all the time. Then your eyes will open and you’ll see that it’s never about you. That revelation will change everything.

Most human beings, especially women, tend to internalize everything. Almost all people with any sort of problem with an addictive behavior internalize whatever interaction or experience they have with another person. This ironically self-centered thinking that everything is about them causes anger, pain, guilt, and shame. Most of the time people who internalize their experiences may seem like the world revolves around them on the surface, but inwardly they take everything everyone else does as a personal slight and negatively react to it. Examples of this can range from a sexually abused child thinking it was somehow his or her fault as though they caused the abuse to happen to an ego-driven celebrity who can’t seem to get it together.

In the first example it’s important for people to understand when other people choose to hurt them that it isn’t about them at all. If you can show love in the form of understanding to the person who hurt you, it will release you from the burden of that shame and guilt. Understanding that the person who hurt you was sick, wrong, and for whatever reason they had in their own life made the decision to harm you will free your own spirit and bring the same love in the form of understanding back to you. In the second example the person who can’t seem to be helped could easily be helped by understanding life is more than who they are.

Everything Happens for a Reason

I have a love-hate relationship with this truth. In the easy times it’s a truth for me, but in the hard times it becomes a cliché, and I hate to hear it. After I’ve gone through a bad experience and been able to process it fully, taking the lesson from it, I always feel like this is true. I can see a positive purpose for the experience in my life and find meaning in the process. However, when I’m in the eye of the storm, I can’t see anything and all the pain feels meaningless. I feel like I’m suffering for no reason even though deep down I know my role in the situation and what I need to do to transform it. I think that’s human. I want passionately to believe in this though. Otherwise, why am I still alive? Why did I survive? I’ve suffered so much in my life I feel despair at the thought it could be for no reason at all. Once again, I have a choice here. I could believe in nothingness or I could have faith. I choose to have faith.

Life Is Just One Giant Classroom and We Are All Students

Some people teach. I don’t like to teach. I like to share. I have a love of learning. All my life I’ve been inquisitive and curious, a voracious reader and cautious adventurer. I like to know a little bit about everything. I like understanding how everything works. I’m most interested in the inner workings of human beings, but I’m not limited to that. I study everything thoroughly. I study myself most which makes me seem self-centered at times to those who don’t understand me, but it’s in understanding myself first that I am able to understand all other people. I take the lessons I learn about me and my own experiences and share them with others or try to use them to help others. I know human experience is universal in some ways so understanding my own life means understanding all other lives. As Socrates said, KNOW THYSELF. There’s a difference in being self-centered and being centered in your SELF.

You have to know the world doesn’t revolve around you, but also that you are your own world and cannot experience life from anyone else’s vantage point. As they say, you are uniquely you. How you choose to experience life is what makes you who you are. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be a black man. You can’t tell me what it’s like to grow up as a mixed race girl. That’s why it’s important we understand our own experiences first so we can share them later with others and create understanding among our differences. The Bible says anyone who presumes to be a teacher will be judged more harshly than the rest. I agree with that. It’s a heavy responsibility to take on when you are molding other people’s minds. If you are going to put yourself above others in a place of authority, be prepared for some scrutiny. I am only an authority on myself. No one else. I learn as much from others, oftentimes more, than anyone could ever learn from me. My gift is in my expression and ability to share what I’ve learned from my life and from others in a way that makes sense to people.

Words to Live By

So are there any clichés that are truths in your own life? Or are there any truths that have become clichés for you through difficult times? We shouldn’t let our truths become clichés. What we believe has the power to shape and change who we are. Finding a positive message that fits your life, becomes your anthem, and drives you can make all the difference. God is in all things and can use all things to speak into our lives. Whether you find inspiration in a book of faith, a proverb, a poem, a conversation with a friend, a saying on a t-shirt or a song, hold onto it, believe in it, and live the truth out of it.

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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      The one that I have found most meaningful in my life, I learned as a teenager. I was with a friend at an outdoor activity visiting and right before our eyes, someone in a car smashed into his vehicle, then drove away. He said something that I will never forget, "This, too, shall pass." It was the first time that I heard it, and it has been a theme throughout my life. Any time something bad happens, I hear that cliché, and I am able to get through it.

    • maramerce profile image
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      maramerce 3 years ago from United States

      Haha, oh my gosh Denise, I was just saying that to myself the other day. Yes, that's a good one. I think I use it everyday!

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