Inspirational quotes and how stupid they can be

The other day (I think it was yesterday, but the days and nights are starting to blur together – what comes of sleeping at 3am) I read what some spiritual leader sincerely thought was an inspiring, honest, maybe even an obvious statement.

I don’t remember the exact words now, but in effect it said that if you achieve something easily, if you don’t need to struggle/suffer for it, it cheapens the victory; it becomes as purposeless a success as if you don’t get a reward at the end.

It was worded much better. But essentially, that’s what it said. And I was looking at it, trying to figure out what in the world the matter is with this white-bearded “wise man”.

Because basically, he’s saying that suffering validates success.

He’s saying that you don’t get to feel the pride of the pure, clean aliveness that is victory, unless you first drag yourself through the slime.

I looked at that inspirational quote, and thought that only a man who’s never once suffered to achieve an ideal could think like that.

The first time, before you take on something big and important – yeah, OK, you may want to suffer. It’s understandable. You want to pay tribute to the ideal you’re fighting for, and nothing is more important than your own blood, sweat and tears. So the idealistic innocent in you insists that suffering is an important part of dedicating yourself to the Cause.

Then you realise, suffering is really, really annoying.

This doesn’t mean you aren’t willing to put in your fair share, and more, of effort. If the cause is big enough, you’re still willing to die for what you believe in. If you need to stay up till 4am to work on your magnum opus, you will.

But you do this in spite of the fact that you’re suffering while you’re doing it. Not because you are.

There’s a war described in The Wheel of Time (great series, if you haven’t read it you really should – last part’s coming out Fall this year, and I can’t wait!). People who weren’t there, call it the Aiel War and speak of the glory the soldiers and generals won in beating back the enemy. People who were, call it the Blood Snow. They know it was a war. They know there was destruction. They know that at the end of the day, their success, their glory, was tainted by all that blood on the snow – friends, compatriots, lost.

That’s what suffering does to success. It creates a terrible memory that never leaves the victory.

I’m not saying, and never will say, that the victory is not worth the suffering. It usually is, and sacrifices invariably have to be made for the end result. I just wish that wise men who ought to know better wouldn’t go around praising, of all terrible slimy horrible things in the world, suffering.

Another book to be recommended, in the context of suffering and success, is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Read about Howard Roark’s struggle to become an architect. No one could call that easy. He suffered. But he doesn’t think of it that way at all. To him, every drop of sweat shed in the process of reaching his goal was worthwhile, required and right. And since it was his effort getting him to his goal, it wasn’t a sacrifice, or suffering, or even a struggle. It was advance payment.

Since joy is more important an emotion than sorrow, future joy is more important than present sorrow. Which means that the end is more important than the means, that it doesn’t matter what route you take to reach the goal – full of suffering, short and fast, whatever. Unless you sell out en route, buying ease of travel by selling your ideal, you end up at the same destination which gives you the same happiness, by all paths.

Think about it. Would you rather go Chennai-Bangalore straight down the Golden Quadrilateral, or bypass the bypasses and drive through every village on the way? Would you rather struggle to reach and feel proud of yourself for having overcome so many obstacles, or would you rather reach easily and safely and feel proud of yourself for having succeeded in style?

I say it again, there’s nothing wrong with suffering for a cause. The problem arises when people assume that without suffering, a cause is worthless – or that to validate a cause, they must, somehow, anyhow, suffer.

Either way, it’s not the suffering or the success or even the philosophy that annoyed me about that inspirational life quote. It was the fact that people might actually live by it – not realising that these sayings are often really, really, really stupid.

Posted in Random | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Inspirational quotes and how stupid they can be

  1. Smita says:

    Hi!! Good one! :D

    I always get irritated when people quote quotes without even thinking about them. Like they are superstitious beliefs which people follow without thinking. People have come to see suffering and hardship as a kind of medal. Only if you have that ribbon are the rest of your achievements worth something. Otherwise, you might have as well purchased it from In and Out.

    The war (yet to read the series) para reminded me of something from an article which I had read a few days back. A war correspondent, when he returns home, people ask him, ‘What’s the worst thing you’ve seen?’ He replies, ‘You haven’t earned the right to know.’

    Here is the link if you want to read it:

    I’m reading The Fountainhead right now. Till now, it has been really good. Will let you know how I find it.

    Just wanted to give the above comment. :)

    • Priya K says:

      Hi Smita, thanks for leaving your comment here! Yes, I’ve seen that tendency to praise suffering too – though I’ve never thought of it as “buying a ribbon from In & Out” (excellent turn of phrase by the way)!

      The Fountainhead is an incredible book. Absolutely marvellous story. Changed my life. Only things more miraculously mind-changing were Atlas Shrugged and the Anna Hazare movement! :)

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