Thursday, August 30, 2007

Making Cliches Meaningful Again

You remember: Your high school English teacher warned you against using cliches, and so you rewrote those papers carefully editing out those hackneyed phrases, lest she come at them with a red pen. Now, we're adults, and cliche-free, right? Sadly, no. Think about all the well-intentioned yet substance-free goals we adults set for ourselves, (and yes, many of these are from my own life-script): I want to be a better parent. I want to deal with racism. I want to find balance. I'm looking for a soul mate. I want to be healthier. I want to be less stressed out. I want to feel better about myself.

All good ideas, yes, but the problem is they're so over-used, they've lost their meaning. Yet, these cliches can be meaningful again if you follow my English teacher husband's advice: Specific is terrific. If, for example, your goal is to be healthier, how will you know that you are healthier than you are now? Is there a goal that can be measured, as in weighing 5 pounds less, or running a nine-minute mile? For some, outcome measurement is an important means of substantive goal-setting. For others, process is more important. In wanting to be healthier, one might join a softball team or sign up for a yoga class. The specifics giving the cliche meaning will depend on the person, but if they are helpful in moving one toward a life intention, all are terrific.

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