Lips shut tightly, one eyebrow slightly raised. I remember the look on the face of my friend, when she told me a bout a setback in her personal life, and capped off her story with this old adage. It was strangely condescending, self-righteous, even patronizing. We are no longer friends, and haven’t been for quite some time, but I still vividly recall this sentence from her, many years after our different courses in life lead us apart. She had many more of those – supposed – snippets of wisdom at her disposal. The way I experience it, it’s one of the advantages of accumulating years on this planet – i.e. growing older – that you get the opportunity to critically question things, people and values. The world changes, and so do we. At some point we realize that our parents are not always right, and neither are our teachers, professors or bosses.
We second-guess what we are confronted with, we develop our critical faculties, and sometimes we learn to accept.
But what about our inner doctrines? We hold dogmatic convictions that have taken such deep root in us that we no longer second guess their influence on our thinking and behavior. Do the values we live by even still apply to us? Or have we long outgrown them, maybe without ever fully realizing that we did so?
Wherever you’re at in your personal life, now is a good time to update your inner dogmas, to cast out some outlived values, and to make room for new truths: positive doctrines.
“Cobbler, stick to your last.” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
This one’s incredibly demotivating, and just plain wrong. At some point the consensus was that once certain synaptic connections have formed in our brown they are set for good, but science has long established that the brain is a highly malleable organ, with the elasticity to change over and over again. With the right kind of mental exercise, the right diet and a generally healthy lifestyle you preserve the capacity to learn new ways no matter what your age is. You just need to want it and believe in it. Age is far less crucial than motivation, when it comes to learning. Maybe I’ll learn how to play the piano, when I’m retired, or maybe I’ll be a yoga master in my old days. It’s never too late!
With that in mind, I compiled my top 5 list of negative doctrines for you, that I have personally left behind, and hopefully for good.
“Life’s not a bowl of cherries” or “Life’s not a picnic”
Few doctrines are as deeply rooted in me as this one. For as long as I remember, I was confronted with dogmatic statements along those lines. Ultimately it kept me small. I never fully understood back in the day how fatal this outlook on life really is. The phrase is dressed up so innocently, it seems to make sense, doesn’t seem particularly strict either. It may even be helpful to take that stance in some situations, but that’s exactly what makes it tricky as well. The point is, if you build your life thinking it is not (and cannot be) a bowl of cherries, you’re setting yourself up for an existence on this planet devoid of sweetness. Ultimately, you’re also letting others decide what you can and can’t have.
What’s wrong with wishing for things in life? Why should wishes not sometimes come true? Why does life necessarily need to be difficult and frustrating? Shouldn’t it be the opposite? Something like a bowl of cherries?
It goes without saying that we can’t control every twist and turn of life. Much, if not most of it is outside of our power to influence. But wishes, and the capacity to convert those wishes into goals we aspire to, are crucial for a happy, fulfilled life. If we disallow our wishes, we neglect happiness. I want life to be sweet, and my wishes are attuned to that goal.
“You need to suffer to be beautiful.”
This particular doctrine sounds to me as if it suggests that there is no such thing as natural beauty. In fact, the opposite is true! I tend to get much more compliments when I’m out with little or no make-up at all, and get much warmer responses when I opt for jeans and sneakers instead of mini and high-heels. As we get older, the question arises: are those of us who undergo countless surgical procedures really more beautiful than those who age with dignity and a natural acceptance of the stages of life? Isn’t the obsession with our looks what actually deepens our wrinkles in the first place? I believe that beauty stems in no small part from discipline: regular exercise, a healthy diet, lots of sleep and plenty of love for yourself. If there’s one thing that I can’t see in the universal recipe for beauty, then it’s pain.
“Talk is silver, silence is golden”
If you’ve known (or read) me for a while, you’re aware that I have never really held this to be a truth for me. I probably won’t change in this regard anymore, either. I honestly believe that silence and passiveness is one of the largest problems in our society. We live in a democracy, which means we all have a voice – and we should make it count. We should be much more courageous to break the silence and talk more with each other. We should share what moves us, what hopes we have for the future, and what we like in life. And I don’t mean empty blabbering, I’m talking about the quality of dialogue in our lives.
The supreme discipline, the golden way, is to be able to listen to one another, to meet each other on eye-level, and if necessary to admit that we’re wrong. Which brings me to an adage I actually believe to be quite helpful:
“To err is human.”
“Business before pleasure.”
This is a belief I am confronted with very frequently in my life. Work needs to be hard and tedious, to really be work and worthy of payment.
What utter nonsense! Why should I spend a large part of my life doing something that gives me no pleasure whatsoever?
Of course, every job has aspects that are less enjoyable, that’s just natural. But as a blanket statement, “business before pleasure” makes no sense to me at all.
I love my job, and really enjoy being active in my line of work, and that brings with it that many people consider what I do especially easy.
So, yeah, these were the top 5 negative doctrines I successfully banished from my thinking and from my life. Which old dogmas do you think could do with an update in your lives and thoughts?