Quote, unquote

Someone just e-mailed me a list of inspirational quotes. Leaving aside the obvious implication that I am personally in need of inspiration, I must say it’s an interesting document. “If you are going through hell, keep going,” Winston Churchill is supposed to have said. Nice. Henry Ford has an entry too: “Whether you think that you can or that you can’t, you are usually right.” Oooh. Sweet. And what about Gandhi? “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Top of the range stuff. The point of lists like these, I suppose, is to comfort the average nobody (me, say) who rarely needs to lead a nation or found an industry, but who is forever losing his keys. A comforting word from a historical great, so the theory goes, can see you skip safely past the myriad tiny thumb tacks that are strewn across the carpet of everyday life. That’s all well and good, admirable even, but it doesn’t bloody work. You read the quotes, every one a winner, and you start to feel worse. It’s all right for Winston Churchill, you hear yourself thinking. He never had to leave a movie back when it was lashing rain. The problem, it seems, is that big ideas just don’t scale down very well. Mind you, they probably knew all that themselves, these historical greats. Gandhi may well have had lots of startling things to say about the human struggle for self-worth, but I bet you couldn’t stick him when he got a stone in his flip-flop for the tenth time that morning.

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