The Definition of Insanity is Believing in Pity Quotes — 10 Quotes That Make No Practical Sense
Growing up, I was one of those precocious kids who loved to sound wiser than my years on earth. I was (and still am) a Ben Franklin geek. As I grew older (and a little bit wiser), my enthusiasm for quoting people piqued.
Back in the 90s, I was working in my studio and chatting with a few employees, when the quote by Albert Einstein came up. You’ve heard it a million times. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
“Well, hold up a minute! That’s not really true!” The sound came from across the room, where a young Iranian woman (our newest graphic designer) chimed in. I’m sure she opined a bit differently from my recollection, but no matter.
She questioned my wisdom.
“Einstein never said that.” She continued.
“It was attributed to him but also to a lot of other people.” She continued as all eyes turned to her desk. I was intrigued, she continued.
The normally quiet designer in the corner enlightened us on the value of repetition for developing fine motor skills in everything from drawing to cooking.
Then, as a coup de grace, she hit us with, “Let’s take a moment to recognize that what the quote refers to as insanity aligns, in the realm of quantum theory, with the very essence of how our universe operates.”
“In the realm of quantum mechanics, performing the same action multiple times can yield a variety of outcomes. In fact, this fundamental concept serves as the foundation for the operation of impressive high-energy particle colliders.”
Ok, I’m writing this from a faulty memory of a conversation from the early 90s. Don’t send me Reddit-style corrections about the science. Go ask a theoretical physicist.
It did get me thinking over the weekend about many other quotes that hit pop culture and, over time, became “pop-wisdom”. The problem with pop-wisdom is that it gets handed down and lodges in our belief system.
Here are a few gold nuggets that we’ve taken as gospel and, on reflection, may not be worthy of praise, practice, or repetition.
10 Popular Quotes That May Not Be Wise
Here are a few quotes that, upon closer examination, reveal some logical inconsistencies or paradoxes:
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Now, we know that adversity can lead to growth and resilience, but not all challenges result in a positive outcome. There are lots of things that can leave you weakened and disabled, both mentally and physically, for the rest of your life. Lead poisoning is a perfect example.
This quote, attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, should never be taken literally. Too many people use it to avoid getting help or taking action to remedy a crappy situation.
Stay strong in the face of adversity, but don’t justify accepting the status quo. Bad situations can be overcome when you seek and get the right assistance and treatment.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
The purpose of having cake is usually to eat it, so the phrase seems contradictory. The saying should really be, “You can’t eat your cake and still be in possession of it.”
But hear me out for a second… What if you had your cake and then gave thanks for the past event every day? You’re reliving that joyful experience without the calories.
Studies on gratitude have shown some amazing things going on in the human brain.
Modern psychologists like Robert A. Emmons have spent years studying the physical and mental effects of gratitude. They’ve found that the daily practice of gratitude has profound positive effects on health, emotional resilience, depression, and anxiety, as well as relationships.
Go ahead, eat your cake, and make the feeling last a lifetime by practicing gratitude daily.
“Ignorance is bliss.”
While not knowing certain truths might bring temporary comfort, ignorance can also lead to bad decisions, missed opportunities, and worse.
Deciding not to know won’t stop the freight train from barreling down the tracks and off the rails.
That drunken hookup you had last night left you with an itching, burning feeling? Go ahead and ignore it.
Your “bliss” is going to be short-lived.
“Money is the root of all evil.”
The full quote from St. Paul in the Bible is “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” Money itself is a neutral object; it’s attachment and obsession that can lead to negative outcomes.
Paul was not talking about wealthy people who use their resources to help those around them; instead, he was criticizing those who pursue wealth for its own sake.
When nothing else matters but getting paid, some folks will do anything. Don’t be that person.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
While events might have causes, not all events have a clear purpose or meaning. In the grand scheme of things, we are specks on a planet that is itself a speck in a galaxy that’s a speck in the universe.
We can only speculate on the nature of reality from our extremely limited perspective. Too much?
On a positive note, we can take this maxim and use it to our advantage when we need to re-center ourselves. Faith is built on this principle.
It can go sideways when we use this as an excuse to do nothing about situations that urgently need fixing or, worse, to stop others from taking much-needed action.
“The more you learn, the less you know.”
While learning can reveal the extent of one’s ignorance, it also expands knowledge and understanding. The idea that we get more ignorant as we learn is not the meaning of that maxim.
As I’ve mentioned before, we live on a tiny speck in a tiny universe. We can develop a greater appreciation for what we don’t know as we continue to learn new things every day.
Never stop learning; it’s good for your brain.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
This is complete and utter bunk. Everyone, regardless of age, has the potential to expand their knowledge and skill set through study and practice. Being an old fogey, I do have trouble mastering even fundamentals like Python programming. However, I’m way better at it now than I was a year ago.
“All’s fair in love and war.”
Poet John Lyly coined the phrase "The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war" as the original source for this idiom. In a fantasy world, there are no moral or ethical constraints; it appears that anything goes when it comes to finding love or resolving conflict.
Nope, not in our reality. This might be appropriate for the 16th-century nobility, but don’t try using that line as a defense in court today.
“The more, the merrier.”
The adage "the more, the merrier" sums up our consumption-focused society perfectly. When more people participate, the experience improves. Having more of something is preferable.
It was a popular saying that was used to invite someone to join in on the fun, with the implication that they could fit right in.
While this might be true for some situations, it doesn’t account for scenarios where an excessive number of participants could lead to chaos or discomfort.
Remember that other famous maxim: “Two’s company, three’s a crowd?”
Enjoy Your Quotation Fixation
I’m a big quotation geek. However, I’ve learned to take them with a grain of salt and not center my belief system around them.
Most of us are constantly on the lookout for ways to make life easier and less complicated. We can get caught up in the need for certainty.
Popular sayings are meant to communicate an overarching theme or perspective rather than be taken as gospel.
“Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.”
— Oscar Wilde or Summerset Maugham
I love spouting quotes. It makes me look smarter than I am. I also appreciate the value of being corrected. That actually makes me smarter.
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