The 21st Century’s Alarming, Yet Useful Epidemic of Triteness

I am just going to say it outright. I am so tired of trite social media status updates that sound like one long reason for individuals to be self-centered and not take responsibility for their actions. How many times during one day, must people post status updates that disavow responsibility for how they are perceived by others and put the onus on the perceiver as a maladaptive person. Do you know what I mean?  It almost appears that we have a society of walking wounded life soldiers who in trying to fix themselves readily cast blame onto others.  These are individuals that believe they are being true and authentic onto themselves; the ones that will say they are put on this earth to make themselves happy and can’t worry about what other’s think of them as a result. I get it. It is a mass attempt to protect and enhance self-esteem. But it seems that it is psychology 101 on overdrive. These are probably the same people who post love song lyrics, such as:

Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am home again
Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am whole again

Without the angst, irony and goth makeup to be somewhat interesting.


When I was growing up, we were taught at large by society that when we broke up with a significant other we would say “it’s not you, it’s me.”  It was a way to help that person save face. Why prolong the misery and who could argue with you taking the blame for a breakup?  Now, do you really think that is the script for the majority of the breakups? More often than not, it probably goes “sorry, it’s you, not me.”  That would be the more self-empowering statement, would it not?

I was recently on a teleconference call where I unfortunately had laryngitis. A colleague assisted me by being on the call and reading out loud my notes and comments to the group. At one point, one of the members of the group went on for various minutes pontificating on the usefulness and need for communities to be taken into consideration when it came to the varying funding streams. I was foaming at the mouth at my inability to fully answer her trite statements. I wrote out my response passing it on to my colleague asking her to speak my thoughts.  I wrote that the conversation was bordering on the “trite and didn’t really move the dialogue forward.” My colleague looked aghast. Not because she was shocked that I would dare to call someone out on their bullshit but that I wanted her to pick up the mike, sort of speak. She found a polite, tactful way of putting my thoughts out there. But all I could do was shake my head. If we cannot call people out when they are being trite, then one day our heads will explode from all the helium. At some point, you got to try to evolve from being Stuart Smiley to something a bit more self-critical.

Of course, we also have the extreme other opposite as well. For example, have you seen the status updates that say “No one can make you feel bad without your consent.”   I take offense at that statement. There are plenty of evil people out there that we cannot take responsibility for. The above quote is a take on Eleanor Roosevelt’s statement of “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  Hmm. Really? Have we not heard of slavery?  More often than not, it will be a privileged person who has access to resources making such a statement; which tends to remind me of the ubiquitous irony-filled lamenting of “first world” problems.  You know what I am talking about. Problems such as when you have to find a last minute replacement for your sick nanny because you are scheduled to attend a function later that day.

Whether the statements blame others or blame one as a person, the world is filled with “tritisms”. I know someone who left facebook because she could not take all the faux words of wisdom that often tried to hide narcissism or rage.  She didn’t feel that she should be getting life lessons one trite status quote at a time.

If you are having a hard time thinking of the last time you came across a trite motivational statement just look at your past week’s email inbox. I can bet a hundred dollars you got one of those trite messages. For starters, what about those signature lines? Some emails include personal sayings that the writer thinks are clever or profound.  My signature says my name, my title and how you can reach me. Many other people however have pearls of wisdom such as “I didn’t cross the border, it crossed me.” Really?  Some warn of the end of times. I once received an email reply that had the following signature “Everything is always okay in the end, if it’s not, then it’s not the end.” I recall the first time I saw such a signature line I was actually frightened, thinking my colleague was in trouble. I reread the email realizing it was just a pithy, individualizing statement. Of course you always have the generic “save the trees, think twice about printing out this email” signature message. Here’s my suggested email signature response to that: “Save time… see it my way.”

Just in case you are still wondering what can be considered a trite statement here is a list of synonyms for the word trite: banal, hackneyed, clichéd, platitudinous, vapid, commonplace, overdone, tired, stale, and how about already said and misunderstood.   We do not only have our emails and social media to blame for being bombarded with trite messages. We have our non-leader leaders as well to blame. Nowadays many speeches from our leaders are old quotes from people who were truly revolutionary. It seems there are barely any original statements being uttered anymore. Interesting (non-cuckoo), non-banal statements from Boehner, Bachman or even Obama? Seems all our leaders do these days is quote those who actually got stuff done way back when.

But is it all bad to remember the great statements of yore? According to renowned author Jorge Luis Borges, “Life itself is a quotation.” Is not our every waking moment a platitude or life lesson learned?  For some people life is a living embodiment of taking life day by day and triteness by triteness.

What is all wisdom save a collection of platitudes?

Take fifty of our current proverbial sayings—they are so trite, so threadbare, that we can hardly bring our lips to utter them.

None the less they embody the concentrated experience of the race, and the man who orders his life according to their teaching cannot go far wrong.

How easy that seems! Has anyone ever done so? Never. Has any man ever attained to inner harmony by pondering the experience of others?

Not since the world began! He must pass through the fire. ~Norman Douglas, South Wind, 1921

Sometimes we need to reaffirm our past and regurgitate words in order for them to attain an ounce of meaning. Philip Hamerton noted back in 1873, in the treatise called the Intellectual Life “have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted, than when we read it in the original author?”   It is a fairly common cognitive mechanism in that repetition hardens belief in the statement. Perhaps Stuart Smiley was indeed onto something. Triteness is a double-headed beast that will remain a part of our collective being going forward.

I leave you with these words of wisdom from the Rocky Horror Picture Show:  Don’t dream it, be it.  And can I add, stop writing it….

11 replies »

  1. I agree. What especially irks me is when people quote “wisdom” from famous people, as though the celebrity status gives the quote merit or truth. The best example of this would be the trite quotes from Marilyn Monroe that girls often post on FB to justify their selfish behavior:

    “I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I’m out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

    Marilyn Monroe was a beautiful woman and a good actress, but I’m not sure it’s the smartest thing for someone to take life advice from a woman who destroyed relationships and was so unhappy with her life that she killed herself.

    While there may be some truth that someone should accept us as we are in relationships, that doesn’t let us off the hook for bad behavior. Everybody has flaws, but we must actively work to fix our hurtful behavior. People need to stop using trite quotes to justify bad behavior.


  2. Oh My Goodness! I was JUST thinking about this a few hours ago! Particularly the part about “No one can make you feel…” and “It’s not you, it’s me…”
    I do believe I will write about this in the coming weeks, because it has been plaguing my mind. Do I even need to say how much I enjoyed this post?


  3. Couldn’t agree more. The only problem with calling people out on their “triteness” is that overall these vapid narcissists that try to offer pseudo-meaningful, half understood quotes from original thinkers, do not respond to criticism. In fact most people will completely ignore constructive criticism because the foundation of character that the a fore mentioned narcissists generally posses, will always allow themselves to excuse it as “he/she doesn’t know me, therefore their opinion is invalid” or, become confrontational. in either case (I’m sure there are plenty more excuses) the whole point behind calling someone out, to correct the triteness, is lost in the shuffle of bruised egos and outright refusal to self evaluate. More often than not it’s easier to manipulate people into a mindset where they can self evaluate by using honeyed words and suggestions. I prefer to use the stick rather than the carrot myself, but truth is that more often than not calling someone out is really just an excuse for one to let off a little steam in the form of truth. You can’t possibly expect to change a stranger’s love of the trite on a stranger basis.


    • Omg. I so agree. I have another post on how critical feedback is hard for most to swallow. We were just talking at work about how we can move people in a certain way…thanks for sharing 🙂


  4. I have blocked quite a few people from my Facebook feed for this very reason. I can’t handle the endless stream of “inspirational” quotes, usually typed in papyrus or some equally offensive typeface over what is surely a hijacked image from somebody else’s Flickr account. And the best part is that it’s usually the pople I know who are the most screwed up who post these things. It’s interesting that outlets like FB allow people to project themselves in a way not formerly possible. They post only what reflects how they want other people to perceive them – in no small way they are crafting their online selves. They want people to think they are wise, enlightened, or what-have-you, so they post trite snippets from people the world considers to have had these attributes. It is a natural by-product of the increasing self-empowerment culture you mention. It is also, in my opinion, a culture of self-absorption. Sigh.


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