Illustration: Wenting Li
They may have meant well, but here's why you should forget these five pieces of advice your mother or grandmother gave you.
Growing up, many of us were offered advice that had been handed down from generation to generation. We were practically spoon-fed (or perhaps force-fed) pearls of wisdom as sacrosanct as Grandma's trifle recipe. These laws were so inviolable, so intricately woven into the fabric of the family that they weren't questioned. Some were fairly benign: "Things have a way of working out." Others were so outrageous, so ludicrously outdated that they became discarded sitcom fodder: "Children are meant to be seen and not heard." But there is a host of other aphorisms of the far more dangerous ilk, neither simply benign nor blatantly absurd, which have insidiously worked their way into our collective unconscious. These are the sayings that have become the background music of our lives, the discordant notes to which we march without question. I'm asking each of you to turn up the volume for a second and to really listen. These five expressions should be taken with a grain of salt.
5 old adages better left unsaid:
1. "People don't change."
Actually, yes, they do—every day. If people didn't change, therapists like me would be unemployed. I have witnessed incredible transformations as people recognize unhealthy patterns, uncover self-limiting beliefs and choose to think and do differently. Perpetuating the myth that people are incapable of change is a dangerous form of discouragement that takes away not only an individual's determination to change but also society's collective capacity to evolve.
2. "Live without regrets."
This one is sneaky. Its intention is good, asking us to behave honourably. A regret, after all, is something we wish had never happened. But what's lurking behind this sinister catchphrase is the notion that failures are to be ashamed of and avoided. What if, instead, we learned to see failures not as sources of shame but stepping stones? What if, rather than banning regrets, we embraced forgiveness? Then, regrets would become lessons learned.
3. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
There may have been a time when zipping it was the right thing to do; that time is not now. Many of us are so timid in the face of confrontation that "Turn the other cheek" has reached a new level—it's bystander apathy. The solution is not silence or aggression. Somewhere in the middle lies assertion. Let's aim for that.
4. "Life isn't fair."
This is one I heard a lot in my childhood, and it has always confounded me. As someone who is a champion for just causes, I don't know what to make of it. Are we expected to lie down and take whatever misfortunes come our way? I'll say it again: Apathy is a problem. If we must have a bumper-sticker slogan, a better, more socially interested one is this: Pick your battles.
5. "My house, my rules."
I hear this a lot from parents when they can't get kids to cooperate. It's a last resort characterized by top-down tyranny. But we're raising children to live in a democracy, not a dictatorship. If we want children to have an appreciation for disparate points of view, for the give-and-take of social living, we need to model it by respecting their rights and giving them a voice. That starts at home.