“Look at the glass half full.”
“Every cloud has a silver lining.”
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
How many times have you heard these clichés? A lot? Too much, perhaps? Yes, me too.
If you’re a native English speaker, you may not even think about it when you use a phrase like this. I know I don’t all the time! On the other hand, if English isn’t your first language, these clichés (often also idioms that make no sense if you take them literally) are something you may have struggled with.
Have you thought about what clichés really mean, though? Have you thought about how they could be useful? We often don’t – instead, we write them off.
“How can a cliché possibly be useful?” you ask? “They’re just so… clichéd.”
Exactly! Clichés are easily recognizable and understood, but when we use them too much, they lose their ‘oomph.’ Overusage makes it common and makes us start to roll our eyes or lose interest in what we’re reading. They’re something we’ve heard a zillion times…
But before a phrase became a cliché, it was a truth commonly known. Think about that for a second…
“Look at the glass half full,” means to look at something positively, to dig for the goodness in something. To choose, despite everything around us, to focus on the best. Is this commonly known and practiced?
“All that glitters isn’t gold,” means to be wary of things that look nice or appealing but that are, in reality, fake and likely hazardous. It means to be watchful and aware and to think critically about what we see. Is this commonly known and practiced?
“Jesus lives in my heart.” How about this good ol’ church cliché? It’s talking about how Jesus exists at the core of who we are, that He is a crucial part of what makes us who we are. Is this commonly known and acted upon?
When something is cliché, I’ve noticed how many people (myself included) just stop listening, because it’s something we’re familiar with. In fact, I can’t tell you how many times people have rolled their eyes at me because I shared an overly-gooey-yet-true sentiment – a likely clichéd sentiment – but I refuse to let that stop me!
That doesn’t mean I’m just going to go around all the day long, using clichés willy-nilly, all pie-in-the-sky-like, and make everyone read between the lines with everything I say until they get their knickers in a knot.
That would be terrible, wouldn’t it?
We also wouldn’t want to overlook something just because it is clichéd, right?
Take the song this series is named after, “What a Wonderful World.” It doesn’t matter if that song sounds clichéd because the words still sing true. Being a cliché doesn’t make it any less true.
Going back to this idea of optimism, of looking at a glass half-full, and of purposefully looking at life through rose-tinted glasses, this could be passed off as clichéd naiveté to some, but it was first known as truth. Before we started to say it so much it lost its meaning, maybe we knew better the value of optimism. Maybe it was more commonly known before.
Maybe you are optimistic and you’re full of skittles and smiles, and though people accuse you of being clichéd, you know what you know deep down. Maybe you’re unsure because you used to be positive, but then things happened in life that made you think otherwise, that made you doubt that you were enough, that made you wonder whether the world truly was wonderful. Maybe hearing others talking about “thinking positive” makes you roll your eyes and inwardly scream, “Cliché!” and you can’t really imagine how people could possibly believe in looking for stuff that you know from first-hand experience doesn’t exist.
You could have any one of those opinions/beliefs, or somewhere in between, and I would understand, as much as I could. I haven’t been where anyone else has been. That also means that no one else has been where I have been. We’ve all experienced things to one degree or another that have made it more difficult to instantly envision or to try and live out, something like that song, and something like this verse:
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Always be joyful,” always look for the goodness in life, always search out the ways life is wonderful: I’d say those are pretty parallel things. The idea of positivity, of joy, is still true. There’s still something to it, because of Jesus.
Some might call that a Sunday school answer and y’know what? It is. I won’t be ashamed of that. I learned that answer long ago, and have gone back to it countless times since when things got murky and hopeless, and that answer was the only thing that dug me back out.
It is a simple answer – even clichéd to some – but it’s easily recognizable and understood, and a truth commonly known. This is one “cliché” you can’t wear out.
Now isn’t that ‘a good rule of thumb?’
And so I write to you, “What a Wonderful World!”