Quiet desperation: On slogans, criticism and self-talk

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden. Some people use this quote as a motivation to work toward quitting their jobs or getting out of bad relationships. Others scoff at it and say, “This from a man who ran away from society and wrote a book about it.”

Most of us are our own worst critics. Our self-criticism may or may not be well-considered, the same as any bragging we do. Humility is as important in noting our downfalls as it is in noting our accomplishments.

When Thoreau writes about quiet desperation, he might be offering you or me or any of his other readers a tidbit. Or he might be reminding himself, spurring himself forward. However you struggle in this situation, it’s better than living a life of quiet desperation.

It’s the same if you see someone wearing a t-shirt with a self-help motivational slogan. Stay hard. Discipline equals freedom. Nobody cares; work harder. Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. The shirt is for them, not for you.

If you see it and have a visceral reaction, maybe you want to take a peek inside and see why it hurts so much to read it.


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