Would you buy a used inspiration from these people?

Posted on July 22, 2009

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elizabeth_taylor8.jpg image by liztaylor1932

Ms Taylor reveals the secrets to a long and happy marriage.

I guess it’s no secret I’m a bit antagonistic towards “inspirational quotes” — those half-truths and bad analogies that comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.

Take, for instance, the perennial favourite: “You can do anything you set your mind to.

Without question, the people who succeed have generally done so by believing in themselves (although the number who have fluked into their success is not insignificant), but really — are we to believe that those who win the Olympic gold are the only ones who truly “set their minds to it” while all the others were just having a laugh? Could Shirley Temple have become World Heavy Weight Boxing Champion if she’d had the proper incentive? Were six million Jews put to death in concentration camps because they weren’t being positive enough in their outlook?

Uh-huh. Sure.

But as questionable as these inspirational messages are on their own, they can become downright surreal when we look at the people uttering them.

The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”

Now that’s a straightforward and appealing sentiment. Forget about planning and preparation — just do it. (Hey. “Just do it.” That could be a good advertising slogan for something. Condoms maybe?)

Anyway, the point is that this particular quote comes straight from the mouth of Amelia Earhart.

Remember her? The woman who set out to fly around the world, relying on her guts and determination, while ignoring the many people who told her that she needed more practice and better equipment?

The woman who was never seen again?

Is this really the person whose advice about putting action above preparation we want to be taking? Would we look to Woody Allen for child-rearing suggestions, or pester Elizabeth Taylor for guidance on how to have a long and happy marriage?

The power of positive thinking.”

This phrase comes from Norman Vincent Peale, the master of positive thought,  whose book by that title was only published after the number of rejections he’d received caused him to give up and throw the manuscript in the wastebasket. His wife, who tried to retrieve it, was told to leave it where it was. Not wanting to disobey her husband, she took the wastebasket, with the manuscript still in it, to another publisher who decided to print it.

Perhaps the title should have been changed to, The Power of Defeatist Thinking.

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

I guess everyone knows that this one comes from Thomas Edison.

What he failed to mention was that in his case, both the inspiration and perspiration were supplied by other people.

Heinrich Goebel invented a light bulb in 1854 and tried to sell it to Edison — who refused, saying he couldn’t see any practical use for it. Shortly after Goebel died, however, Edison bought the patent from Goebel’s widow. It was a good deal: she was on the verge of poverty and he got it at a bargain basement price.

A year before Edison’s own “invention” of the light bulb, Joseph Wilson Swan already had a usable, working model. In true genius fashion, Edison first made Swan a partner, then bought him out. This put all title and documents firmly in the care of the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” allowing Edison’s claim to go uncontested (although the patent office wasn’t fooled, and the only patent he ever got regarding the light bulb was for an improved tungsten filament).

Another Edison quote I enjoy is his self-satisfied boast: “I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill.”

I guess he just kind of forgot about the electric chair.

A shame really. It was one of the few things he actually invented.

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