Inspirational quotes are seemingly sound morsels of advice, but are in fact isolated and out of context. We cling to them because we seek immediate reassurance or prompt revelation. In inspirational quotes, we look for those things that we want to continue to tell ourselves and that ease us of the pain of confronting our truth and not the truth of others. These quotes are cycled through our culture, exhibited on social media, repurposed (eg. Keep Calm and …), and even modified. Some of them are misattributed widely. For example, you may have seen the following: “Well-behaved women seldom make history” and various thereof. The quote is often attributed to Marilyn Monroe and others, but was actually originally written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in 1976.
The world of inspirational quotes is monoselective, preferring to focus on a singular portion of text because it appears accessible. Quotes like these are taken for themselves, without consideration of the original context in which they were used. They are misappropriated at times, and even transfigured and placed into categories and settings that do not agree with their original placement. But the greatest damage is not perhaps that these quotes are cherry-picked and shoved around. It’s that they are a means by which people seek to rest their case. When used in other texts, those that do not account for the context of the original quote do the quote and its author a disservice and potentially, misconstrued sense of reputation.
Inspirational quotes are the candy bar of intellectualism.
The fizz and spark of inspirational quotes may linger on the palate of some, but for others, the heart-pummeling and surge of confidence quickly escape. They are quick to ingest and may leave an aftertaste. But they offer minimal substance, again because they are decontextualized. Their popularity is likely due to the ease with which people can grab and chew them. In our culture, we use the words of great figures without reading their work. We begin to associate people simply through recognition of a phrase used in popular culture. They linger through bumper stickers and sudden posts on Instagram. We repurpose them to our liking, and to our own contexts. We do so sometimes without understanding the weight of the words in their original space.
As with many things in our culture, we seek immediacy. Inspirational quotes serve to instantaneously satiate readers. We seek no further explanation and contextual information. The inspirational quote takes the meaning that we give it, no matter how distorted it is from the source. When we make our meanings so granular, we fail to develop a proper narrative around our goals and intentions. If we seek lasting motivation, we need to find purpose in ourselves and not in the floating, disconnected words of others.