I Feel Your Pain and Other Annoying Comments

Work smarter, not harder? It is what it is?
Work smarter, not harder? It is what it is?

By Judy Berman

A slow, persistent pain began to crawl across my brow and down to my neck.

My friend, Bob, asked if I was OK. I confessed that a friend’s troubles caused me to flash back to a bad experience.

“I have empathy. But too much is not a good thing. If you have a pain, I feel it, too,” I told him.

At this point, Bob began to laugh.

“What if I have hemorrhoids?”

“Well, that would be a pain in the butt,” I said, immediately seeing the humor in the situation.

Boss: "I feel your pain, but you can't take time off work to go to the hospital."
Boss: “I feel your pain, but you can’t take time off work to go to the hospital.”

It’s about working smarter, not harder.

This got me to thinking about the meaningless platitudes we toss around to fill our comfort zone. I pondered about some of the annoying ones I’d like to turn on their ear.

After downsizing at an office I once worked at, the workload was divided among the remaining staffers.

The staff already stretched thin grumble under their breath. The manager walks by, perky and upbeat. To inspire the troops, she says patronizingly: “It’s about working smarter, not harder.”

What she implies is: “If you were smart like me, you’d figure out how to do this.”

She’s not offering any solutions on how to do the work more efficiently. Roll up your sleeves, pitch in and show us how it’s done.

Yeah, if I were smart like you, I’d be working somewhere else.

Everything happens for the best
Everything happens for the best

Everything happens for the best.

This phrase reminds me of Voltaire’s Candide. It’s the byproduct of someone who takes positive thinking too far.

Once Candide is thrown out of the baron’s castle, he leaves his idyllic life behind. Left to fend for himself, he witnesses and experiences great hardships.

Initially, he maintains his positive outlook, despite many worse-case scenarios.

Many, like Candide, believe that we live in “the best of all possible worlds,” no matter how harsh life might be. Their response is to shrug their shoulders and say “everything happens for the best.”

Your house was destroyed by a tornado? Your finances are in a shambles and you plan to live in a cardboard box under a bridge? In no time, some jokester will inevitably say: “At least you have a cardboard box. Everything happens for the best.”

This is not a reassuring statement when someone is reeling from one of life’s blows or dealing with a tragedy. It’d be better to say …

It is what it is

Actually, this is a bad idea, too. When you say “it is what it is,” that implies that you have relinquished all control of your life to the whimsy of fate.

It’s an updated version of “what will be will be.”

It’s time to take charge and dump those meaningless clichés.

Here’s a platitude I can endorse. Hunter S. Thompson, that gonzo journalist, said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Alrighty, then.

What irritating platitude gets under your skin?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Main Photo – Gorilla scratching his head. Taken by Steven Straiton, June 15, 2010. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/08/Gorilla_Scratching_Head.jpg/640px-Gorilla_Scratching_Head.jpg     (It is what it is? Work smarter, not harder?)

Photo – accident – indoors (Everything happens for the best.) May 9, 2011   http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fb/Indoor_accidents.jpg

Photo – work – accident – (translation) A man is having heart attack at work. The manager says he cannot leave, because if he allows this employee to take a half-day off work for medical reasons, then he will have to let every employee who is having a heart attack to take a half-day off.  (I feel your pain.)  Owned by: Gaspirtz http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b2/Herzanfall_am_Arbeitsplatz.jpg

  1. The use of these platitudes absolutely enrage me and I imagine most others feel the same way. I do try to contain myself as I realize that the sympathizers are only trying to express their love in this mere primitive way with words which is our best at communicating. On the other hand when talking with people in the rooms for addiction recovery I really do feel their pain as I know it very well and a legitimate bond is therein created. .

    1. In the sense of empathy, Carl, I totally agree. I can relate to what others might be going thru and worry about their well being. What I can’t understand is some have no empathy for another’s plight. They are only focused on their own worries and concerns.

  2. I remember one of my best friends going through a reorganization. Some positions would be eliminated and there was a dark cloud hanging around. No one knew who would go and who would stay. In the interim, the boss, who was more upset about the dark cloud, came in and told everyone, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Fortunately, I didn’t work there or there would have been a homicide!

    1. Kate, that comment is a subbasement level of cluelessness. The “survivors” feel like they’re under Damocles’ sword – ‘who’s going to get the ax next?’

      I recently talked with a man who has been searching for work for more than 2 years. He was frustrated with some – who have a job – and were complaining about it. Like many who are out of work, he would be delighted to switch places with them.

      1. Oh yes, I worked for a Fortune 500 company for 25 years before moving to another state. I got other jobs but the benefits did not compare to that company. When I would go back home and friends would complain about nonsense, I would suggest that they go out and look for another job. If they can find one that pays as well with good benefits AND a pension, they should leave. No one ever took me up on it. Now I have a teacher friend. Schools have been cutting back around here and many have lost their jobs. This friend has made it clear that she will do anything they want to keep her job. I consider that a good attitude in hard times. I am hoping that she does ok. She has survived three rounds of cuts because she is flexible.

        comment from earthrider to Kate Crimmins:
        This reminds me of my Mom telling me about what folks went thru during the Great Depression. She said no matter what skills were called for, job hunters said they had them. If they really didn’t, they quickly acquired them to get a job they desperately needed. In radio, I was often on the hunt for work because my job and/or others had been cut due to budget problems, format change, etc. I did learn to be flexible.

  3. You already named my major platitude-peeves.

    Summed up, what makes me cringe is whenever someone uses any blithe catch-phrase to cover up that what they really want. What they’d like to say is:

    “your pain/sadness/grief/trauma makes me uncomfortable and I don’t like feeling uncomfortable so I want you to stop being affected by the hurtful, frightening, horrid thing that you’re suffering from, or at least get out of my sight so I don’t have to consider that basic human decency demands I ought to feel some basic compassion for you and perhaps I should make a genuine effort to help or comfort you. No, I refuse to think about your needs because that’s just such an inconvenience to me.”

    1. I confess, Tracy, I have a really warped sense of humor. Your ‘what they’d like to say’ had me chuckling. It’s a sad commentary on some folk’s human nature. Or, maybe, it just hits too close to home and their real fear is: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

      1. I’m sure there is also that element of terror that one owns life could disintegrate into something very painful. (and I enjoyed your humor–sarcasm can be a good release.

        comment from earthrider to Tracy:
        Humor/sarcasm gets me thru a lot. As long as it’s not hurtful and it gets a laugh, “it’s all good.” 🙂

    1. Hysterical, timethief. I just used that one in my comment above to Tracy Lee Karner.

      I do think that saying means ‘that could be me. I’m fortunate that that is not me.’ When I see folks going thru hard times, I do recall my own experiences when there was ‘too much month at the end of the money.’ While I made it thru that period, I know some people who are overwhelmed and unable to cope when in such circumstances. It can be a devastating blow.

      Another cliche: “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” OK. I’ve used that one – guilty as charged. 🙂

  4. “Some day you’ll laugh about this” is the comment my college roommate used. She used it for oversleeping and missing a test, etc. But it became such a common, overused response that she forgot how it sounded. One day several of us were going to the student union for lunch, and we heard crying from one of the rooms. A freshman girl was face-down on her bed, sobbing because she’d just learned her grandmother had stepped off a curb, fallen and broken her femur, and was in intensive care. My roommate put her arm around the girl and assured her that she’d some day laugh about it. The grandmother died a few days later, and suddenly my roommate was at a total loss for words. Which was good, because it was what it was…and no one would speak to her.

    1. Wow! No words! which is most unusual for me. Yes, Marilyn, that had to have been very awkward.

      There are also a number of meaningless “comfort” responses that people say such as: “She’s in a better place.” “Heaven must have needed another angel.” Etc. That’s why I stick with: “I’m so sorry for your loss” and pat them in a comforting way on their arm or hand. If we’re close, I’ll also give them a comforting hug because I really do not know what to say to console any one in that situation.

  5. Judy, I’m not sure I understand what ‘senseless violence’ means. I hear it often in the news all the time. Do you know if there’s a sensible kind?

    1. Mary, the phrase “senseless violence” falls in the same category as “totally destroyed.” Just redundancy. It’s part of the cringe-worthy reporter questions that I tried to avoid. 🙂

  6. Great piece, Judy. I never like hearing, and NEVER say, that someone who died “is in a better place now.” I always think of my mom and her feelings on that when someone said that to her beside my dad’s open coffin. A better place for my dad was with us, alive and happy and well and enjoying my mom’s retirement — they had so looked forward to it. Instead, she was 62 and had just lost the man she’d been with since she was 16 years old. She told me that remark, while completely well-intentioned, only made her miss him more. There are so many things you can say and/or do, including nothing except a hug, in such situations. On the dark-humor side, my mom said my dad would have said to that woman,, “Better place. Sure. I’m in a coffin, a$$hole.” Glad I inherited my day’s sick sense of funny. 🙂

    1. Britt, I do understand how hurtful those well-intentioned remarks are.

      But your Mom’s take on what your Dad might have said is hysterical. I’m glad you inherited your Dad’s dark humor as well. Thanks for your comments.

      1. I always thought there is more to life than working 40 works per week. It may take some time to crack the code but it’ll be awesome if I did. Wish me all the luck…ha, ha,ha.

        comment from earthrider to Island Traveler:
        Don’t forget to share the secret with me when you do, IT. 🙂

  7. Mom, I think the term “Suck it up and deal” falls under irritating platitude for sure. I know it sure drives me crazy when it is said to me. Great story!

  8. Love the Hunter S. Thompson quote. The one that annoys me the most is when a tragedy happens and people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Kinda like “everything is for the best.” Even though I actually DO believe that, it just seems like you’re trivializing what someone went through, like you’re saying to them, it’s good this horrible thing happened to you.

    1. That wild and crazy guy, Hunter S. Thompson, did have a humorous take on life’s foibles. Glad you enjoyed the quote, Darla. 🙂

      On the saying, ‘everything happens for a reason’ I have used it to rationalize something that’s happened to me. I figured if I learned something from the experience, then it was a good reason. But I agree with you. The saying does trivialize what I – or anyone else – went thru.

  9. You have already picked my favorite annoying one: Work smarter, not harder. It is hard to resist smacking someone that says it which is nuts because although you might feel better, it doesn’t solve the problem anymore that saying “work smarter, not harder”.

  10. Very interesting post Judy! 🙂 And I feel more people should think about what they reel off their tongues so often, and wonder what these meaningless platitudes do to their brains every time they say them!

    I’ve been drowning in these meaningless platitudes recently, those ‘apparently’ comforting phrases! I opened a Tumblr blog three months ago, mainly for another connection in the internet world, I’m not keen on Facebook, so a Tumblr blog allows me to share all sorts of music and crazy stuff to make my friends and family laugh without the need to necessarily communicate with other Tumblr bloggers, as I’m at my limit for time these days with communications on WordPress! As with Pinterest, I’ve posted lots of these thoughtful phrases or quotes – at least I hope most of the ones I pick are ‘thoughtful’ and not empty or enough to make a person groan in despair! As the months have gone on, I’m now finding I’m coming across a lot of the same phrases, and it’s a little tiring trying to find new meaningful ones, or funny laugh out loud ones. But it’s been an interesting experience being on Tumblr, pretending I’m actually 25! 😉 And most of all, observing the kind of pictures, phrases/quotes that younger people are into. One that really stands out, and I see over and over again is, ‘it’s all going to be ok’. My mind feels a little numb when I see that, and a small voice in my head says – is it? I suppose when your 21 you don’t want to believe that a lot of life is not going to be OK. And by the time you’re in your 40’s, you know damn well it isn’t going to be all OK! 😦

    And the one that makes me groan the most is, ‘the sun loved the moon so much, he died every night to let her breathe’. What!? I’m speechless that a phrase like that would mean anything to anyone at all!! 😐

    I hadn’t thought of the phrase, ‘it is what it is’ as being the modern version of ‘what will be will be’ but I guess you’re right, it’s been subtly replaced! Que Sera Sera must be my most hated song and the least comforting phrase, and as you’ve said ‘implies that you have relinquished all control of your life to the whimsy of fate.’ Oh no – not the way to live at all!! And EVERYTHING definitely doesn’t happen for the best! 😉

    1. Actually, Suzy, I’ve adopted a British phrase developed in 1939 just prior to World War II. It’s my mantra for this year: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” It does help me get thru the day. But, maybe, that is the equivalent of “it’s all going to be OK.” 🙂

      I guess I can thank my lucky stars that I’ve been spared the “sun loved the moon so much” quote.

      I’m sure that Alfred Hitchcock is still kicking himself for allowing Doris Day to sing “Que Sera Sera” in “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” 🙂 I agree. It’s not a very comforting song or phrase. But, “it is what it is.” 😆

    1. Your stakes are high, indeed, Lisa. Actually, if you’ll recall the challenge you gave me for a column once: “Life is Good.” (They are my favorite T-shirts because of their fit, positive message, etc.)

      Life isn’t all good. But would you buy a T-shirt with the slogan: “Have a nice day. Meh!” 🙂

      1. I love the “LIfe is Good” slogan and I loved your post. My husband has the biking themed shirt to fit his favorite sport. As you point out, the positive image is uplifting. But somehow the saying “it’s all good” feels less “positive” and more “denial” I suppose I’m just a cynic . .

        comment from earthrider to Main Street Musings:
        I prefer to think of it as “skeptical” (that’s how I identify myself), not “cynical.” I agree with you, Lisa, “it’s all good” just sounds like an “actor who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” (Shakespeare) 🙂

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