“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates proclaimed a long time ago. That’s a bit dire, if you ask me. But he was probably right, at least when it comes to a handful of everyday expressions that – I assure you – the everyday person has not examined. Because if we did, we’d stop using them forever. Kindly consider joining me in banishing these phrases from your lexicon. I promise, we’ll all be better off.
It is what it is
In the crowded realm of crummy platitudes, “it is what it is,” is the leper king himself. That didn’t stop me from using it for years, until a friend brought to my attention that it is as thoughtless as it is empty. Think about it literally… what a ridiculous thing to say.
Example: An old pal gets laid off and is barely getting by on unemployment. “Hey man, it is what it is,” is the equivalent of saying “Hey man, you seem to be desperately unemployed and you actually are desperately unemployed.” Why would anyone express that? I guess it’s supposed to put one at ease about a situation that’s out of control, but the saying actually means nothing, which makes it a wholly useless consolation. Thank you, valued friend, for pointing out to me that, yes — IT really is what IT is. Now IT all makes sense and I can live again.
A more thoughtful friend might say something beyond a declaration of 1+2 = 1+2. “I’m so sorry. Do you want me to set your boss’ car on fire?” There, that’s sympathy, loyalty, and willingness to extract revenge on another’s behalf… hallmarks of true friendship. Even totally hopeless advice can have some sense of meaning and direction, for example:
That’s actually helpful – a funnier way of suggesting to let it go and do what feels good. Nothing wrong with that, and a hell of a lot more useful than “it is what it is.”
It could be worse
Equally unhelpful as “it is what it is” is it’s close cousin — “it could be worse.” This expression is, ironically, the worst way of expressing empathy. Of course it could always be worse. So what? “Oh wow you shattered your ankle in a car accident. Well, could be worse… you could be in a Nazi concentration camp.” By offering this lousy piece of advice, all you really do is signal that you’re not ready or willing to contribute anything of use.
Or, if seriously expressed about one’s own problems, it’s just an admission that you’re lacking perspective and grasping for meaning. That’s perfectly alright, but you might as well just say that instead. It’s more honest, at least. Either way, no one on the receiving end of “it could be worse” will take lasting comfort from knowing that someone out there has it REAL bad.
What could be more useful? Well, anything that’s better: An ice cream cone, critically acclaimed DVD, sexual contact (if appropriate)… just something to show that life can be fun, not a banal expression that tells of how much lousier it could get. Because life is pretty good, after all, and I contend it’ll be even better the less we toss around “it is what it is” and “it could be worse.”