May 22, 2015

Cliché—To Avoid It Is to Define It.


How can we define “cliché”? The word itself is a cliché. To avoid using clichés is also cliché. And to actually like clichés may or may not be cliché.

With 4,000 years of history and a population of 7 billion, what are the chances of something, anything, being completely fresh and new?

Clichés are an inherent part of life. They’re a also paradox, since as part of our herd behavior, we tend to do what everybody does and yet we also try to be unique at the same time. It’s the age-old struggle between conformity and individuality. Going with the group gives us a measure of security and comfort that if something goes wrong, we’re not alone. And nothing usually goes wrong for a whole swath of society.

So despite our inner desires, we choose the same jobs everyone else does. Ans since we’re careful about the stuff we spend money on, we go to popular restaurants, read best sellers and watch top-grossing movies. The keyword in the previous sentence is “popular.” Going for something popular is what everyone does.

Then when does the popular turn into a cliché?

When the popular is replaced by something else yet people continue going for the older version out of habit.

Upcoming, popular, clichéd and old-fashioned are the stages in the life of a social trend. And corresponding to the trends, there are always a bunch of rebels who actually keep reinventing the “upcoming.” And the the rebels’ reactions also fall into a pattern, and when people start following the rebels, the spark is lost.

Isn’t it ironic? In order to defy a system, we fall into another system. If we really want something fresh and new, we need to come up with it ourselves—or else our self-perceived mutiny doesn’t make a dram of difference to the world.

But is it really possible to come up with something no one has thought of before?

There are two answers: yes and no. The road of a pioneer is a hard one, strewn with disappointments, frustration and a lifetime of ridicule. Few live long enough to see the day when their work is truly appreciated. But in any case, we never know if someone in some faraway place hasn’t already come up with our idea a few years or even days before we did. So in a very broad sense, doing something for the first time or inventing something is a rare privilege requiring an incredible amount of skill, hard-work and luck.

And though it may lose its importance to the masses, our effort and idea was ours alone. I call it a personal invention. I thought of it, I followed it, I achieved it. Someone did it before—kudos to him. But that doesn’t diminish the personal significance of carving out my life myself.

Recently I had a vision of us breaking away from the trite uninspiring lives we lead. I found solace in travel, in the joy of finding the unknown. And I realized the value of accidental learning—the singular experiences that teach us more in an instant than what we learn hunched over our desks for a decade.

As I rethought my future, I started a blog to help me document my plans and thoughts along the way. As I started looking deeper, I realized I was far from being the first person to do it. There are hundreds of folks with the same background and dreams as me.

I was left with mixed feelings. The bright empowered feeling of being a pioneer slowly faded and was replaced by a momentary tinge of doubt that I was truly going to break away from a system. But that was replaced with a warm glow of understanding that after all, my decision was my own.

There’s just one way not be a cliché: we need to think and decide for ourselves, to make our own path, be a stone in the pond. Like a lone wolf howling in the night, make a sound to be heard. And chances are there would be other wolves scattered away in distant forests who will listen and howl along with us.


Author: Barun Mishra

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Image: Flickr


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