Cliches: Bad for Writing; Better as Philosophy

I’m always on the lookout for clichés. When I find them slipping into my own writing, I excise them out. Spotting them in my clients’ writing, I suggest alternatives. Too many cliches make for unimaginative writing, but some cliches are so wise and pithy we just cannot do without them. One of them, “Today is a new day,” recently saved my friend Anna from getting dragged back into an old dispute.

This five-word phrase is so obvious, right? Of course today is a new day. But when Anna received an email from someone who had made her life miserable a long time back, the idea that “today is a new day” gave her a totally new perspective. Though Anna had thought the episode with her former friend was long over, her email correspondent clearly felt otherwise. She dredged up her old grievances, accusing Anna anew of various wrongs and of causing hurt.

Anna was determined not to get trapped by the other person’s anger. She refused to embroil others in the dispute, refused to talk about it to sympathetic listeners and spread the rancor like a virus, tempting as that might have been. So instead of returning insult for insult, Anna did something different. “I had just attended a class about Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, about new beginnings. The teacher emphasized the idea that ‘Today is a new day.’ We can’t hold on to junk from the past. I heard the teacher repeat this phrase in my head and knew I would just not engage. I was going to keep my focus on the positive.”

So Anna took a deep breath and sat down to the computer. She replied to the email, saying she was sorry that the other person felt the way she did, but she saw the situation differently. I’ve known Anna a long time. She is a very modest and thoughtful person, and there wasn’t a hint of self-congratulation when she told me the story. Instead, she felt the episode was freeing. “When I was sure of what I wrote, I pressed that ‘send’ button and I could practically feel whatever residual anger I had about this go “whoosh!” up into the atmosphere along with the email. It was gone.”

I love this story and wanted to share it with you. It’s hard to take the high road (oh dear, was that a cliche?) but Anna’s wise and eloquent handling of the situation also had the beauty of being the best revenge: she denied her would-be combatant with the joy of battle.

Tomorrow is a new day, today is a new day. Statements like this are so full of hope and optimism. I guess cliches don’t become cliches for nothing.

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