Sometimes I catch myself saying things I don’t really believe. I often catch other people saying the same kinds of things. I have no better name for them than weak statements.
What makes something a weak statement is kind of hard to pin down. I would say they’re the kinds of comments we make because they sound good. We often make weak statements to save face, whether that mean making our lives seem more interesting than they actually are, or portraying a sense of direction or ambition we wish we had. Other times it’s to make someone else feel better. Sometimes we really do believe them, but only for a moment, and often in the face of evidence.
I’ll try to give a few broad categories of weak statements I could come up with.
Weak plans are plans with no plans behind them. The most infamous form of weak plans are New Year’s Resolutions, but people make them all the time. I make them all the time – how many times have I said I’d do something big, only to bail once things get hard? Sometimes people actually follow through, but the vast majority of the time, things peter out quickly, sometimes before they even get started.
Weak praise is cheap praise. It is praise with no discernible substance behind it. It is praise that is offered reflexively instead of intentionally.
Examples of weak praise abound. An easy one is what happens when you show people something that they think is hard, whether it is or not. Maybe you’re a guitar player, and you start playing Wonderwall. Maybe you’re learning Japanese, so you throw out a few words you learned from anime. Maybe you buy a few random ingredients with exotic-sounding names and arrange them nicely on a plate. It doesn’t matter how difficult what you’re doing actually is – you’ll often get praise for it regardless.
Praise on social media is among the weakest forms of praise that exist. Likes, follows, shares, friend requests, comments, clap emojis, everything – cheap. I remember how in high school it seemed like every photo a girl posted on Facebook had “Amazing!!!” and “GORGEOUS!!” plastered all over the comment section. I don’t use Instagram, but I imagine it’s largely similar. Is everything so beautiful?
I’m not saying encouragement is a bad thing. Sometimes we want to validate our friends and family, for good reason. Sometimes people need reassurance, and some nice words can go a long way. I won’t be the parent seriously critiquing my 3 year old’s artwork. Ultimately, though, cheap praise is cheap, and a clear example of a weak statement.
The amount of self worth we derive from weak praise should be kept to an absolute minimum.
Weak excuses are what we say to deflect blame from ourselves. Sometimes these are white lies, where we don’t want to admit how much we slacked off to someone; other times we believe them, but only at a shallow level; other times, we use them to preserve our own self-image.
The most common weak excuses I can think of are “I am/was too busy” and “I wasn’t born with the talent”. I’ve resorted to “I’m too busy” to avoid doing things I really should’ve too many times to count, and I’ve definitely heard other people resort to it when it wasn’t really true (that is, of course, unless watching Netflix counts as being busy.) The talent excuse, while true sometimes, is often used to avoid having to confront the fact that we’re too lazy to actually do something. Many things are little more than the accumulation of the results of consistent effort – effort that we don’t really want to put in. It’s easier to blame our upbringing, our genetics, God, or whatever else serves as the most convenient scapegoat at a given moment.
Weak promises are exactly what they sound like: promises or commitments we make without strong, concrete intentions of actually following through. One weak promise I make all the time is “Sure, I’ll check it out sometime.” My follow-through rate with recommendations people give me is astoundingly low, but “I’ll check it out” is by far the most common response I give. “I’ll call you” and its cousin “I’ll hit you up soon” are a couple other common weak promises. A final one is “This is the last time I’ll ever do that again!”
Platitudes are vacuous nuggets of wisdom. “Just be yourself”, “There’s someone out there for everyone”, and “Cheaters never win” are good examples. We say them sometimes because it makes us feel better, regardless of the situation. Platitudes are sayings we can substitute for wisdom when we don’t have anything better to say. In other words, they are weak statements.
I think the one thing that unites weak statements is their tendency to be said regardless of the truth at hand. They are not necessarily lies, where the intention is to deceive, whether for good or bad intentions; they are said whether they apply to the underlying situation or not. There is no link between the content of a weak statement and how true it is.
Sometimes it hurts to make weak statements, but it usually feels forced. I don’t really like making them, but I like saving face when I can, and being too blunt can be a dangerous proposition for those unable to pull it off effectively, like me.
I want to emphasize that I’m not saying weak statements are universally bad, or even bad in general. Some cultures are more blunt than others, and weak statements aren’t as common in them. Is the prevalence of weak statements what makes American culture seem so fake to others, I wonder?
In any case, even if we can’t avoid them, I think it’s good to at least be aware of weak statements, whether they’re being made by us or to us. If my friends tell me something I think is a weak statement, I’ll ask them if they really mean what they’re saying, at least when I think it’s important.
I like the idea of being someone who utters as few weak statements as possible, so that when I praise something, or when I tell someone a big plan, they can be confident I mean what I’m saying. I’ll try my best.
Actually, that was a weak statement. Let’s be honest here; I won’t try my best – I’ll try, sure, but when push comes to shove, I’ll resort to weak statements, whether by reflex or whether I can’t stand to do otherwise. Not perfect, but such is life.