Cultivating Reasonable Expectations of Life in a World of Hyperbole

Perhaps like me you have noticed that we are living in an age where everything is AMAZING! Watch this video about this AMAZING girl! Look at photos of these fifty AMAZING bedrooms! Check out this AMAZING restaurant or this AMAZING cockatoo! If it’s not AMAZING, it’s STUNNING, SHOCKING, INCREDIBLE, LIFE-CHANGING, or UNBELIEVABLE!

At the risk of stating the obvious, most of this stuff isn’t AMAZING or any of its synonyms. At most, it’s amusing or interesting. For a moment. And then it’s forgotten.

Now, marketers and advertisers have always used hyperbole to sell products, but I find myself wondering if our age is perhaps unique in trying to sell ordinary life as AMAZING with, say, seriously overreaching claims about how much watching a two-minute video will alter your experience of the world FOR ALL TIME! Because these claims aren’t being made for products that might be sold and thus earn someone a profit. No one is making money from you watching a cute video about a cat who adopts an orphan piglet. And yet the online clamoring to get views and comments and likes is overwhelming.

I get it. No one wants to be ordinary. I don’t either. And to be honest, I’ve caught myself overdoing it when it comes to adjectives. But we seem to be living in a time where, rather than do something extraordinary, something worthy of comment or praise, we elevate the ordinary to the level of extraordinary, until everything we do, every meal we eat, every trip we take, every single thing that our child says is presented to others as a phenomenon unequaled in the history of the world. And this makes the truly ordinary stuff in your life, my life, seem pointless by comparison. Which seems dangerous. It seems like thinking that leads to depression or feelings of worthlessness or futility.

Conversely, the opposite also becomes true–that every little negative thing that happens is the WORST, most HORRIFIC, most HEARTBREAKING, most CULTURE-DESTROYING thing that has ever happened. Fearmongering news anchors or op-ed pieces chip away at our joy and our confidence. Unhappy Facebook friends drag us down with their consistent negativity.

What does this do to us, to our collective psyche? It breeds extremes of emotion and opinion that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. We become living pendulums, swinging wildly from elation to despair, all imposed on us from the outside, from YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and the 24/7 news cycle. Rational thought and measured responses are employed less and less. After all, no one else in the comments section is thinking deeply and attempting to have a rational discussion about this issue, so why should I? I get more immediate reward for that zinger I just flung into the fray than for a long, drawn-out discussion based on empathy and research.

The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with ordinary. It’s where we spend most of our time. It’s work, family, faith, and friends. It’s enjoying a concert (which, while not AMAZING or LIFE-CHANGING was enjoyable and entertaining). It’s helping your kid with his homework (for which parents should not expect accolades–it’s part of the job). It’s shoveling the driveway (without whining about it on Facebook in order to get sympathy from everyone else who also had to shovel). It’s folding the laundry (not the MOUNTAINS of laundry that are your own personal cross to bear). It’s feeding ordinary dog food to your very ordinary dog.

Why are we so afraid of this ordinary life?

I get the desire to “sell” one’s experiences as bigger and better than they are. I’m in marketing. My whole job is to persuade you to exchange your money for a book that, let’s face it, probably won’t CHANGE YOUR LIFE, even if it does help you in some way. But as much as our self-centered, consumer culture pushes us to make our lives appear AMAZING, we are most of us very ordinary. And that’s fine. If you’re looking for a reason to feel special, looking for deeper meaning in this life, I would advise you to look somewhere other than the internet. Look to God. Look to the impact you are having on your kids. Look to a service you can perform on behalf of your fellow man. Look to charity and forgiveness and truly loving your neighbor. Most of it could not honestly be described as AMAZING or SHOCKING or UNBELIEVABLE. But it would make a heck of a lot more difference in the world than another damn BuzzFeed article.

7 thoughts on “Cultivating Reasonable Expectations of Life in a World of Hyperbole

  1. 2 things:
    1. Ironically, this is a pretty brilliant (amazing?) article, which does have the potential to impact someone’s life in the long-term (if they’re caught up in the kind of false dichotomies you describe).

    2. Check out this amusing video, which will not make your JAW DROP, but is pretty astute (and a tad depressing):

  2. I learned a very valuable lesson from a friend of mine. When asked how he is, he always replies, “wonderful.” The truth of the matter is that quite often, his life has been much less than wonderful. But I think that when we voice what we want, it may not be that way at the moment, but it will come in time.
    I understand that we are being bombarded by advertising that wants us to take a look, but we also have the power to just not be sucked in.
    For me, I have decided that each day is amazing and wonderful, just because I am breathing and I am alive. Each day that we find ourselves here is an “amazing” gift. 🙂

  3. Yes, most of us have few people in our lives with whom we would share an honest answer to the question, “How are you?” and expect a listening and sympathetic ear. Not that we need tons of those people, but I hope we all have a couple of them. I too think that you need make a choice not to get sucked in by this stuff. It takes a conscious effort.

  4. Ha! I just realized that on my sidebar if you follow this blog it groups you with other “amazing” people. I cannot figure out how to change the wording there. Friggin’ WordPress.

  5. A friend of mine shared your essay/article with me just this morning and I thought you’d appreciate knowing it inspired a critical conversation elsewhere on the web amongst friends who are connected with each other through photography. The Capital City Writers Association sounds great. I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest longer than anywhere else during my lifetime, but I’m a Michigan native and did my undergrad at MSU.

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