The aphorisms of life make it easy for us to communicate complex statements in a sentence or two. Mantras, bumper stickers and t-shirts all serve to distill complex ideas down to single, easily digestible thoughts. Often they express truisms so overwhelmingly accurate that they are almost redundant. Yet we employ them to remind us that patterns of behavior can guide our actions into unknown or uncomfortable situations. Song writers and poets use them to effectively in framing thorny questions and challenging the basic suppositions of human interaction. “People are people” said British band Depeche Mode in 1984. Quite right. But they push the obvious to ask if we are so much alike, how is it that “you and I get along so awfully?” How can we be entirely similar and totally different in the same instant?
Life is good – is my personal favorite. The truism reminds me that as long as we live, we have all options open to us. We can change. We can learn. We can engage. Or, not. Life is good – encourages us by noting that even a bad day is still filled with opportunity – relax and take advantage. One might assume that its counterpoint must be death is bad? Perhaps. Or, is it just another step in life – endpoint or milestone? Regardless, the three little words have stuck with me for decades all the while still inspiring thought.
While enjoying a vintage whiskey with a close friend one evening earlier this summer, he shared his chosen expression for good living – “no pain, no pain.” The take on the more common “no pain, no gain” echoed days later. Can we choose to live a life without pain? Can we simply let it pass through us without lament? Or, should we experience the pain as an earned right-of-passage?