The Fallacy of a Hackneyed Phrase

Picture of By Mila Macrander

By Mila Macrander

Proverbs are often firmly established in our language use, so much that we might not think about them twice. “Good things come to those who wait” is one idiom you might have received as advice or even used yourself but maybe without thinking more elaborately about it. Taking a more critical look, however, there is more to this proverb than meets the eye.

Patience = Key: Inspirational Life Advice?

The proverb’s meaning is to encourage us to practice being patient. Rather than rushing into something, we should trust the timing of the universe to put good things into our path once the time has come. Those who mastered the art of patience will eventually be rewarded and are the type of people achieving their dreams.

The notion of “good things” is of course rather vague and very subjective. It can be an awaited job opportunity, an unexpected new relationship, a lucky win in the lottery or whatever else that comes to your mind. No matter the case, the baseline here is that something good will happen to you if you only wait for it. 

Being a patient person is no doubt a rewarding trait many people (including me) wish to have. It can make life easier in the face of frustrating times, can give you peace of mind and better mental health while also making you a more enjoyable person for others to have around. On top of this, good things will happen to the patient ones, thus, the quote seems to be a helpful thing to keep in mind, doesn’t it? 

Conflicting Wisdom 

In the catalogue of proverbs, there seems to be some ambiguity about whether patience really is the main way of attracting positive experiences. 

Besides the interpretation above which magnifies patience, the quote can be easily associated with a certain passivity. It conveys the impression that sitting around and doing nothing will open new doors and make great opportunities pop up. 

Variations to the original quote, such as “Good things come to those who wait, but better things come to those who work for it” highlight this problematic meaning. People might be at risk of justifying not actively pursuing their desires because it is easier to believe that eventually, it will happen automatically. But solely waiting for good things to happen to you hardly seems a reasonable mindset in a capitalistic society in which hard work and determination will oftentimes beat patience in the race for good things. Even Kanye West takes up this proverb in one of his songs with the lyrics “They say good things come to those who waitSo I’mma be at least about an hour late”. The association of patience with being late mocks the proverb’s assumption about how easy it is to get good things. Still, the proverb continues to be used and similar forms of thinking enjoy great popularity.

#Manifestation and #Lawofattraction

A quite recent trend in line with the proverb is the act of manifesting one’s dream. In case you haven’t been one of the 15 billion TikTok viewers of the manifestation hashtag: Manifestation follows the idea that you can turn your dreams and wishes into reality simply by consistently thinking about them. And there really is no limit to what you can manifest: from manifesting becoming rich and successful in life to conjuring a Democratic win in the 2020 U.S. election by the sheer power of your thoughts.

Tightly connected to this is the Law of Attraction – the spiritual belief that the energy of your thoughts determines what you attract in life. Positive thoughts lead to positive happenings, negative thinking will get you unpleasant experiences. 

These two intertwined concepts move from “waiting” for good things to come into existence to thinking them into reality. Still, neither seems to be aligned with the idea that “Dreams don’t work unless you do”. The idea that some type of higher power will be at work to provide for us might in extreme cases make people dismiss any sense of personal responsibility for their individual fate. This is not to say that people who practice manifesting do not also work towards their dreams. On the contrary, aspirational thoughts can focus your energy on what you want to achieve and make you more determined in your actions towards it. 

Although it might not be enough to manifest a University degree if you never actually enrol and study for it, the practice of manifestation certainly appeals to the psyche of many people. 

The Allure of Controlling the Uncontrollable

Only by looking at the development of the trend of manifestation, the appeal of these type of concepts becomes apparent. From March to July 2020 the number of Google searches for the term manifestation have increased immensely. In case someone forgot: this was the beginning of the pandemic, of nerve-racking uncertainty and loss of control, of difficulties staying positive, and of feelings of hopelessness. In situations like these (and situations of slightly less global magnitude yet of similar individual depressing potential) it is no doubt a good virtue to keep a positive mindset and there is little an ordinary citizen can do except to be patient. 

In dismal times, we might all feel the wish to release ourselves from some of the burdens of being responsible for our own faith by taking a reassuring proverb for true.

The allure to these mentalities is that it gives a sense of power over situations outside our control. In dismal times, we might all feel the wish to release ourselves from some of the burdens of being responsible for our own faith by taking a reassuring proverb for true. Certainly, this does not per se need to be condemned and criticized as making people become a passive version of themselves. Idioms like “Good things come to those who wait” or the concept of manifestation are in this context essentially coping mechanisms and a tool to keep hope and, thus, also have a positive side.

A Double-sided Concept

Nonetheless, we ultimately need to assess the situation and differentiate between things outside of our control and those in our realm of power. The proverb, just as the belief of manifesting your dreams, should not become an excuse to stop putting active effort into achieving a better state of life. A pandemic that deprives you of your teenage years definitely is not within your direct control, so trusting that good things are on their way helps some to stay sane in an insane time. But besides waiting for and thinking about a better time ahead, making the best out of the situation with the means one has can be a more effective way to make one’s hopes become reality.

The conclusion? It is no surprise that idioms, once you dismantle and analyze them, have some weaknesses. While certain premises can be regarded as being true, no idiom applies to all situations and they don’t have to. Proverbs serve different functions and can solely be comforting. But as they also give seemingly wise life instructions, we should not apply them blindly. Whether a person believes in ideas like manifestation is a personal question. If it can offer comfort and be a way of dealing with tough times, who is any of us to judge these concepts?

The essence, however, is that while the idea of patience and positivity bringing us happiness conveys the illusion of control, people needn’t fall victim to the fallacy of getting distracted from creating opportunities for and by themselves by directing our actions towards the goal. Rather it should be an addition, be patient and positive about achieving the dreams you simultaneously actively pursue by actions and behaviour. 

Cover: Unsplash

Edited by: Debby Mogot

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