Sunday, April 15, 2012

When motivational posters go over the top ....

"Too ... many ... jokes .... Must ... mock ... author ...."
I ask you to read the motivational poster to your left, and reflect on its pretentiousness.  This is the kind of thing you see on the Internet that just begs for smart-ass captions like, "Now quit your bitching, flap your arms and fly, dammit!"

I saw it on Facebook; a husband sent it to his wife, a friend of mine from high school, with the ever-so-sweet comment, "I saw this and I thought of you, baby."  And my friend is truly a risk-taker who is bringing a dream to successful fruition; she deserves recognition and support for her endeavors, and I freely, gladly give mine to her.  So on her Facebook status update I maintain a reverent silence on this overwritten tomfoolery.

Nevertheless, it is overwritten tomfoolery.  Impossible is a fact.  It can be easily discovered by people who want to build a house of cards by tossing the deck up into the wind during a hurricane.  It can be discovered by people who want to use a three-iron to make a mile-long golf shot in Earth gravity.  It can be discovered by people who want to suspend themselves in mid-air by holding on to their belt loops.

That's how we know a miracle when we see it: the natural universe, left to its ordinary workings, could not have produced the result.

"Oops! Shut the box, Pandora!"
But even where something is possible, it can still be beyond a given person's physical, emotional or intellectual limits.  Those limits can be temporary; they can be conditional; they're no less real for those reasons.  "It's impossible" may be, in some cases, a confession of fear of failure; it may occasionally prove a lack of imagination (or at least information); it may be a matter of technological development.  It may even be just another way of saying, "I don't want to be bothered with it."  But while the barrier is there, it's that person's decision whether he needs to challenge it.  We can applaud the brave soul who attempts the impossible and finds the barrier to be only one of knowledge, or skill, or technology, or fear of the unknown.  But we need not traduce or despise those who "find it easier to live in the world they've been given".  

The poster reeks of the hubris that will bring mankind to his doom.  Not all change is progress; "progress" is defined by a goal, not by a direction or a movement.  The power to change is not only the power to heal or improve but also the power to destroy.  There are some barriers which, having torn down, we find in retrospect we may have been better off if they had been left up.  What isn't impossible isn't by that sole fact desirable: "Because I can" may be a sufficient reason for climbing a mountain; it is not sufficient reason for cloning a man.

This is a lot of effort expended on something that, to many people, is merely rhetorical fluff ... perhaps ad copy slammed out for the sake of vending Nikes or Under Armor.  But I live in a time and society where people construct their entire reality out of bumper stickers, Hallmark cards and books of selected quotations. And in the echo chamber of our cultural outlets, vapidity is bounced back and forth from consumer to vendor to consumer again until reason is crowded out by slogans, soundbites and movie references.

For God, impossible is nothing.  For man, "impossible" is an ugly reminder of our mortal limitations.  No wonder some disdain to recognize its hold on us; that which is immortal in us envies still the angels.