From Rick Rubin, famous music producer:
"I never decide if an idea is good or bad, until I try it."
From Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals:
"The men who pile up the heaps of discussion and literature on the ethics of means and ends [...] rarely write about their own experiences in the perpetual struggle of life and change."
I used to harbor a pretty deep resentment for cliches.
Honestly, I still don't think they have any place in writing (I say that very hypocritically). George Orwell believed that cliche and turns-of-phrase were enemies of the English language. Taken to its logical extreme, a society addicted to cliche becomes one that can only communicate in cliche. Precision and uniqueness of expression gets entirely lost, replaced instead by very very vague descriptions.
For example, how ridiculous would this sound: "FWIW, the cat's out of the bag here and IMHO we need to double down on getting our ducks in a row."
The act of speaking becomes mindless.
Nonetheless, I do think that many cliches once had very precise and profound insights. "Don't knock it 'til you try it," for instance. Incredibly overused. But incredibly unexamined! Most people use this phrase as a kind of half-joke, half-defensive justification for something weird they've done.
The cliche arrives after someone's judging disapproval (as a saving-face mechanism), rather than before (by the person observing). But what if the cliche took place before the judgement? What if it were instead used as a general rule of thumb when witnessing something new? We could use this easy-to-say cliche as a mantra to guide our day-to-day lives.
"Don't knock it 'til you try it."
(Well, obviously, you don't have to try it if you have no interest in trying it. Just don't knock it, then.)
During my freshman year at Georgetown, I lived with this California wild child named Matt (to this day, still one of my favorite people in the world). He had this habit of saying "Hi" to everyone in an elevator he was in, regardless of time of day or whether he was in a hurry to get somewhere.
Being the judgmental freshman that I was, I always thought this weird. By May of the following year though, Matt basically knew everyone in the entire building by name and was seemingly best buds with the security guards, the lunch ladies, everyone.
It was actually pretty amazing to see this transition happen. The first couple months in, people accustomed to having their eyes glaze over while riding the elevator gave these subtle sneers and looks of "WTF?" Gradually, though, it started happening. One more person every day would greet Matt first, having been give permission to say whatup because Matt once flashed his pearly whites and said "Hi" to them. Soon, it was rare to ride in the elevator without getting into hilarious micro-conversations with strangers. Matt, you are the man.
Don't knock it 'til you try it. Because most of the people who knock it will never try it (barring some crazy personality transformation). You don't want to be that person.
This has been a continued work in progress. There are still a lot of areas in life where I'm hesitant to try something new. But I've definitely come a long way since my freshman year, when I was an armchair critic who always had something deeply skeptical/self-limiting to say about everything.
For the sake of (cliche alert) being an open book, here's a partial list of things I've tried that I once thought were really fucking weird/unnecessary (SFW version):
- hatching an egg with my ass (didn't work out so well for my pants)
- putting butter in my coffee
- going into the water at the beach without knowing how to swim
- talking to a stranger on a bus/plane/train for the entirety of the trip
- living out of my backpack for a year
- cow brain
- joining a dance team
- camping out at Coachella
- asking for help
- holding strong on a controversial opinion
- being one of those people who shimmy or rap out loud while walking down the street listening to music
- telling a stranger that I like their shoes/hair/style/anything
- getting wonderfully lost in a foreign country
- going to a "dangerous" part of town
- telling family that I love them (our family's pretty stoic)
- telling a male friend I love him
- telling a female friend I love her
- crying in public
- crashing a wedding
Now that I have these down, I realize it's time to start getting weird again.