Most of us like to read pithy sayings. We appreciate an elegant turn of phrase: Words that appeal to our emotions and touch a chord in our hearts and minds, maybe because of something we are experiencing in our lives or what is going on around us.
In the old days, before all those wise words were at our fingertips, literally, and all we needed to do was swipe and click to get them, we picked and chose words of wisdom from books we read and speeches we heard — and we memorised them or noted them down.
Some of us marked the paragraphs we liked in the books we were reading and some of us cut out entire sections of the newspaper to preserve the speeches that made an impact at the time.
Suddenly inundated by the demands of a career in banking, entirely different from anything the years of education had prepared me for, it was just about all I could do to go from one day to the next and keep my head above the tsunami of everyday routine
But some of us, addicted to the “ancient” art of noting down on paper, copied those quotes painstakingly on the backs of old greeting cards, using a book of calligraphy that was lying around the house to choose the type of script we thought would stand out enough to catch the eye and be legible from a distance. (This was before we had ever heard the word “font”.)
Naturally, the tone and the theme of the “Thoughts for the Day” changed through the years.
Once we were done with the highly motivating quotations on hard work and success that punctuated our school lives (not really of our choosing but were more or less thrust upon us in the hope that at least some of them would make an impact on at least some of us), we went on to fixate on catchy lines from the songs we liked or words by the people we admired, generally on the lines of the freedom to dream, the freedom to follow the dream, and the hope that we could buck the system and still get to change the world.
When those idealistic college years were done with and we course-mates went our separate ways, we had no choice but to get into the straitjacket of having to earn a living and we cast aside our slightly fuzzy and romantic notions of freedom and entered a more conformist phase.
Suddenly inundated by the demands of a career in banking, entirely different from anything the years of education had prepared me for, it was just about all I could do to go from one day to the next and keep my head above the tsunami of everyday routine by focusing on my good fortune in having “a chance to work hard at work worth doing”.
The rewards of that work, the joy of helping others and the opportunity to make a tiny difference to the simple souls in need who walked in through the doors of our bank in search of loans to better their prospects in life.
Today, decades down the line, with all those wise words available in a couple of seconds on the internet, I can discard those yellowed cards covered in quotes.
In any case, I can rattle off most of them off the top of my head — not just because I saw them in neat calligraphy on my desk every day of my life for years on end, but because they have been my guiding lights in all the years that followed.
Somehow, work became paramount, whatever and wherever it was; so did the ability to find joy in the little things and learn from many failures and rejections; the excitement of the journey rather than the destination; the value of the enduring gifts of friendship and family.
I guess it is up to us to make the best of the wise words of those experienced ones who knew what they were saying.
But do we?
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.