Same old, same old

At last, it happened. And, I suppose, it was only a matter of time, knowing that it is impossible to please all of the people, all of the time. But it’s never pleasant.

Scattered amongst reviews from genuine readers delighted with ‘The Hardest Path’ was one from a professional critic that was, shall we say, less than flattering.

It wasn’t a harsh review filled with vitriolic condemnation- it was much worse.

From behind the words of the reviewer, it was possible to feel a passive-aggressive smile locked behind gritted teeth. Braced shoulders held back what he wanted to say and, possibly, the memory of his mother gently advising, “now dear, don’t be too unkind…”

The most damning part of his review were these words.“The road-of-life metaphor at the heart of this book is hardly a fresh one, and the nine lessons that the author ultimately draws from his Shikoku 88 experience (such as “Let go and relax” and “Embrace the journey, the ups and the downs”) are clichéd.”

At first glance, I must admit that the sentences stung. Writers are notorious for taking criticism personally. After straightening out jerked knees though, I managed to look a little closer, more in-depth and with a clearer mind.

Firstly, the Shikoku road was not a metaphor- it literally was a very long 1,400km road that I walked in thirty days. Secondly, despite the ‘clichéd’ lesson titles, they are lessons that the pilgrimage taught. And I’m grateful for them. Without apology.

The word ‘cliché’ has become a somewhat derogatory term to decry lessons retold in perpetuity; as if the repeating of old truths is somehow deficient to the novelty of the new. Anyone involved in either teaching or are themselves learning, understand that more often than not, teachers must retell lessons until the message eventually sticks in a pupils mind.

Forgive me if this piece seems like the desperate attempt to justify a poor review, it isn’t- I have taken worse word lashings in my time. It did strike me though that the proliferation of clichés- and something only becomes a cliché if there is the hint of truth to it- suggests that, as humans, we all share the same types of lives and live the same sorts of stories.

In fact, it is widely considered in the world of literature that there are only seven types of story that people live, and that writer’s document. Back in the 1920’s, prolific novelist and literary critic (oh no, not another one), Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, made a list:
1. man against man
2. man against nature
3. man against himself
4. man against God
5. man against society
6. man caught in the middle
7. man and woman
(On behalf of Sir Arthur, whether he approves or not, I apologise for the misogynistic titles- the 1920’s were not renowned for their equality, and the Suffragettes had not yet won their battles)

More recently in 2006, academic author Christopher Booker updated the list after thirty years of research for his book, ‘The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories’. This preferred list is:
1. Overcoming the Monster
2. Rags to Riches
3. The Quest
4. Voyage and Return
5. Comedy
6. Tragedies
7. Rebirth

My point? It’s good to remember that we are all, on the whole in the same darn boat, facing the same challenges, desiring the same desires, fearing the same fears and loving the same loves.

Of course, the details change, a little, from person to person, but ultimately our lives are duplicated from community-to-community, generation-to-generation. More things unite than divide.

And knowing this, it’s a little easier to reach and out and offer advice because we know how the suffering suffer. If our repeated help becomes clichéd, so be it.

Whether you finally ‘get it’ from Oprah Winfrey and ‘What I know for sure’, Jordan B Peterson in ’12 Rules for Life’, Ajahn Sumedho after reading “Don’t take your life personally’, or me and ‘The Hardest Path,’ who cares? We are all saying the same thing, in different ways. Just as long as you do, as long as it helps and as long as a little of the suffering is eased.

In the light of trying to help another, even our critic friend was forced to grudgingly concede one positive thing about HP: “Readers do receive one important takeaway, though, in the author’s sense of the innate goodness of others…”
I invite him with his heart now slightly less frigid by his admission, to rise from behind his desk, step over his disdain for clichés and join us in making the best of our same old-same old lives. More things unite than divide (two of the same cliche in one article-genius!)

I won’t be asking him to critique my next book though-I don’t think he’ll like this one either: a story about the kidnapping of a book critic, who was never-ever seen again… mwahahahahaaaa.

Matt Jardine is an author, writer, martial artist and teacher. He has practiced meditation and other Eastern arts for over twenty-five years and now lives in London with his wife and Jack Russell. He has two, all grown up, children.He is the author of ‘The Hardest Path- a journey outside to answer the questions within’.



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