How often do we short-circuit our own intellectual integrity by using clichés? I'm sure that most of us would say “never”! But, I'm starting to think that it is a lot more often than we'd like to admit. We don't really have a cultural basis for rejecting clichés. Yet, we allow regurgitated clichés to end discussions in a second. I've often observed this in cycling discussions, as there seems to be an abundance of clever and wholesome sounding clichés in bicycling advocacy. I had no idea this had a name until John Allen pointed out a fascinating Wikipedia article on the subject: Thought Terminating Cliche:
This refers to a cliché that is a commonly used phrase, or folk wisdom, sometimes used to quell cognitive dissonance. Though the clichéd phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant German theologian and plotter of a failed Hitler assassination, grew up in a home where clichés were strictly forbidden. His father, Karl, was firm about that:
Karl Bonhoeffer taught his children to speak only when they had something to say. He did not tolerate sloppiness of expression any more than he tolerated self-pity or selfishness or boastful pride.
Dietrich's sister, Sabine, recalls:
[Karl Bonhoeffer's] dislike of clichés did at times make some of us inarticulate and uncertain of ourselves. But it has the effect that as adults we no longer had any taste for catchwords, gossip, commonplaces or loquacity. He, himself, would never have used a catchword or a “trendy” phrase.
This childhood rejection of clichés served Dietrich well in university:
Bonhoeffer was a remarkably independent thinker, especially for one so young. Some professors regarded him as arrogant, especially because he refused to come too directly under the influence of any one of them, always preferring to maintain some distance. But someone who grew up dining with Karl Bonhoeffer, and who was allowed to speak only when he could justify every syllable, had probably developed a certain intellectual confidence and may be somewhat excused if he was not intimidated by other great minds.
(Quotes from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.)
Clearly Bonhoeffer's father's disapproval of using clichés contributed to fiercely independent thinkers.
Having not grown up in a society that rejects clichés, nor a household that identified and abolished them, how can I avoid the groupspeak in my own thought and discussions?