Some times words come together in a particular way that perfectly captures an idea and resonates through time. The world of tropes, idioms, cliches, memes, proverbs, metaphors and such works as an underlying architecture for our thoughts, words and actions. I happily employ such turns of phrase on a regular basis, because they are such useful building blocks for a bigger idea.
Take for instance, Murphy's Law: anything that can go wrong, will. This form (if X is possible, and if X is bad, X will happen) along with myriad new memes yields many humorous extensions and variations. Like most adages, there is a significant, universal truth embedded in this simple phrase: with a perfect state being just one of (any whole number greater than 1) possible outcomes, the likelihood of it occurring, let alone occurring every time, is far from certain.
I'm particularly fond of this one:
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
It is first credited to Plato in The Republic (a useful read today for anyone thinking about alternative forms of governance!), and by the 1600s it was a well known English phrase. As with Murphy, this particular form (X is the Mother of Y) is ripe for modification and play.
Expectation is the Mother of Disappointment
Consider a recent CIBC poll of Canadian high school graduates on financial literacy. It found that the majority of respondents figure they'll be making $90,000 a year by age 30 (so, in about 10-12 years). Never mind that $90,000 a year in Canada puts you in the top 10% of earners; even accounting for inflation 10 years out I bet that income would still be in the top 20%.
Add in an overwhelming belief in their ability to pay off student loans in 5 years as they enter a bloated workforce with a fancy piece of paper and no hard essential skills, well . . . Let's just say that our current economic woes are not going to be resolved any time soon.
Even Santa understands this. This NY Times article on the 2011 class of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus school shows how seriously these Santas are in gently and sincerely managing the expectations of the kids who sit on their laps. They support the mystery and wonder of Christmas finely balanced with the constraints of reality. I don't doubt many a parent has left one of these dedicated Santas relieved and grateful, with a happy child whose holiday dream might just be more manageable.
Which brings me back to Plato. He is, of course, right about Necessity. It is a driver of innovation, change, ingenuity. It is expansive and opportunistic, and favours those who want see beyond what's here, now. And it is most successful when it is tempered by the expectation of what is possible, what is probable, and what must wait for another time.