An Arrow Can Only Be Shot…

I’m pondering this meme I found on Facebook:

This thought is not ready for publication. It’s sloppy, and has some flaws that weaken its impact considerably. Let me make some general observations first, and then we’ll look at the stumbling blocks here.

The human brain is designed to notice things and to make sense of them in various ways. One of those ways is that we can notice similarities between things—even if the things we are comparing could also be contrasted in various ways. And we can describe one thing in terms of something else. That’s what the meme attempts to do—to describe the value of being “launched” into great things by way a description of the bow and arrow.

What’s Wrong With It?

  1. “An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward.” This is simply false, and immediately provides a stumbling block to those who catch the arrow in it. Having trained in archery, I can easily recognize that rather than pulling the bowstring and arrow backward, one could certainly push the bow forward. No, that’s not a common method, but it’s certainly possible. But the author starts with an absolute statement that is not only unnecessary, but is false. Why not say something like, “Before the archer launches the arrow forward, he pulls it backward in the bow”?
  2. “When life is dragging you back with difficulties…”. For what it’s worth, I think it’s much more common to describe life as “getting in the way” rather than as “dragging you back”, so this is clumsy writing here. Sure, the reader can figure out the intent, but an extra mental step is necessary to do so.
  3. “…it means it’s going to launch you into something great”. Let’s check the logic here. Does the author really intend to imply that everyone whose life is difficult gets launched into “something great”? This is an overstatement. The meme over-promises. This will be a stumbling block to the realitan who sees it for what it is. He can still get the author’s point, but not without dealing with the mess the author has made. It’s cognitively distracting, therefore, and is also needless, as a better-written meme would simply avoid such stumbling blocks.
  4. “So just focus and keep aiming.” Huh? Who am I? Am I the bow? Am I the archer? Am I the arrow? Previously, I was informed that I was going to be launched, so that makes it sound like I’m the arrow, and this is a passive ordeal. That is, that “life” (the bow?) will launch me whenever it thinks it’s loaded enough energy into the system by pulling me backward. So if I’m the arrow, and life is the bow (or perhaps the archer and bow together), then how am I supposed to “just focus” and “keep aiming”? Arrows don’t do either one.

All three of the meme’s sentences, then, are messy. The intent is to encourage, but it’s fairly obvious that the author hasn’t thought it through. And so, likely, with the reader who would share it with others. And this is how it goes in our cognitive-miser culture, where we often deal in fuzzy ideas without ever sitting down to sort them out properly to see whether they’re really good ideas or not.

I see problematic memes every day, and often, there’s a single point that needs attention. This one is worse, and it struck me as a fine example of someone having the barre set pretty low for their thinking, while still having the desire to share those thoughts with others.

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