How many times have you seen the above quote used to promote individuality, or not “taking the easy road”? Probably a lot.
But guess what? That’s not what it means. In the poem, a man finds two paths diverging in a wood and thinks to himself that both paths are about equally as well-traveled, with one maybe being slightly less so. He chooses one and walks down it, and then thinks to himself how, many years from then, he will likely be telling the tale with a sigh about how one day he chose one path over another, and that’s how he arrived at where he ended up. That sigh is one of regret, because he anticipates, like many people, not being satisfied with where his life has gone.
The only real important part of this is that in the poem, making one path more or less traveled is entirely an arbitrary decision by the narrator. So what the quoted portion above really represents in the poem isn’t some sort of moral about always choosing the least-traveled path, but instead is a reflection of humanity’s tendency to attribute blame to things that don’t deserve it.
This is akin to another quote that pops up all the time, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” You may recognize this one from Hamlet. People use it all the time to espouse the benefits of being true to yourself. But guess what? When Polonius says that to Laertes, he means the exact opposite. He doesn’t mean that Laertes should be true to himself, he means that Laertes should damned well do what he’s told.
Any half-witted scholar could tell you these things. It’s not like these are hidden gems, or anything. All you need to do is read the original source material and these things practically jump out at you.
To make matters worse, people will actually defend their inaccuracies with statements like, “That’s what it means to me,” or “It means different things to different people.”
No. It doesn’t. You’re welcome to make your own textual analysis of Hamlet, but if you don’t create a supporting argument that’s textually relevant and makes sense, you’re just wrong.
You don’t see engineers saying things like, “But Newton’s Second Law means something different to me.”
Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot of gray area out there in the world. What’s in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction? What happens next in Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49”? Does a Jackson Pollock painting REALLY mean anything?
While I want to say that some things are simply not up for debate, that isn’t true; we should always question. That’s what science is, after all: constant questioning. There’s always the chance that some core belief we hold may be wrong.
There’s a huge difference between questioning something and supplanting it with your own explanation. Questioning is saying, “Is that really true?” Supplanting is saying, “Hamlet is a play about oranges.”
People seem to have forgotten where to draw the line. It’s as though that method of questioning everything has removed our culture’s ability to put faith in anything at all, and as a result we see people putting faith in completely inappropriate places.
This is further expressed by a society-wide fear of telling someone else that they’re wrong, especially where children are concerned. In a politically-correct culture, making someone else feel bad is tantamount to a crime, and nowhere is that more true than in the schoolroom. If a teacher makes a student feel bad, the student complains to their parent, who complains to the school (or the board), and the teacher gets reprimanded. What are we teaching our children? That they can’t be wrong? What an awful thing to do to a child.
The sad fact of the matter is that not everyone is good at everything, and it’s far more important to learn where your real talents lie than it is to be good at everything. A student who gets all A’s should be a rarity; how many people do you know who are good at everything? And yet A-students have become the norm. It’s expected for a child to bring home straight A’s, or there’s something wrong with them. You should not get an A for having “tried your best”.
This is just another example of promoting inaccuracy, but instead of being inaccurate about the meaning of a play or a piece of art, they’re helping to create an entire life of lies.
As a culture, we need to start praising the truth and the pursuit of truth, or else we’re going to end up in a hopeless mess where no one knows anything. I don’t mean to imply that there even IS always a truth to espouse, but in those cases, espouse that there’s no truth! I understand that incorrect, inflammatory articles get more attention, but someone needs to stand up for accuracy and be willing to correct those who spread false information.
That someone is you. Do your best… The future of humankind rests on your shoulders.