Have you heard someone explain away a foolish or ill-conceived act with a casual ‘YOLO’ lately? I have, and at the risk of sounding like an out of touch old man, I don’t really care for it.
For those who don’t know, ‘YOLO’ stands for ‘You Only Live Once.’ YOLO’s roots come from people excusing their bad behaviour on Twitter, using it as a hashtag. For example, “Today I smoked four cartons of cigarettes #YOLO.” The expression gained more popularity after it was featured in rapper Drake’s song “The Motto.”
In its whole form, “You Only Live Once” is a phrase I can relate to. Life is finite, fleeting and at times rough. So when an opportunity presents itself to try something new or enrich oneself, I say take it. But ‘YOLO’ is, I think, an altogether different creature. Every time I hear or read the phrase a surge of irritation runs through me. It took me a while to figure out why that is.
At first I thought it was the word itself. I’ll freely admit, I’ve never been very fond of Internet acronyms. As a teen, I used MSN Messenger to commune with my buddies and assorted crushes as much as anyone, but I never had any interest in using ‘LOL’ or ‘OMG,’ as they seemed insincere and pointless.
However, I think my issue with ‘YOLO’ goes far deeper than semantics. What I’ve observed lately is that a ‘YOLO’ act isn’t one of a self-enriching or general “seizing the day” mentality; it’s an act of dumbassery. ‘YOLO’ is a handy way of reconciling your guilt. Instead of learning from a mistake, you can forget about it and go on to doing something else that’s stupid and selfish. “Get fired for skipping work to see a movie? YOLO! Can’t pay your rent? YOLO again! Cheat on your significant other?” You get the picture. Who cares that your personal life is in shambles?
Sure, you only live once. Statistically, there’s a much better chance of you living many more years than a tree falling on you tomorrow. Those next however many years may be seriously altered by the One Direction tattoo on your neck or the drunk driving conviction. Plus, if you do die tomorrow, do you really want to be remembered as that person who decided to go skydiving in that rickety plane?
I say, hedge your bets. Do cool stuff, but make it stuff that lets you wake up the next morning and feel fulfilled, not guilty. Windsor Slutwalk and Take Back the Night events are coming up, why don’t you go out and march? Spend a night with your friends. Take a trip and see the world but save up for it first. The point is, you can have once in a lifetime experiences that won’t mess up the rest of your lifetime. Deferred gratification is sometimes a good thing.
I know that there are probably people out there who are already ‘YOLO’ing the right way already. But the outliers, the idiots, are getting all the attention. And that’s too bad. Hopefully the next time I see a #YOLO in my twitter feed it’ll be something like “Donated blood #YOLO” or “Told all my friends and family I love them #YOLO.” You may only live once, but you’ve only got one shot to live a long fulfilling life.