YOLO: A Terrible, Tragic Philosophy
YOLO: You only live once. The phrase, although seeming to wane in popularity, was seen almost everywhere in 2011 through 2015. It was used by many to justify otherwise reckless behavior. In particular, the phrase was used in a tweet by one individual, a 21-year-old aspiring rapper, as justification for driving 120MPH while drunk: “Drunk af going 120 drifting corners #FuckIt YOLO.” He crashed and died just moments later.
Clearly, the idea behind YOLO can be self-destructive if taken to its logical extremes, discounting risk of future loss and overstating the present gains for reckless, dangerous behavior. The phrase YOLO was frequently seen as synonymous with the Latin maxim "carpe diem," meaning "seize the day." But, these two ideas are very different.
The phrase carpe diem first originated in the book Odes by the Roman poet Horace. His full sentence was "carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,” which translates into English as “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” The Latin word "carpe" does not mean "to seize." Rather, it means "to pluck" such as plucking fruit from a tree.
Whereas YOLO implies that one should ignore the consequences of the future, the full context and accurate translation of carpe diem suggests that a person should make every effort to effect change in the present. He or she should do so without taking for granted that the next day will come. To paraphrase Horace: "make the most of each day; for the future is not guaranteed."
Carpe diem is a much better philosophy by which to live than YOLO. It avoids the disastrous extremes of reckless disregard for future harm and encourages taking steps towards a better life. "Pluck the day," of course, doesn't sound as eloquent as "seize the day." So, we will likely continue to alter the translation of carpe diem.
Even still, the maxim carpe diem should be used in lieu of YOLO. While may not be as easy to shorthand into a hashtag acronym as YOLO, carpe diem evinces a far wiser philosophy: that each day we should actively strive towards a better life instead waiting and hoping that things will somehow "work out" or improve in the future.