Thursday, 24 January 2013

Kicking My But

I tend to be a bit of a language snob.
Perhaps it’s a simple matter of hoping for universal understanding and I do tend to stew a bit when I see a commercial or a news cast where language is used improperly. People who are purported to be professionals in communication should speak properly, no?
There’s one word in particular that sticks in my craw a lot. (What the heck is a craw?)
I was sitting in my favourite chair reading with a fire going when one of the cats decided it was a good time to snuggle up. Any time one of the cats gets close, the dog, Taz, decides it’s a good time to get jealous and push somewhere on my carcass with her nose to get attention. With both hands occupied (petting the dog and the cat), I stopped reading for a bit until the cat became bored and Taz, thinking she had won another battle of attention getting, wandered over to the sofa across the room and curled up. Left once again to my own devices, I stuck my feet closer to the fire, turned back to my reading and immediately noticed the word “but”.
I love you to pieces, but…
It doesn’t matter what comes after that word. Everything before it becomes conditional on what comes after. That is, when the word “but” is used in a sentence the first part of the sentence becomes possible only if the second part, the condition, is carried out. The first part of the sentence becomes forgotten the moment the word “but” is used.
“I love you, but I wish you wouldn’t leave your clothes on the floor.”
What I hear as the receiver of this last statement (commonplace as it may be) is the person speaking will love me more if I pick my clothes up off the floor. Or worse, the person delivering the message will stop loving me if I don’t pick up my clothes. The “I love you” statement is a light example of course but there is certainly a level of weight to it.
Quick question: Which part of the last sentence in the previous paragraph do you remember? “Light” or “weight”?
It has become common place to use the word “but” in our society.
You’re a great artist, but...
You’re a really nice guy but...
I think you’re pretty but...
Each statement above comes with a condition. The subject of the statement is not going to hear the first half. They are waiting for the shoe to drop brusquely to the floor in the second half of the statement. What they really hear is; “I’m not a great artist unless...”, I’m not a nice guy unless...” or “I’m not pretty unless....”.
To me, the worst use of the word “but” is in love statements. “I love you but...” is heard more often than not in our society. The first part of any statement using the word “but” is meant to soften the second part. Unfortunately, it often has the reverse effect. We profess to love people without condition yet consistently use the word “but” setting myriad conditions how that person can be loved more. The truth is, for most people, they are either loved or they are not. Putting a condition on it tells me I am almost loved and not quite there until I change whatever part of my character has come under scrutiny.
The best way not to put an implicit condition on any statement is to use the word “and”.
“I love you and I wish you wouldn’t leave your clothes on the floor.”
By using the word “and”, I have told my partner if they don’t pick up their clothes, I will still love them. So? Unconditional means unconditional. Every time I put a condition on my love for another person, there is another shim driven into the gap that is growing between us. Eventually, there are enough shims that the rock that was once our unyielding love for each other shatters in two.
The message I really want to deliver when communicating with my partner is I love them and it would be really nice if I didn’t have to trip over their stuff. Please, please, please pick up your damned clothes. As much as I wish my partner would pick up their clothes, I don’t love them less. I just love them and that’s it... period.
Now, if only I can get Taz to understand I love her and I’m still going to pet the cat, all will be well in the universe. Well... that and when my feet warm up.