Comment: I have long maintained that one of the major ways in which you can change your life for the better is to give meticulous attention to your language for six months. The results will be dramatic! You will automatically correct many of the major difficulties you encounter.
MacQuarrie Email Program #15 — Sloppy Language
I’ve suggested in a variety of ways that the primary skill of dealing with anger (and life) is being aware of what is happening right now, in the present. [Please note: the word present is a triple entendre; it refers to now, here, and a gift to be opened. Question: Are you a gift to be opened?]
At various times in the past, I have asked individuals if they are aware of what is happening right now. If pressed, most people will tell me what they are thinking; this is specifically NOT what I am seeking as an answer. I am referring to being attentive to the ongoing sensory experience of the moment. From my perspective, one of the ways I know I am present right now is that my sensory data is crisp — visual data is clear, sounds are bright, touch is detailed, et cetera.
Furthermore, one of the primary ways in which my awareness is demonstrated, to myself and to others, is in how I language my experience. Consider: Fish swim in water. (Weird statement for an email on anger.) Well, if fish could think like human beings, they probably don’t think much about water (unless it is very polluted). Yet water determines their very existence.
Consider: Human beings swim in language. I suggest that if you will pay meticulous attention to your language for six months, you will dramatically improve your life in many unexpected ways.
Task: In this and the next email, I’m going to ask you to pay detailed attention to your language for a few days (you might want to do it for six months). Please use the Checkbox of Change (Email #11) or some other tool to do so. Once a day, pick an example and journal about it. Play with the suggestions I am making in this email, and explore what differences occur.
Consider: The most important word related to awareness (and anger) is the word should. Before reading on, please make a quick list of the many things you should do today, or in the next week. (If you get past twenty, please stop.) How do you feel about this list?
Why are they shoulds? What happens if you change them to want to’s?
On the positive side, shoulds are the rules of social boundaries. They contain information — the rules of the social network. But they are an investment in the third limb of an emotional triangle (me, society, and the task), and are usually dysfunctional. I mentioned in the last email that, as children, we swallowed the rules of the family, and if healthy, we digested them, coming to our own acceptance of the rules we want to follow. But if undigested (and from childhood to now is a long period of time for something to be undigested), the rules contaminate us. Consider: The Rules are shoulds (especially the undigested rules)! They always represent an internal conflict.
One of my major mentors, Ed Friedman, used to tell a story about how to catch crabs in the Atlantic ocean; he claimed the story was true, although I have never been able to verify it from independent sources (hints, yes, but verification, no). Anyway, imagine a big box, maybe 6’*6’*3’, with a chicken wire bottom, and no top. Attach some ropes and a float. The fisherman rows it out to where he thinks the crabs will be, puts a lot of bait in the box, and pushes it over the side to sit on the floor of the ocean in maybe 10-12’ depth of water; then he (or she) comes back the next day. Meanwhile, crabs smell the bait, climb in, and soon there are 20 or so crabs munching away. When the bait is all gone, they are trapped.
But how? There is no top, and they climbed in without difficulty, so why can they not simply climb back out. Because they will not let each other leave! Crabs are social animals. When they are in the box, they somehow recognize themselves as a group, and will not let others leave (on the ocean floor, there are normally no walls, and hence no confinement to leaving). If a crab attempts to leave the crab trap, the others will pull it back into the box; if a crab insists on leaving, the others will kill it — they will tear off its claws. So when the fisherman comes back 24 hours later, here are 20 crabs, 2 dead, 18 alive. Off to market!
Human beings are social animals also. The word should, and its euphemisms, (must, have to, et cetera), is our crab trap. And we will kill to protect this word, to keep others in line. You only need remember the wars of the 20th century to recognize how much we will kill!
So, what can you do about shoulds. What do I do? (The following are suggestions for you.)
- First of all, I digest them! I identify the social rules that are being expressed within the should, and decide to what extent I want this rule to be part of my life. Under what circumstances will I choose to act according to this rule? Or not?
- Second, when I hear myself give voice (externally or internally) to should, I bring the conflict into awareness. I respond to myself with: Will I or Won’t I? What is the worst that will happen? (WIWI) What is the worst if I do? What is the worst if I don’t?
- I don’t bother with the nuances — they just cloud the issue. If I can live with the worst, the nuances don’t matter — life will unfold.
- If I can live with both ends of the spectrum, I simply choose whichever seems like the most fun.
- Sometimes, I don’t like either option. What then?
- If there is no time pressure for me to respond, I engage with the issues while in meditation. Often my other-than-conscious mind will present fascinating options.
- If there is time pressure, I play with the energy. I choose to respond to life, so I may as well have as much fun as possible. To what extent can I be in a state of wonder concerning the issues? Again, when in a state of wonder, my other-than-conscious mind will present me with fascinating options.
[Sidebar: On my blog The Human Side of Global Warming, I have a number of posts on both shoulds and other types of sloppy language.]
Coming next: More Sloppy Language
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