Saturday, December 21, 2013

Words Of Change

As every year draws to a close, we fall into contemplative mood, to take stock of how the year has gone by. What were the highlights or lowlights? What have I been doing right or doing wrong?

After reviewing the past, we plan for the future. Some resolutions are major, bold and life-changing. Like cutting down on carbs (to get luckier), spending less time with work and more with the kids (so that they'll turn out alright), or perhaps picking up drum lessons (in your face, neighbours!).

I don't make dramatic lifestyle changes just because the Gregorian calender tells me to. I make resolutions as and when I feel like it - setting weekly, monthly and quarterly targets, rather than annual ones. However, as the light of 2013 wanes below the horizon, I felt like making some special additional resolutions, for extra kicks. Long and hard I thought about this. Ideas floated between doing more charity (too simple) and mentoring (too soon).

In the end, I settled with something subtle, yet significant - change my speech pattern. For 2014, I wish to cut down three words.

Tougher than cutting down alcohol.

1. "But"

'But' is one of the most flexible word in the English vocabulary. It allows the speaker to state a premise, then follow up by stating an idea that goes against that premise. It lifts the listeners' hearts up high on wings of hope, only to clip their wings and send them plummeting down instead.

Here are a few examples of how the word "but" is commonly used:

  • "Interesting idea, but I don't think it'll work."
  • "I really like you, but we can't be together."
  • "Lovely tie, but it doesn't quite suit your style, if you know what I mean."

Notice how the word "but" is used to deflect the listener's attention from the main point? What the speaker means to say is this:

  • "That's not a good idea at all."
  • "I like you as a friend, that's all."
  • "Lose the tie, dude."

I don't think it's right, giving people false hopes and expectations. Whenever the word "but" forms on my lips, it's usually out of reflex, to hide my true intentions and feelings. Sometimes it's warranted, to guard people's feelings. Most times, it's to save ourselves the trouble and discomfort of revealing cold, hard truths to people who need to hear it. 

From now on, honesty is the best policy. I shan't coat bitter pills with layers of sugar to pass it off as candy. If I see a spade, I'll call it a spade (and not, say, a spanner). If you catch me saying "but" one too many times, please give me a swift kick to the butt.


2. "Because"

I've noticed many people, including myself, are fond of starting sentences with the word 'because'. Not only is it grammatically wrong, it's also a sign of weakness - we're giving excuses even before stating what's the excuse for. We start off as being defensive, rather than assertive.

The word "because" can take out the sting of our messages in many ways, such as:

  • "Because of our policy, we don't condone such behaviour."
  • "Because you were late, we started off the meeting without you."
  • "Because of our differences, I don't think we're right for each other."

To really get our message across, we should say:

  • "Your behaviour is unacceptable. It's totally against our policy."
  • "We started off the meeting without you. Everyone else were there. We couldn't wait for you."
  • "We should stop seeing each other."

Putting "because" at the front erects a fence around an idea. Which shouldn't be the case, if we have a damn good reason(s) for what we want to say. We should mix our ideas and reasons together - because they're both intertwined. We should minimise the gap between cause and effect. 

By right, we don't even need to say "because" when we explain something. Better still, we don't even need to explain ourselves when we are expressing an obvious idea. Now, that's confidence.

Exception to the rule.
#YOLO #champion #swag #qotd #history #climbingpeaks

3. "Maybe"

Lawyers like to think that they're the only persons in the world able to perfect the art of cross-examination. That is, asking direct, narrow questions with only two logical answers. Like flipping a coin, and seeing which side faces up. Parents know this. Spouses know this. Bosses know this. People are tired of hearing "but's" and "because's". People want to hear definite answers, not your explanations and intentions.

There is, however, some room to maneuver and escape from such questions. Magically make the coin fall on its side. By saying things like "Don't know", "Don't remember" and the most dreaded word of all - "maybe".

Take these common, everyday questions:

  • "Want to hang out this weekend?"
  • "Can you deliver the draft to me by close of business today?"
  • "Do you like me?"

As the questioner, would you accept "maybe" as a satisfactory answer? Of course not. No one would. When we ask such direct questions, we expect definite answers. We don't want non-committal, cop-out answers like:

  • "Er... Maybe? Let me sleep over it. Tell you tomorrow."
  • "Don't know if I can. Maybe tonight, or tomorrow morning? Kind of swamped today."
  • "Depends. Maybe if you'd asked me a week ago, I would say 'yes'. Now, I'm not sure."

Direct questions are the hardest to answer. Nevertheless, evading the question and hoping the questioner will forget to follow up later is not the solution. As early and as best as we can, we should clear all doubts and uncertainties. Tuck the word "maybe" into the nethermost regions of our mental vocabulary. Lock it away in a vault, behind a few thick iron doors. So that only after we have exhausted all our mind-fucking and soul-searching efforts, can we finally unlock "maybe" as the last resort.


Master Yoda once said: "Do or do not. There is no try."

Likewise, I say: "Yes or no. There is no maybe."

Aloha 2013, Aloha 2014

The year 2013 has been good to me, but and could have been better.

Next year, in 2014, greater things will come my way. Because I'm shooting for the stars.

Will I make it? Maybe Fuck yeah!

*  *  *


One last annoying example of "but" abuse: "I'm single, but not available."

Seriously, what do people even mean by that? Regardless whether the question is "Do you have a boyfriend?" or "Are you single?", why do you even need to mention the "single" word? 

It's such a cock-tease - the hidden unspoken message is almost like "Catch me if you can" or "Because you ain't good enough, darling - maybe next time, when you drive a better car / clean your shit up / confess your undying love for me for six consecutive months" (because and maybe in a single sentence - DAFUQ?!?).

Consider the alternatives:

  • "I'm not ready for a relationship now."
  • "I've just started seeing someone."
  • "I'm lesbian." 

See? That wasn't so hard, was it? Speak plainly, save the ambiguity. Maybe once upon a time, it sounded mysterious and alluring. But now, it's unoriginal, lame, totally unnecessary and unattractive.

(The 'Postscript' is inspired by a post-publication suggestion of Eu Vern)

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