Why "But" Is a Very, Very Dangerous Word

Why "But" Is a Very, Very Dangerous Word

But. It’s the lovechild of Truth and Denial, second cousin to Nevertheless.

A simple three-letter word that takes up less than a half-inch of nine-point Arial font. Easily read and pronounced, unlike the billion dollar, polysyllabic words. And so we use it a lot. Maybe the sheer convenience of "but" is why we default to it so often. At the same time, "and"—another short, easily recognizable word—is used sparingly.

I can’t help but think the world would be a better place with fewer "buts" and more "ands."

With "but," everything is a mutually exclusive event, and everything is an either/or proposition.

This pot roast is good, BUT it needs a little seasoning.

Can’t you just see crotchety Aunt Sally (or whoever is notorious for critiquing your meals) grimacing as her words mask her intent to say your pot roast is barely palatable and far beyond the help of a little seasoning?

pot roast

Credit Image: tomcensani on Flickr

"And," on the other hand, is a connector. In the land of "and," things happen in tandem, and mutually exclusive events don’t exist.

This pot roast is good AND it needs a little seasoning.

Just reading that, I can practically smell the rich, earthy comfort food aroma of gravy and beef and see a cozily lit kitchen with windows fogged from the oven’s warmth. I hear my husband anointing his blessing on this comfort food, salt shaker in hand, and I feel good about the many hours that I … um, I mean, the slow cooker put in to make it.

Now that’s just dinner and a little salt.

Other times an "and" instead of a "but" could make the difference in self-esteem, the way parents and children relate and lessen heartbreak’s blow.

From the Late Arrival

I think of the insecure teen.

You’re so smart, pretty and funny, BUT you need to lose about twenty pounds.

All she heard was that she’s fat. "But" erased the compliment that preceded it. All of it.

"And" might have helped her fully accept all the good and soak it in. And maybe that would help her believe in herself enough to work on losing twenty pounds. Or maybe to like herself just the way she is.

I think of the worn-out parent.

I love you, BUT I’m really mad at you right now.

Hey Mom, all Emma heard is that you’re mad at her. She didn’t hear the love part, and she thinks she needs to be the perfect kid so you won’t be mad anymore … and so you’ll love her.

"And" might’ve helped her understand that being upset doesn’t mean you stop loving.

I think of jilted lovers.

I’ll always love you and we’ll always be friends, BUT right now I want to see other people.

Guess what? The whole part that came after the "BUT," that’s all you really wanted to say ... isn't it? Well, believe me, your soon-to-be ex heard it loud and clear because everything in your pre-"BUT" speech sounded like every adult in every Charlie Brown special: wahmp-wahm- wahm-wahm-wahm-wahmp.

"But." A tiny word, so simple and unassuming, yet so potentially dangerous.

We use it without thinking of the power it holds as an eraser of the positive.

We add it into conversation as causally as we would a pinch of salt in boiling water, without considering its impact on feelings or relationships.

We use it as a lubricant to casually slide in our real message when we don’t have the guts to come out and speak our truth.

Just using "and" more often instead of "but" would force us to choose our words carefully, AND make us think about the real message we want to send AND be truthful enough to say it, even when the truth hurts AND if that happened, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

I think so.

Rochelle Fritsch from The Late Arrival...Finding out everyday that sometimes, late is right on time.

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