Does language shape our thinking, or does our thinking shape our language?
Certainly our language can shape other’s thinking. Take this example: Your boss has come up with a great idea, but you have some questions about how it’s going to get done. You do the mature thing, and in a private meeting, you raise your concerns with her. Compare the following two sentences:
I completely support your plan to replace all the vending machines with treadmills, but I have a couple of questions about how we’re going to implement it.
. . . versus . . .
I completely support your plan to replace all the vending machines with treadmills, and I have a couple of questions about how we’re going to implement it.
It may not seem like changing one word makes much of a difference. To us it has exactly the same meaning. To the listener it sounds completely different. Read both sentences out loud again. Listen carefully for the emotional difference.
The “and” sentence conveys support and agreement. You really are supporting your boss’s plan to replace the vending machines, and you’re ready to get at it as soon as you get a couple of the final details from her.
“But” tells the listener that everything that came before it in your statement means nothing. “But” is the great canceller, negating any support you might actually feel. It gives the impression that you don’t really support your boss’s plan but were just saying so to butter her up for your dazzling counter-arguments.
Try this experiment for the next week – in all your written and verbal communications with family, friends, and at work, don’t use the word “but” at all. Substitute “and” every time. It will be difficult and awkward at first, because you’ll have to watch and catch yourself doing it, but watch the effect it has on the people around you and how they react to you.
It will be a positive change.