No Ifs, Ands, or Buts
I want to talk about The But Rule. Longtime followers of my blog may think that I have misspelled butt because they are familiar with my journey to accept my big, ol’ booty as part of who I am. Not an irrational assumption considering I have written extensively about my transition from self-loathing to self-acceptance and how it is possible to reject the seemingly ludicrous (now) mindset that if I had a smaller butt, my life would magically transform into the greatest life EVER! But they would be mistaken because today I really do want to talk about buts.
“I am really sorry, but…”
“I am wonderful, but…”
“You are totally awesome, but…”
Along with THE PHRASE, one of the rules I live by is, “Be aware of what comes after the but.”
The But Rule isn’t a catchy phrase or a quotable snippet like, “I before E except after C” but it rings as true and in my opinion, are words to live by.
Here’s what I mean.
Imagine a time in your life when a friend, lover, or family member, apologized to you. Chances are the apology didn’t begin and end with, “I am so sorry.” Most likely the apology went more like, “I am so sorry, but I was really angry” or “I am so sorry, but you brought up the subject” or “I apologize, but you need to own your side of it as well.”
If they had stopped at “sorry” it would have been a pure, unadulterated apology, but they didn’t because everything they said after the but is really the message they wanted or needed you to know.
Frequently, the same holds true with compliments:
- “You look beautiful, but you could stand to lose a few pounds.”
- “She played that piece wonderfully, but she messed up that one arpeggio.”
- “He is amazing, but he is too short.”
And sadly, sometimes the violator of The But Rule is ourselves. How often do we look in the mirror and say, “Great outfit, but it makes my butt look big?”
ALL RULES HAVE EXCEPTIONS, BUT...
Most of the time if you look at the words after the but those are the true intentions of the statement, and they frequently neutralize the words that came before. I am guessing that most of us know how diluted an apology immediately becomes when someone continues after the words “I’m sorry,” and starts justifying their mistake. In the moment it is the apology we need, not the excuse. The excuse is usually there to convince the other person that what they did was really okay. It diffuses the apology. And when The But Rule is used in conjunction with a compliment it transforms simple praise into an objective or goal for improvement.
I think it’s important to pay attention to words. Granted, that’s coming from a word nerd and it is a recurring theme in my writing, so I won’t rehash that thesis here, BUT I will say that words have meaning. Words have power. And the placement of words also makes a difference.
- “She’s great at her job. but she’s too fat to be the face of the company.”
- “She’s healthy, but she needs to lose the weight.”
- “He’s brilliant, but he’s fat.”
Do you see how the stigmatization of the person’s body eradicates the positivity of the rest of the statement? The audience is left with the secondary image in their minds not the first. It may seem subtle or petty, but I really believe it to be true.
Weight Stigma Awareness Week starts today. This is a time to increase awareness about how we use language and actions to discriminate against people of size, so let’s try an experiment. Throughout the week pay attention to how you, and others, use the word but and see if you notice The But Rule. If you do, how is it impacting the effectiveness or authenticity of the communication? How are you or the person you are speaking with reacting to what is being said? What is the impact on your self-esteem if you qualify your positive self-statements with the word but? Can you point out The But Rule to someone who is unaware of its existence? I would love to hear about your experiences.
Til next time!