The Power of “And”
I would guess that you don’t spend much time thinking about coordinating conjunctions. Words like “so,” “and,” “but,”and “yet” are probably used often in your conversation, without much of a thought. However, I’d like to offer that a little more consideration can alter the way we understand and communicate important feelings, for ourselves and for others.
Let’s imagine you’re at a job interview. It’s a highly sought-after position that you are under-qualified for, but you were excited about it and decided to apply anyway. The interview goes well, and you leave feeling hopeful and perhaps a little confident. And then you get that email—thank you for your interest, but we decided to go with someone with more experience. We all know the feeling—a mix of disappointment and sadness and perhaps some shame that lands right in a solid heap at the bottom of our stomachs.
We can (and often do) tell ourselves, “I feel sad, but I knew I wasn’t going to get that job anyway”—which may be true, but is wildly invalidating to the very real sense of sadness we feel. Or we say “I knew it was a long shot, but I’m still bummed,” which places the blame on the idea that we deluded ourselves and should have known better.
Here’s where the grammar comes in—I challenge you to try replacing the “but” with an “and.”
“I feel sad and I know the position should have gone to someone more qualified.”
“I knew I didn’t have enough experience going in and I’m bummed.”
It’s a subtle language shift, but utilizing it makes a huge difference. By using “and,” you are acknowledging to yourself that both statements are true, even if they don’t feel like they fit together.
“I know I can finish this race and I am exhausted.”
“I feel devastated to have lost him and I also know he was in a lot of pain.”
“I’m feeling burnt out and I really care about this project.”
Or, as I see over and over in this pandemic: “I know I am fortunate that I have not lost much to COVID right now (job, health, family or friends) and I feel overwhelmingly sad so much of the time.”
In the therapy world, we call this “dialectics”. It’s the idea that two things that seem like opposites, or maybe are in fact opposites, can be true at once. This concept, a foundational block of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), reminds us that both our intellect and our intuition can, and frankly should, coexist.
In DBT, this area of coexistence is called “Wise Mind”—the part of our brain where our logic and feelings are both true, without diminishing the reality of the other. Emotionally, you can be sad that you didn’t get a job, and rationally, you can understand that you were not qualified.
Using “and” instead of “but” can change the way we talk with others as well.
“I love you and I’m really hurt by what you did.”
“I want to be helpful to you and I’m feeling really overwhelmed.”
“I will miss you and I know you need to move out.”
“I don’t agree with what you did and I’m feeling really grateful that you tried.”
By including “and”, we are acknowledging the complexity that is having relationships with others. “I love you” and “I’m hurt by what you did” might seem like opposite experiences, but we all know they can be present at the same time, and it’s critical that we communicate that they can coexist without diminishing one another.
By embracing our Wise Minds, we are ensuring that our emotional and rational needs are met, which allows us to make thoughtful, balanced decisions, and that we are communicating exactly what we mean, which strengthens our relationships. It’s not easy—often, our brains pull us into Emotional or Rational Mind and we resist any other input. But by gently guiding ourselves to middle, we can begin to truly see the big picture—from the beginning to the “and”.