Preserving Power and Autonomy

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Just

Together with ‘Only’ and ‘Basically’, ‘Just’ can put an artificial box/limit around an idea and how it’s expressed. Confined and contained, the idea or person is closed to further thought, exploration, possibility, and especially expansion/change. Let’s look at some examples:

  • I just did it.
  • It’s just a little bit off.
  • He/She/I/They/It is just like that
  • Just do it!
  • You’re only doing that?
  • It’s only a little bit.
  • It’s basically like this

‘Just’ can carry an implication of guilt, apology, or request for allowance in what we say. If someone asks you “What was your intention there?” and you answer “I just wanted to…”, it unnecessarily implies that you are justifying your thoughts or actions, and that you are under scrutiny.
Speak with conviction. Own your autonomy, your opinion, and your thoughts. They are yours, and they need not be minimized.
Just/only/basically can also make a task seem simple (and ambiguous), when simple is not agreed upon.
Try removing the words, and taking full ownership for your thoughts and actions. Add precision and clarity to express what just/only/basically is hiding. This will increase power and precision.

When does it work well? Just works when: truly meant to limit the object, when indicating a real comparison or similarity, or referring to something immediately temporal, like it just happened. Indicating similarity works when both parties would peacefully and powerfully agree on the similarity, comparison, or simplicity. Both is often assumed, yet less often true.

  • “Wow, it’s just 1pm!”
  • “One is 5 ft tall, and the other is just short of that.”
  • “You say you want just one scoop of ice cream?” (both people know it’s an atypical amount.)

Makes Me

Similar to ‘Have To’, ‘Makes Me’ offers us a linguistic psychological mechanism for shirking responsibility. Our section on taking 100% responsibility covers this topic well: we often but responsibility for our own actions, feelings, or unmet needs on the world outside ourselves. Our emotions and thoughts are ultimately our responsibility, and implying that someone ‘makes us’ do something or feel a certain way robs us of the full ownership of our experience.

Surrendering one’s free will and agency can get you off the hook, but it drops you into a quasi-comfortable, sticky morass which lacks potential, possibility, power and freedom. Consider the subtle difference between “When you said x I felt y . . .” and “When I heard you say x I felt y . . .” The key difference, more present in the latter example, is taking responsibility for how you felt, instead of blaming someone or something else for what you’re feeling.

When does it work well? Like ‘Have to’, it’s precarious. It can work when referring to physical reality/cause and effect.

Have To

“I have to.” “He has to do it.” “It has to be done.” “Sorry, I have to go.”
The implication that ‘have to’ often carries is as clear as it is false: that I/you/we/they/he/she has no choice. Psychologically, it offer us the chance to shirk responsibility for our thoughts/actions, or to authoritatively take that responsibility from others. Subtle only because it is used so commonly, it’s an important one not to take for granted, as it robs us and others of our autonomy when we always have choice. 
Give yourself back the power of choice.
 “I choose to . . .
Removing choice from yourself or others creates a power differential. It can become a self-fulfilling prophesy when a person (especially children) hear that they have to do something or can’t do something.
Interestingly, this can often backfire. People are remarkably obedient to authority, even when asked to do horrible things. But, as shown in Milgram’s famous obedience studies (you know the one…where people were asked to shock another participant), when people are told ‘You must continue, you have no choice,” they tend to rebel.

When does it work well? Although still precarious, it can refer to rules or physical laws accurately.

Try

I tried to do it. I’ll try next time. Try harder. Keep trying.

Try has become colloquial speech that indicates anywhere from .01 to 100% of one’s efforts. As Yoda said, “Try not. Do, or do not; there is no try!” Be intentional in the level of commitment you intend to offer/execute. Be sincere in your commitments.
Like so much in Intentional Speech, ‘Try’ is very case-by-case. Depending on the situation, it can imply a number of things:

  • ‘I’m not going to give this my all’,
  • ‘I’m going to do this even though I don’t want to‘,
  • ‘Oh, you really couldn’t manage, could you’ (condescension.)

Or, it can even be innocuous: “Let’s try this and see what happens.” (in the sense of experimentation).

When does it work well? In the sense of an attempt, especially when the intent is positive experimentation.

I’m Busy

We might as well say “Talk to the hand!”
Busy is a matter of choice which leads to priorities. It can be easy to use “I’m Busy” as a means of explaining away a mistake or lack of commitment to an action. What it carries with it is a presented lack of will to show one’s own priorities and intentions.
Taking responsibility for our choices offers us the ability to learn and live life more fully. If your priorities changed after you made a commitment, and someone inquires about it, it may not absolve you of discomfort to explain your intentions and priorities clearly, and that is ok. You are not responsible for the emotions of others. You are responsible for how your priorities are communicated. If you didn’t make time for something, say that. Instead of saying you’re sorry, offer someone an empathetic understanding of their perspective of an event and/or a commitment for the future. Compassionate Communication can help tremendously here.

When does it work well? Referring to an overall state as a description: “That traffic intersection is busy” “We keep a busy workplace” “Wow, I’ve been so busy the last week”.

I’m Sorry

Try not using those words, or “I apologize” as a sole response.  Alone, “I’m Sorry” is like offering a present, and never letting the other person see what’s inside.  The other person is likely not aware of what you have discovered. Understanding how you feel and why you might feel that way will foster that connection.  You’ll find more clarity and heart-centered expressions if you offer:

  1. An empathetic understanding of the other person’s perspective on events, how they feel about it, and what need(s) is involved. Ending this with an apology can often add to the effect.
  2. Your commitment to choose differently in the future because of what you have discovered in the current situation. In addition to your commitment, you may have a need for understanding and clarity as well, which could be met before, simultaneously, or afterwards, depending on the circumstance.

Seek connection and avoid making the other person ‘wrong‘.  After the other person feels the connection and feels understood, expressing your feelings is appropriate.  It does take longer to truly be sorry (open to learning vs. set on defending).

Be careful not to be violent with yourself; that you should be blamed, that you should be penitent, that you’re a terrible person for what you did. And when you agree that you are a horrible person and when you have become sufficiently penitent, you can be forgiven.  If you hate yourself enough, you can be forgiven. This approach reflects the guilty unworthy self, and perpetuates more violence in the world by perceiving oneself as a victim and the world as the villain.

When does it work well? A casual “sorry” or “excuse me” in response to something minor or trivial is different, and acceptable.

Educational Praise

Since the early 70’s, parents have been told that praising their children was vital to enhance self-esteem, which was then believed to be one of the most important facets of a person.  Studies over the last couple decades have revealed that praise can actually be detrimental when used as a reward or a way of avoiding a struggle or feeling incompetent. Children who are told that they’re smart by parents are less likely to try new or challenging activities, for fear of failing. Frequently-praised children are more competitive and interested in tearing one another down in an attempt to keep/reaffirm their status (Carol Dweck).  These traits carry into adulthood and throughout life. This is not to say all praise is detrimental; in fact, praise is a common way to meet our need for love, belonging, and knowledge, but the type and amount of praise given is of vital importance.

Learn how to offer praise that truly counts by visiting the page on the subject: