you don't need to..
In working on my next book, Storyteller Consciousness, I have become increasingly aware of my own unconscious language patterns and what they reveal about my relationships and beliefs. First, I'll say a bit about this new book. It is about how to exercise that most fundamental means of human creativity: words. Ancient traditions associated a magical power to words; indeed, in Western religions it is through Word that God created the universe, while in Eastern religions the universe IS word. Om, the sound that generates all things, for example. Moreover, any leader exercises power through words. If George Bush starts World War Three, it will be because he commands it to start. He has the power to speak a war into existence. More prosaically, everything that Congress does is, on one level, nothing but generating a bunch of words. This book examines how to recover the power of word in an age where words seem increasingly ineffectual.
Like Ascent, the book has a personal and a social aspect. How can we create the world; how can we create our lives? Many authors have already pointed out the insidious effects of words like should, can't, and but. Their observations are the starting point of this work.
Somewhat naively, some people decide to stop using "should" or "but" or "try to" in hopes that it will magically lift them out of victim mentality. This shortcut will not usually work: it is entirely possible to stop using those words while continuing to entertain the thought-forms behind them, substituting euphemisms that to the unconscious mind actually mean should, but, and try. I see these words instead as symptoms. When we bring awareness to our habitual use of these words, it brings awareness as well to the attitudes and beliefs underlying them. Awareness, attention, is itself healing. When old hurts come to light, when they rise to the surface of consciousness, then healing has reached its final stage, just as certain deep diseases end up as skin eruptions before they are finally healed. Only when the underlying attitude is truly changing will a willful change of language patterns be effective.
If you mean should, say should. If you mean but, say but. If you really feel helpless, say can't. Don't lie to yourself. Let the words, though, shed light on your state of consciousness.
Today I was writing a letter to someone and noticed the phrase, "You don't need to tell me..." All of a sudden I realized the arrogance of telling someone what they need or do not need to do. How patronizing! Certainly there may be times when I actually do perceive another person's need, maybe better than they do, but this was not one of those times. The truth was not, "You don't need to." The truth was "I don't need you to." My reflexive use of "You don't need to..." reveals an unconscious habit of manipulation, of trying to control other people. Don't get me wrong -- probably no one who knows me would say I'm a particularly controlling person -- but I am like all of us inculcated with the habits of civilization. Today, however, I am no longer comfortable telling people what they need, especially when I don't know.
I went on to ruminate on how often I hear the phrase "You need to..." especially directed at children. Many parents use this phrasing as their primary way to deliver a threat. "You need to put that down and come inside right now! One, two..." I think this sows confusion in children. It says that needs come from outside themselves, and desensitizes them to their own needs. It also stymies the development of their own internal authority.
I think it is much better to speak the truth to children. The truth could be, "I need you to put that down and come inside right now." It could be, "I am feeling very impatient," or, "I'm really getting angry." At least then, the truth comes out that it is not the child's needs at all that are being served by coming in right now, it is the parent's needs. Sometimes we believe that as parents, we are supposed to always put the child's needs first, and so we pretend to be doing so even when we are not. We do the same in a relationship. It is part of the self-denial that goes along with the War Against the Self whose origins I describe in my books.
It is time to stop pretending and to stop denying ourselves. As I shake off the Age of Separation, I become more comfortable with my own needs, and less prone to projecting them onto other people in order to validate them. This naturally happens as I become more comfortable with my own self, which is not the isolated, disconnected self of Descartes, but interwoven with all the other selfs around me, because I see then that my truest needs are not in opposition to the needs of our planet.