Thursday, May 19, 2011

Words Matter: Sometimes...

Some of my Geometry tests in high school featured questions that looked kind of like True or False questions, but with a twist. There would be a list of statements, and we would have to decide whether each statement was Always true, Sometimes true, or Never true. I found these questions more difficult than regular True or False questions, because of that middle option, the sometimes.

The deal with the sometimes option is that if you can think of ONE example of when something is not true, then it's not always true. It's only sometimes true. One counterexample is all it takes.

In life, it's easy to lose sight of the sometimes option in the middle, and default to always or never. You might hear parents say things like these about their kids:

My son NEVER helps me clean up.
My daughter ALWAYS wants something expensive at the store.
My child NEVER says thank you.
My children ALWAYS fight with each other.

The problem with thinking about things this way is that you may start seeing only the examples that support the extremes, instead of the ones that contradict them. If you can think of just ONE time your son has helped you, and then it's not never. It's sometimes. Then sometimes, he does help you clean up, and sometimes he doesn't. And you can say instead:

My son sometimes helps me clean up. That's wonderful! 
My daughter sometimes wants something expensive at the store. That's normal! 
My child sometimes says thank you. That's wonderful! 
My children sometimes fight with each other. That's normal!

My daughter sometimes does this when she paints. But not always.

Great things can happen when you can switch to sometimes. You can shift your focus to the positive things.  You can make it easier for yourself to see the counterexamples, because you know there are some. You can avoid setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy for your child. You might feel better about your child.

It's the same with other extreme words like every, all, and none. These words might apply sometimes. But if you can try not to jump over the words in the middle, all the time, things won't seem as bad as they might otherwise. And this is not just good for your relationships with you kids. It works the same way for other relationships. Don't forget about the sometimes!


I am usually careful not to use extreme words when I write these blog posts. I'm not going to say I never do it. But sometimes, people read the extremes into my writing anyway, even if they aren't there.

I always appreciate feedback from people. Even the negative comments make me think, and make me examine my thoughts and how I presented them. If you read my writing and you see me using the an extreme word like always, never, not preceded by a qualifier like "almost," then please do point it out to me. I (almost) never mean to do that, and I will (almost) always change it right away! :)


A simple example from Geometry class:

A rectangle is a square. Sometimes.
A square is a rectangle. Always.
A circle is a rectangle. Never.

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