By: Rebecca Liston
Many moons ago, Stella and I got to talking about the use of the phrasing “Yes, and…”
I cannot quite remember what the context of the conversation was at the time, but we were talking about “buts.”
The idea was that it’s more inviting, inclusive, collaborative, co-operative to respond to someone with a “Yes, and…” than a “Yes, but…”
A “Yes, and” in conversation builds upon the thoughts of the person with whom you are speaking while a “Yes, but” is contradictory, and more of a negation of what is being said or shared with you.
“Yes, and” is a connecting phrase. Two words that bring two ideas together. It’s a Joiner. A bridge. And sometimes it can really do the trick when we find ourselves sitting in a dichotomy.
I’ve been relying on it quite a bit as of late. So many things that I am noticing, so many conversations that I am having, are placing me firmly in what feels like a dichotomy of ideas or thoughts or even actions. Could two things that appear to be contradictory to one another both be true? And if they were both true, then what? What happens then to the part within me that wants to stand firmly on one side or another, 100% certain that I am “right,” and argue about it?
My friend’s mom died this spring. She called me to support her with the writing of the eulogy. “Mom was such an avid gardener. Everyone I talk to talks about how great she was with her plants, how much she cared for them, talked to them, nursed them. People used to bring her their dying plants and somehow – and people talk like she performed a miracle here – somehow mom would bring it back to life! But no one talks about the fact that she was a crappy parent. You know how absent she was! How can I get up there and talk about a woman who everyone sees as this nurturing, kind soul when I know otherwise?”
It was a “Yes, and” moment.
“Yes, my friend’s mother was incredibly caring and nurturing of her plants, and she was not present and available emotionally to her daughter.”
If we used the “Yes, but” here, in this example, you could see how somehow it would take away from the experience that others had of her:
“Yes, my friend’s mother was incredibly caring and nurturing of her plants, but she was not present and available emotionally to her daughter!”
You may note that, in the second example, I found myself drawn to place an exclamation point at the end of the sentence – another indication of the energy of the phrase. It becomes more argumentative, somehow, that second version, and we are left with the resonance of only the second part of the sentence. Somehow the fact that she was wonderful with her plants is entirely lost as soon as we place a “but” in there. And I end up feeling angry and grumpy and “sharp” as a result.
Something about the “Yes, and” feels like a breath.
It feels more balanced.
We do, after all, “contain multitudes.” (Thanks, Walt Whitman, for that phrase.)
And that part of me that wants to be “right,” to stand firmly behind the idea that this woman was emotionally absent and very uncaring towards her daughter, darn it, and doesn’t want to recognize that this woman was also very nurturing to her plants – because that would mean I would have to sit in the dichotomy of that and it might be quite uncomfortable and who wants that?!? Well, that part of me must face it: Both things are true. There is no “one truth” here. And I, as a result, find myself nodding, and getting quiet, and exhaling.
Yes, Walt, we do indeed “contain multitudes.”
We are precise and orderly about our appearance, perhaps, and messy-as-all-get-out in our homes.
We are quiet and reserved in company, and dance wildly around our kitchens when no one is watching.
The World can be going to “hell in a handcart,” and the neighbours can rally together to find a missing cat, searching through the night, together, united.
I can argue with my daughter about spending $25 on a t-shirt, and I can go to Starbucks afterwards and drop $30 on drinks and snacks.
I can want to take in every foster dog I see, and I can know it’s not the right time to do so.
We can appreciate the art of certain artists, and we can know that they themselves were not ‘good people.’
We can be grateful for the gift, and not love the giver.
There is a peace, somehow, in the “Yes, and.” An honouring of the things that can, at first blush, appear to be contrary to one another, a way to come to grips with what may feel like opposing thoughts or ideas or beliefs.
We can honour it all. It can all be true.
We can find ease as we sit in the dichotomy.
We can breathe.
Rebecca Liston is cofounder and business intuitive at Las Peregrinas, a creative and consulting agency. She specializes in anchoring folks in a clear-eyed understanding of which path is theirs for the taking. She’s got one foot in the land of the subtle and unseen, and the other foot firmly planted in the land of ruthless pragmatism. Oh, and she swears like a sailor, which makes us love her more.
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