Saturday, August 23, 2003

I realized the other day that...

I heard this morning on NPR that...
I've believed for years that...
It's just struck me that...

I've noticed in the last week how often I preface remarks with time qualifiers. Other people do so, too. Why?

At the very least, these warm-up clauses establish one's turn in the conversation, and prepare listeners for the main course. They draw attention to the speaker, and allow one to get a sentence going even while others are still speaking.

But they're also more than simply eloquent versions of "Uhhh..." I feel the need to provide the context for my statements. It's an attempt to be better understood; for some reason we believe that listeners care about when we had an insight.

That's a way of saying, It's the Ego Talking. I'm at the center of my world, not only in space but in time. All events need to be defined in relation to my personal now. It's a way of orienting ourselves to event, anchoring our consciousness in the stream of events. Since memory has to be constantly be reconstructed, it may also be a way of creating consciousness.

In some cases, it's also a way to claim priority. If you hear someone starting a sentence with, "I've always said that ...," it's a cue that they're claiming that they've known something that others haven't. It's a way of reinforcing the me/them dichotomy, and showing that the Us is better than the They.

Starting statements with qualifiers of any kind is a sign of insecurity. It shows that the speaker has to establish their presence, and feels uncertain about their right to speak, and even about the value of their contribution. Big Egos seldom preface their statements; to them, their opinions are eagerly awaited, self-evident statements of universal truth. The Little People aren't so sure. Here are some of their most commonly used opening qualifiers, with translation:
"I believe..." - statement of faith
"I think..." - personal opinion
"I suspect..." - uncertainty
"I'm certain..." - statement of faith
"Perhaps..." - uncertainty

Homework: Watch out for your use of time qualifiers. Examine if they add any explicit information. Examine your hidden motivations were for using them. Are you a Big Ego or a Little Person?

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