From a grammatical perspective, the word ‘but’ is a conjunction, and it’s primary function, in addition to hooking up all those words, and phrases and clauses, is to show contrast.
That’s what ‘but’ does.
It takes you from where you are, to someplace different, not to someplace that’s similar or a continuation of where you are. So the question becomes which direction will the contrast take you — from negative to positive? Or positive to negative?
My grandma always said there are two kinds of people — the first kind are the ones who have a solution for every problem, and then there’s the second kind, the ones who have a problem for every solution.
One of my favorite techniques for practicing positive reframing is what I call “Add a But.”
Whether it’s a burned dinner, car accident, bad haircut or whatever, adding a but and continuing the sentence is a way to change my thinking and turn a negative into a positive.
Adding a but helps me find solutions (or new perspectives) for problems. This strategy is involves deliberate work to re-see an event in a more positive light, to make the proverbial lemonade from the lemons on my doorstep.
- I burned the steaks,…but I didn’t set off the fire alarm.
- I had a car accident,…but no one was hurt.
- I got a bad haircut,…but at least my hair grows quickly.
But…what about that second group of people Grandma mentioned, the ones who have a problem for every solution? My friend Lynne has just such a mother.
This summer, Lynne spent the afternoon on her hands and knees weeding in the garden…and when her mom stopped by the first words out of her mouth were “looks good, but you missed a spot over there.”
Later as the two of them sipped glasses of wine, Lynne commented on the beautiful sunset, and there was her mom chiming in with a “but too bad it’s supposed to rain tomorrow.”
A couple of weeks ago as Christmas sales rolled around, Lynne found the perfect 12 foot flocked Christmas tree for her entryway and it was on sale…and there was her mother–AGAIN–saying “but where are you going to store it once Christmas is over?”
I’ve taken to calling Lynne’s mom The But Patrol — because she’s always around sticking her ‘but’ in where it doesn’t belong.
Now I get texts from Lynne saying “Just got ticketed by the But Patrol.”
Listening to Lynne talk about her mom has made me more conscious of my own speech patterns, of times when I put on my own But Patrol badge and find problems instead of solutions.
BUT I’m working on thinking twice before I stick my ”but” in where it just might not belong.