“Yes, and…” is the single most powerful vernacular I’ve learned this past decade. When I was a younger man, still guileless and unknowledgeable about how the world worked, my default response to just about everything was “Yes, but…” In part, it was my contrarian nature (“Thanks, Mom!”) but also, when I now reflect on those long ago, bygone days of naivete, I think there were two more components to it: First, it made me feel smart and clever. I genuinely enjoyed finding holes in other people’s arguments/belief systems/most cherished core values and dismantling them. Like, it gave me a kind of (perverse?) joy that hardly anything else did. Of course, occasionally, I’d meet someone who could hold their own (Bagel!) and then that’d be an even greater delight– being able to go “toe-to-toe” in an “epic meeting of the minds,” or at least that’s my hoity-toity narrative that I often entertained in my own imagination.
What’s interesting to me is that I never once held a shred or iota of sympathy for people (“debate counterparties,” in my mind) who I completely wrecked. It was their own damned fault they couldn’t defend their thoughts and positions! I was simply doing them a favor. Yes, I was just helping them see the error of their misguided ways, that’s right… it’s like Jeff Daniels’s “Mission to Civilize” in The Newsroom. That’s what I’d always thought I was doing.
Second, and more importantly: I always felt deeply unsettled when people seemed extremely confident or convinced about a position. Like, it genuinely annoyed me how certain people could be about unfalsifiable claims or opinions (which by my lights) they hadn’t appeared to have really thought through. And thus: I always felt I was dutifully doing what was necessary by “filling in the gaps” and providing a more wholistic picture. Again, I was helping!
Anyway, I stumbled upon the synagogue and Saturday Torah Study late in life, but the one life lesson I’ve learned from Judaism, at least as championed by my congregation and rabbi, is to simply change, “Yes, but…” to “Yes, and…” Everything else can literally stay the same. I kid you not– just change the “but” to an “and.”
And it’s worked! People are now more receptive to my opinions! They feel less threatened! I’ve made more friends! People think I’m less of a jerk and haughty, arrogant prick now. Honest to God, this simple lexicon change has made all the difference.