The English Prime Challenge

English Prime

English Prime looks and sounds just like the everyday English language we use with family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers, with one major exception, the verb ‘to be’ and all it’s variants, i.e., is, was, am, will be, etc., are removed. By using English Prime, often referred to as E-Prime, one can communicate more clearly and realistically than otherwise. The verb ‘to be’ creates the illusion of absolute certainty and unequivocal truths. Sometimes, this is appropriate, such as the statement, the flower is planted in the pot, or when describing certain properties or qualities, such as the dog is hairy. Even then, the word ‘hairy’ can have many levels of meaning and as such is not terribly clear. When used in the context of identity, the word ‘is’ becomes very problematic. For example, the simple sentence ‘John is a troublemaker’ would appear to suggest that John makes trouble all the time everywhere. Moreover, it suggests that one’s own perception of the situation should be taken as truth, which it is not. Another person may perceive John as a goof off, but not a troublemaker.

A more accurate and realistic statement about John’s behavior might be something like, ‘the way I see it, John appears to behave as a troublemaker when at school.’ This conveys a point of view, in a given context, not an absolute universal truth; it presents an appearance of behaviors which are interpreted by the observer as being that of a troublemaker, in a particular setting; it does not imply equality between John the person and a specific set of behaviors, in a specific set of conditions. John may behave in a very helpful and compliant way with friends outside of school. John is very helpful would contradict John is a troublemaker. Which one true? Which one false? It depends on the observer, and on the context, the conditions under which those behaviors are being observed.

Let’s take another simple example: The sky is blue. Although this may seem the common experience, and does describe a property or quality of the sky, one would agree that the sky exhibits many shades of blue, at different times of the day; at night one would say the sky is black. E-Prime would remove the ‘is’ and replace it with something like ‘appears as.’ The sky does only appear as blue at some times, for many people, but not all people, at all times. By stating the sky is blue, the presumption becomes that it appears as blue for all people at all times, which it does not.

English Prime arose in the mid 1960’s out of General Semantics. Here is the main idea of General Semantics: ‘people can only know what they observe and experience when they see, hear, touch, taste, smell, think, and feel, and furthermore, that what they observe and experience can affect how they observe and experience in the future. Because each person has different experiences throughout their lives, they interpret their experiences differently’ ( This way of understanding semantics (i.e., the science of meaning in language) aligns with modern quantum physics, in that the observer and the observed influence each other, that which we perceive becomes colored by the very act of perception itself. We don’t really experience an object as much as we experience our interaction with an object. Just about everything we call reality exists as a point of view, a perspective.

Another example, simple in structure and yet potent in effect, ‘I am depressed’ becomes ‘I feel depressed.’ There is a huge difference between being depressed and feeling depressed. In the former, we are identified as depressed; in the latter, we are experiencing a feeling or state of mind. Or, better yet, ‘I feel depressed when I make a mistake’ adding a context, a condition to that state of mind. And, even better than that, ‘I experience feelings I label as depressing when I make a mistake.’ The statement ‘I am depressed’ has an unrealistic absoluteness about it. Some proponents of E-Prime have stated that improper use of the verb ‘to be’ creates a kind of ‘deity mode of speech’ which allows “even the most ignorant to transform their opinions magically into god-like pronouncements on the nature of things” ( Our point of view, our perspective, the ways in which we as an individual interact with our world, may appear to us as ‘our truth’ but, in fact, falls far short of Truth. Individual truth does not exist. Individual perception, interpretation, point of view and meaning does exist. Truth is; everything else: appears as. So, when you find yourself saying something like so and so is a such and such, or that I am such and such. Stop. Consider how you might phrase that using E-Prime. Take into account this idea of personal perspective, point of view, context and conditions, not an absolute, eternal fact. Up your game. Consider applying English Prime to your written and spoken words. It will require some rethinking, and rewording, of common phrases. The benefits include improved clarity of thought, speech and communication. It even has benefits in the realms of mental health. For some more information on the relationship of language and mental health, check out the blog posts Mental Health is Contained in Language, and Find The Meaning Of Your Life (In Simple Sentences).


Do You Need To Be Loved, Or Love To Be Needed?

love to be needed

We need to be loved. And, we love to be needed. I’m sure you have heard couple’s of all ages say to each other “I love you.” You would probably like hearing it said to you, if it’s not already. Sometimes when one person says “I love you” to another person, the response is “me too.” I find that an absurd response. What does it mean? That I love me too? A more appropriate response would be “I love you too” and even that isn’t terribly poignant. It’s kind of like someone asking “how are you” and you say “fine.” It’s automatic and somewhat meaningless. If someone significant in your life says to you “I love you” a good response is “to hear you say that makes me feel wonderful” or “I believe you and when I hear you say that I feel so good.”

What makes matters worse is that our culture uses the word “love” extremely loosely. We love that movie and we love that car and we love that restaurant and we love that song and we love that book and we love that place and we love that pair of jeans or that shirt or that dress or those pair of shoes……We’re just so filled with love!! And yet we have the arrogance to think that we can actually make love! Love, like money, is not made, it is earned. The only place that makes money is the United States Mint. Everyone else earns it (or steals it which requires some effort, so it’s working for it). .

Our American culture is linguistically impoverished when it comes to love. We really only have that one word to convey something which is more than a feeling; love is more like a state of being – as in “being in love.” You can tell a spouse that you care for them, trust them, respect them, need them, want them…you could even tell them you would do anything for them, even die for them, and they won’t perk up until you say you love them. It’s as if the word “love” is a drug and unless we hear that word spoken to us, we continue to crave it. Nothing else will do. Traditionally, there are three types of love: Eros which is erotic love, Phileos which is brotherly love and Agape which is spiritual love. In modern America, all we have is love. And, although the popular Beatles song “all you need is love” may be true, we need to uplift love from its mundane, overused, misunderstood place in our culture to a recognition of its true stature.

Too often, when a person says “I love you” what they really want to hear in response is the same thing. They are actually saying “I want to hear you say you love me so I’m going to say I love you.” And then you are supposed to say “I love you too.” Or, the ridiculous “me too.” The phrase “I love you” though, is generally not true. It would be more honest to say “I like you a lot” or “I feel very compatible with you” or “I feel very comfortable with you.” However, a much more honest replacement statement for “I love you” is “I need you.” Of course, that doesn’t go over as well as “I love you.” Yet, it’s much more truthful. Our need to belong, to be connected, to be intimate is very strong. What we often love in the other person is that they are satisfying a need of ours to be connected to another person. Our need to be connected motivates a great deal of our late adolescent and adult behavior.

However, the satisfaction of that need to be connected is not necessarily love. Love is, by definition, unconditional positive acceptance of any person at any time under any condition who might be exhibiting any behavior. And, as a people, we’re not very good at that. We may not approve of the behavior; however, to love is to accept the person, without judgment, criticism or complaint. Although we can talk about “tough love” it might be better to call it “tough caring” as love is not tough – or rough. Nor is it bitter sweet. To quote I Corinthians (13:4-8a) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

So, the question then arises, when we hear all these couples say “I love you” what’s really being said? The answer, I believe, is “I need you to need me.” And, there should be no shame or guilt or embarrassment in needing. Everybody needs others. No one likes being alone. We can deteriorate mentally and emotionally when alone in much the same way the body withers away without food. We need companionship, friendship, partners, colleagues and acquaintances. We need to belong, to be part of and contained within something larger than our individual self. We often mistakenly think that by hearing someone say to us “I love you” that all our needs for belonging and connectedness are met. They are not. This can become evident after several years of a relationship or a marriage when one or both parties find themselves needing more than the relationship can offer. Then, thinking another relationship will provide the satisfaction sought, we find ourselves entering another relationship only to find several years down the road that this new relationship by itself too does not satisfy the belonging needs.

If in fact we need to be loved, that need will be satisfied through belonging. We can belong to, and participate in, a family, a company, a community, a society and even global endeavors. By belonging and participating we will grow to feel loved by others (in the brotherly love sense of the word) and the need to be loved will be satisfied. If in fact we love to be needed, then we can have what we love through the very same activities as those that satisfied our need to be loved. For by participating in family, community, professional, social and global endeavors, we become a needed part of the larger whole. Participation in activities larger than our individual self satisfies our need to be needed by others.

The answer to the question that is the title of this article is both. We need both to be loved and we love to be needed – we need to be needed. Being needed makes us feel that we belong. Belonging makes us feel loved. We can achieve both by the single path of participation in something larger than our individual self. Whether it’s family, work, community volunteer work, social activism or a little bit of each, we can find our need to be loved and our love to be needed satisfied. From that satisfaction, we can begin to love others. We can even share that satisfaction with a significant other making our primary relationship based on belonging needs that are already at least in part satisfied rather than placing the entire burden of that satisfaction on the relationship itself. This kind of primary relationship can last a very long time and does contribute to happiness.


The Insult Game

The Insult Game

A partial transcript from a therapeutic session around being insulted, the ‘insult game,’ and how to best respond to such verbal assaults.

Part I

Client:…So the argument got a little heated and one person in the group looked at me straight on and said you’re really very stupid, you know…and…I was dumbstruck…I didn’t know what to say…

Counselor: How did you feel?

Client: Not good. It was a bit embarrassing. All that afternoon I thought of nothing but punching them out, throwing them out the window, stomping them on the ground. I didn’t do that of course, but I was…angry. At one point, to try and overcome this feeling, I was telling myself that ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ But, it didn’t really help.

Counselor: Yeah, well it’s more like ‘sticks and stones can break my bones and words can break my heart.’ Words have power. But, the problem as I hear it is not so much what they said to you and how that made you feel, but that you were not able to respond to them at the moment, to counter what they said to you at that time. You internalized what they said and that was disruptive to you.

Client: Well, what does one say at a time like that, what could I have said?

Counselor: There are lots of ways to respond. In a sense, if you are frozen at the time, from shock, which can easily happen when you are insulted like that, especially with others present, you are not able to respond. You lose your response-abilities. You would need to have some shock resistance, and then a repertoire of comebacks. Being insulted is not uncommon. It can be a form of bullying, of one-upmanship and it can become kind of a game to play, if you know how to play it.

Client: Okay, so how do I play it?

Counselor: The first thing you need to understand is that just because somebody says something to you that is negative or derogatory, that doesn’t mean its true, accurate or factual. Do you think you are stupid?

Client: No.

Counselor: If a little 5-year-old kid came up to you and said you were stupid, would you get angry with them and want to throw them out the window?

Client: No, of course not, they’re just a kid

Counselor: And so, if an adult, a peer, says you are stupid you take it more seriously?

Client: Yeah, I guess so

Counselor: It’s pretty common for us to give over our authority to others. Its something we learn growing up. As children, we almost have to defer to the adults, to the ‘other,’ as an authority. That can carry over into adulthood and, even though we are grown up, we may still tend to defer authority to the other person.

Client: Like thinking they know more than I do?

Counselor: Yes. But, of course, they may not. Now, in the case of being stupid, there are criteria, which determines stupidity. You can objectively determine whether or not a person is stupid. Stupid is not the politically correct term to use these days. It’s more appropriate to use terms such as ‘learning disabled’ or ‘mentally handicapped.” When someone calls you stupid, they are not saying you meet the objective criteria for being learning disabled. They are just trying to put you down, and in so doing, appear to raise themselves up. It’s mean. And, it happens. So, its worth some time learning how to respond to insults.

Client: Okay. I’m game…

Counselor: Well, let’s replay what happened. Let’s say were in a group of people and I look over to you and say ‘you sure are stupid.’ Respond to that, what would you say?

Client: ummm…I would say ‘no, I am not.’

Counselor: And they then say ‘yes, you are!”

Client: ummm…I don’t know what I would say back to them then.

Counselor: Okay. Don’t feel badly; we are not educated in how to respond effectively to insults. But, we can learn. The first thing is to not shy away but to look straight at the person and know that just because they said it does not mean it is true or factual. This is very important. What we hear from others may not be factual, or accurate. You need to remember this because the foundation of the strategy I’m going to suggest is based on the idea that what you hear is not factual or accurate and must be proved to be so. From there, you can begin to take the offensive by asking questions to clarify the statement, which will begin to prove that it is not so. Let’s reverse roles so I can give you an idea of what I’m talking about. You tell me that I’m stupid. I will be you and you will be this person who said you are stupid. Okay?

Client: Okay. So….ummm…’you sure are stupid.’

Counselor: How did you come to that conclusion?

Client: ummm…’you just are.’

Counselor: You have no evidence?

Client: ‘What?’

Counselor: ‘If you are saying that I am stupid, I want to hear you prove it. Anybody can say anything but that does not make it so without evidence. What is your evidence?’

Client: Ummm…I don’t know how to respond to that.

Counselor: Okay. I think you can see how you begin to turn this around by taking the offensive and asking specific questions. This is based on what is called ‘evidence-based thinking.’ You take the offensive, and in so doing defend yourself, by being very rational and logical, and calm about it. You ask questions to understand how they arrived at that conclusion, that you are stupid. They won’t be able to and it will become obvious that the statement is groundless, baseless. Another advantage to this approach is that you are not directly defying them. If you were to say ‘no I am not’ they would come back with more force. What we fight against can become even stronger. But, what we accept loses its force. So, by accepting their statement and then inquiring about it, we prevent them from escalating and getting stronger or more insulting.

Client: hmmmm…

Counselor: You can frame this kind of question for evidence in different ways. For example, you can ask something like ‘how stupid? On a scale of 1-10, ten being the most stupidest person in the universe, where am I on this scale, according to you?’ Let’s pretend they say ’10,’ which of course is absurd. You then ask, what is the difference between ’10’ and ‘4’? At this point, they might be getting upset because you now have the upper hand. You have asked a question which they likely cannot answer. From your side, it’s all about inquiring about the details, as if you are a detective, and you actually want to understand. You want evidence. You are not opposing what they have said, you are accepting it, and inquiring about it. And, in that strategy will be the demise of the insult.

Client: I see…that will take some practice.

Counselor: yes, it will and you can work with friends; you can play the insult game where you take turns insulting each other and practicing this kind of response which asks specific questions seeking details and evidence as to the validity of the statement as the response to an insult.

Client: Okay

Counselor: And remember that underlying this whole topic is the issue of how you perceive others to be an authority. Everybody has opinions and views on things; everybody has beliefs and perceptions. When those opinions, views, beliefs and perceptions are imposed upon you, you don’t have to agree with them. You can question them and then determine if they are valid or not. Consider this quote from American journalist Russell Baker, “An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious – just dead wrong.” Throughout our school years, we are rarely taught to think critically. But, that is exactly what is needed to respond effectively to insults, along with a good dose of self-esteem. Stand up for yourself. Do not accept what others say without investigation into the facts, the evidence. For your homework, I’d like you to practice responding to insults. You can write them out as if in a script. Let’s have you do this with two insults. Let’s say somebody calls you ugly, and let’s say somebody calls you fat. How would you respond to those? We will work on that at our next session. Okay?

Client: Okay. Thanks.

Part II

Counselor: Did you get a chance to practice responding to insults?

Client: Yeah, with my brother and sister. We actually had a fun time doing it, we were laughing a lot. They are both in sales and have some experience with being insulted, and having to deal with objections a lot so I got a lot of good ideas from them.

Counselor: Excellent. Once you get a handle on this approach, it can be fun and it can be empowering because you really do take control of the situation without fighting against it. You take the energy coming at you and you use it to your advantage. Okay, so let’s play. I will insult you and you will respond as you have practiced. Ready?

Client: Yes, let me have it.

Counselor: ‘You are one of the ugliest people I have ever seen!’

Client: Are you sure about that?

Counselor: Absolutely

Client: Would you be willing to change your mind if I showed you somebody more ugly than me?

Counselor: There is nobody more ugly than you

Client: How do you know that?

Counselor: I just know

Client: I want proof, give me some evidence; otherwise, I will conclude that you really don’t’ know what you are talking about.

Counselor: You want me to prove that you are ugly?

Client: Exactly, with substantial evidence.

Counselor: Well, I just think you are ugly; I don’t need proof

Client: Well, all that tells me is what you think, not what I am. You can think whatever you want, but that doesn’t make it so.

Counselor: Okay; that is really very good. How do you feel taking that position?

Client: Strong, confident. I feel free and light-hearted, like nothing can get me down. It took a lot of work though, we practiced for hours.

Counselor: Very good. Okay; let’s take the next one. Ready?

Client: Go for it

Counselor: You sure are fat; maybe I should start calling you fatso

Client: Hmmm…well, on a scale of 1-10, ten being the fattest person in the world, where am I on that scale?

Counselor: You’re a 9, fatso

Client: And how did you determine that I am a 9 and not a 6?

Counselor: I just know you are a 9

Client: Who is a 10?

Counselor: Your mother

Client: When did you last see my mother?

Counselor: What?

Client: Well, you seem to think she’s fatter than me, by one point, when did you see her last to make that determination?

Counselor: All right. I can see you have a handle on this approach. By this time, anybody who is insulting you would stop; they would have nowhere to go; they would be befuddled, and frustrated, and probably leave. You won. You did well.

Client: Thanks. I really got into this idea of evidence-based thinking and the idea of scaling.

Counselor: Good. But, what you really got into was standing up for yourself, not accepting what somebody else says as valid right off the bat, and questioning them. You now have a few tools to question them with. And, I’d like to suggest that for homework you now practice using this approach with compliments.

Client: What?

Counselor: Practice with your brother and sister giving compliments such as ‘you are very beautiful’ or ‘you are so smart.’

Client: Why?

Counselor: Consider; we feel great when we get compliments and terrible when we get insults. But, just as insults may not be factual and are based on the perception of another person, to whom we have given some authority, so it is with compliments as well. There is a saying that goes ‘credit and blame smell the same’ meaning that both insults and compliments are the same thing in that they come from outside ourselves. A compliment may be as untrue as an insult, but we like hearing it and it makes us feel good, even if it is not true. So, just for the fun of it, and to get some more practice, use your evidence based thinking approach on compliments. In real life, the best response to a compliment is a sincere ‘thank you.’ And, the best response to an insult is the inquiry as to its validity. But, ultimately, both insult and compliment, are coming from an external source and, in that regard, suspect. Make sense?

Client: Yeah

Counselor: You are your own authority. What others may say, positive or negative, can be accepted, rejected or questioned. Questioning is a very good practice. It is an intelligent thing to do. As the saying goes, ‘question authority;’ and you can do that in a rational and diplomatic fashion with this approach to evidence-based thinking. As an aside, I can also mention that this insult game can be a particularly healthy thing to do with couples, especially in the earlier stages of a relationship. During that time the compliments are plentiful, and they are important. But, it can also be fun to insult each other, in a playful fashion, and counter them in this way. This can become a kind of inoculation. That is, it can really hurt when somebody with whom we are in a relationship insults us. By playing this insult game with a partner or spouse, we can take the sting out of it, turn it into something more lighthearted. There are times when we are frustrated or angry at our partner or spouse and what better way to express this than to set up a mock insult scene and play it out as we have done here. If done well, it can help resolve tensions and might even bring about laughter.

Client: Interesting. I will definitely keep this stuff in mind. It has been quite helpful. Thanks.

Counselor: You are welcome.


The Critical Thinking Cheat Sheet

Critical thinking is an imperative in an active, functioning democracy. If the people are not informed, and able to sift through the bias, innuendo, false statements and fallacies of logic, they are easily swayed and manipulated by persuasive rhetoric. Critical thinking skills are not taught in public schools; even in lower level college course, it is not a required course. It is up to each individual to begin learning what it means to be a critical thinker. The image below is a cheat sheet and can help you ask appropriate questions to uncover enough information to make an informed conclusion from which an intelligent decision can be made.


critical thinking


The Pursuit of Happiness Fallacy

Needs to Know Pursuit of Happiness Fallacy

The fundamental ethos of the United States of America is ‘pursuit of happiness.’ Life and liberty are almost secondary, though, granted, required for such a pursuit. But the pursuit itself is what it’s all about. As if plagued by an insatiable hunger and parched of thirst, the pursuit of happiness is a maddening race to ill-being and frustration with life.

The problem is twofold; one, the meaning of happiness. What is happiness? The origin of the word, from Old Norse and Old English, in about the 14th century,  is ‘hap’ and means ‘luck’ or ‘chance.’ Luck is not something you pursue; it is happenstance. The concept of happiness has changed over the centuries and through cultures. How would a native of two thousand years ago be happy? Happiness is, today, generally defined as ‘a state of well-being and contentment.’ Without any pursuit, many people experience moments of happiness everyday, without even knowing they are happy at the time. Happiness is more a by-product than anything definitive that can be pursued.

The second problem with this American ethos is ‘pursuit.’ If you recall those moments of your own happiness, it did not involve pursuit. Or, if it was in the act of pursuit, the happiness experienced was because the goal of pursuit was forgotten. Happiness was not the objective. And there it was. The pursuit of happiness is like chasing a rainbow. The more you approach, the more it recedes. There may be moments of thrilling excitement and enjoyable fun in the pursuit, there can be enthusiasm and passion, in which there may be moments of happiness, but for the most part, pursuit can be tiring, frustrating and disappointing. Happiness based on brief experiences of heightened stimulation cannot sustain itself day after day, month after month, year after year. Millions of people in the United States of America experience exhaustion and illness, as a result of this never ending pursuit for something that cannot be attained by pursuit. Moreover, even if happiness should be attained, the guiding principle is pursuit so any current happiness would soon be disregarded in favor of the pursuit, because the pursuit is what it is all about.

What is pursuit? The original Anglo-French word, from about the 14th century, ‘persuete,’ translates as persecution, ie, to go after, to seek, to get ’em, to persecute, to prosecute, to pursue. It’s aggressive. Because in today’s world happiness is often associated with the aggressive acquisition of material possessions, relationships, relative knowledge, control and power, and because of our common tendency to view our own status in comparison to that of others, there is a mad, feverish effort to pursue happiness, not for it’s own value, but to feel ‘on top of the world’ compared to others; and yet, despite the maddening pursuit, there is really little attainment of happiness, little evidence of substantial well-being and contentment.

Well-being and contentment do not subtract from dynamism, productivity, achievement, and innovation. Human beings are very highly animated, extra-ordinarily active, to the point of being over active. Well-being and contentment support dynamism by making it less stressful, less pressured, and more fun. Don’t confuse lack of ambition as equivalent to well-being and contentment. At the same time, don’t confuse lack of ambition with what is typically considered passiveness. Passiveness can be very comfortable, and appropriate. It is open, receptive, responsive and fluid.  It allows for options and adaptations, the capacity for which is an ingredient in happiness. Passiveness is like a wild animal at rest, in repose, and, yet, at the same time, acutely alert and aware of it’s environment. This state of restful alertness is a component of baseline happiness.  As it stands today, in the pursuit of happiness model, there appears fixed goal posts as to what constitutes happiness. The pursuit of happiness has become a feverish compulsion of assertively making it happen, of getting there. The ability to simply passively receive happiness, to let it happen, to be in it, without the effort of pursuit is foreign, and needs to become familiar ‘…life, liberty and the reception of happiness.’

So, as a national ethos, the pursuit of happiness, doesn’t work too well; the reception of happiness might work quite well. We hold these truths to be self evident, that all peoples are inherently endowed by their existence with certain fundamental inalienable rights including life, liberty and the reception of happiness. The means and methods of reception are different than those of pursuit. How does one go about receiving happiness? Learn to relax, be calm, be passive, be receptive; be like a wild animal, restfully alert. If you’d like to explore further, visit the blog post The Advaita Approach to Mental Health.