E-Prime: Banishing the Verb “To Be”

I wrote some time ago about how Aristotelian logic castes a long shadow of our language and therefore the way we define “reality”. Modern thinking and scientific discovery (in particular Quantum Physics) has demonstrated the limitations of Aristotle’s model of reality, yet it is so ingrained in our thinking that we still cling to this outmoded way of describing the world.

This isn’t just a problem with philosophy or science, but the way we describe our reality has a very real effect on our mental health and ability to communicate and interact with the world.

If you are convinced that something “is” something and you keep finding evidence to the contrary, or the world (and people) refuse to act in the way prescribed by your world view, you are going to get frustrated, confused, stressed out and it will have an adverse effect on your mental well being.

Alfred Korzybski first recognised the limitation of Aristotelian logic and developed General Semantics to attempt to combat the rigid limitations of the model. This, like any new and controversial idea was ridiculed and largely ignored, but slowly modern linguists, scientists and psychologists are starting to recognise that Korzybski’s mode of communicating and thinking seems more useful than the fixed model put forward by Aristotle.

Enter e-Prime

e-Prime was developed by David Borland, a longtime student of Alfred Korzybski as an attempt to remove Aristotle’s influence over our thinking and communication. It attempts to remove all forms of the verb “to be”, including, but not limited to; be, being, is, isn’t, are, aren’t, was, wasn’t, were and weren’t.

So, for example instead of a statement such as “The film Argo is a good film”, you would say something like “The film Argo seems a good film to me”, or “I enjoyed the film Argo”.

I am using e-Prime more and more to communicate in everyday conversation, I also (you may have noticed) do my best to write these blog entries in e-Prime (although, sometimes, for the sake of flow, I will use an “is”, as you may have noticed above!).

In particular, I find e-Prime a very useful way to communicate during trainings. I am not saying how things “are”, but how things seem to be from inside the model of NLP (and my interpretation of that model). Unfortunately just because I communicate in e-Prime doesn’t mean people hear in e-Prime! People are so used to thinking and communicating with the “to be” verb, that they will take my statements of how of things seem to me and convert them to an “is” statement in their mind. So it is not an infallible way of removing confusion and disagreement.

Practice restating “to be” statements into more sensory specific statements and so how that effects the way you think about the subject.

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