I recently happened upon a TED talk by teacher Phuc Tran, as featured on the TED radio hour on NPR. His TED talk is “Grammar, Identity , and the Dark side of the Subjunctive.” I hope to do his talk justice with this short summary. In his 14 minute talk, he explains the world of difference between his understanding of language and that of his father, a native Vietnamese. The Vietnamese language does not contain the concept of the subjunctive, the verb form used to express suggestions, wishes, uncertainty, and possibilities. The indicative, used to make factual statements, express opinions and ask questions, is part of that language, as well as ours.
When faced with having to tell his father that he could not, after all, stand to study his chosen fields after all, Tran feared a reprimand. But that would have necessitated the concept of “you should”–whether it was , “study harder, try again, think about it’ or any of those variants. Lacking the subjunctive, his father simply said, “Don’t study what you don’t like. Study what you do like.”
What’s the difference in these two points of view?
The indicative is o make factual statements, ask questions, or express opinions as if they were facts “Study what you do like.”. The indicative can be harsh and uncompromising and straightforward. It’s benefits? It enables us to talk realistically about our life and all its experience.
The subjunctive can allow us to dream and imagine creative ideas and visions of “what if?” Its dark side? When not using it for dreaming of possibilities, the future, it can drag us down with its relationship to regrets. “Shoulda~~Woulda~~Coulda~ “-that old phrase used for excuses, comes to mind. Interestingly, the Urban dictionary, defines this phrase as : Meaning that it is of no use to dwell on what should have (shoulda), could have (coulda) or would have (woulda) happened/been done. It is used to shorten a discussion that is stuck only in the past, offering no solutions to whatever problem is being discussed.
Here in the U.S., we all use both every day in our language. The beauty of this TED talk was in pointing out the downfalls of each–so that we can, to quote Tran, “actively choose a more positive and optimistic outlook.”
My friends and clients, know well that I firmly believe in avoiding the use of the phrase “you should.” It has never felt to me like a productive term for any reason whatsoever. It can always be replaced with a less confrontational phrase or question. I think it is usually just a bad habit that many of us don’t realize we are using. How have you used “you Should” or even “I should have” lately? How can you reframe those thoughts and get rid of that dark side of the subjunctive?
Our Integrative Health coaching model, based on the Duke Integrative Medicine Wheel of Health holistic approach, uses both the subjunctive and the indicative. The subjunctive is used to help you express your dreams and visions for the future with improved health and life changes. The indicative is used for simply stating what is, what happened, and how it worked out. We combine the best of both to continue to plan for the future possibilities you can bring about with health coaching.
How can I help you make changes this year?