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AND, not but...

Pay attention to how often you use the word but. This little three-letter conjunction has the power to dismiss, undo, diminish or deny what came before it.

I want to go back to school but I'm scared I'll fail.

I lost 10 pounds but I need to lose 10 more.

It's something I've always wanted to try, but it's so hard.

My game improved but I've got such a long way to go.

Oxford Languages defines but as "used to indicate the impossibility of anything other than what is being stated." The phrase that follows but basically invalidates the one that precedes it; the first statement is rendered irrelevant, meaningless, impossible.

Now, let's replace that but with and in the examples above: I want to go back to school and I'm scared I'll fail. The conjunction and allows for both statements to be considered. It makes room for two truths, without directing all viability only to the second statement, the one that expresses challenge. I lost 10 pounds and I need to lose 10 more. Both statements have value. In other words, I can be scared to fail without losing sight of wanting to go. I may need to lose 10 more pounds to reach my goal and also acknowledge what I've accomplished so far. The first statements in these two phrases are motivating. They assert a desire or an accomplishment. And (yes, and) they can share that space with a fear, a doubt, a challenge, without letting that fear or challenge extinguish the desire or accomplishment.

This is dialectics - the concept of two seemingly conflicting things that are true at the same time. We can have goals and desires as well as - even in spite of - difficulties fulfilling them. We can do hard things. Life is full of beautiful moments and great suffering. One statement does not cancel out the other when we use and. Making space for two realities offers a more balanced, less polarized experience of life. (See my previous post,, describing Nightbirde's self-perception of being OK and having cancer. She did not allow having cancer to efface what was OK; she did not use but.)

Language is powerful. If reflects and communicates our thoughts, and can also shape them. We listen to ourselves. By replacing but with and we will be hearing ourselves accept that it is alright to feel, experience, and live with a range of possibilities - not just one.

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