At James Madison College at Michigan State, all students were required to take a two semester writing course. This was the best idea ever (in my opinion).
I went to college when the standards for citing websites in papers was not quite defined, and calling someone through a screen in real-time was still only a feature of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress ride.
But, the professor of that writing class instilled in me one of my non-negotiables: never use “all” and “every”.
Editing out all and every in what I write, flowed over into how I live.
When is there really ever an appropriate time to consider these words? Is it true that all people know that they must boil water with the pot lid on? Is it true that every time someone works hard enough to get a job, they can get one? Do all people understand what love “really” means?
As I weeded out, all and every, from my vocabulary, my understanding of the world shifted. And my list of non-negotiables grew – and continue to grow. Here are a few:
- I never assume I have all the facts or perspectives on a particular topic, or that any of those facts or perspectives are relevant for every person.
- I never assume I can fix every problem, or should fix every problem – but I also assume that it is my responsibility to do something when I can.
- I assume that I am not in control or could ever possibly be in control, or should be in control, of anything. Even with myself, there are hidden urges, needs, and medical issues that arise that I have, initially at least, no control over.
The insistence on all and every provides us with security – the knowledge that since all people think or do it this way; that every time someone does this thing, they do it because…; that all X actions lead to Z conclusions…
And then when all people don’t do it the way we expect, there is something wrong with that person – not with our understanding that not all people are the same, react the same, or understand things the same way. Or when every time we expect something to happen and it doesn’t, something else is at fault – rather than the situation just being as it is.
Ending this insistence on security, of forcing people, ourselves, and the world around us to be something it can’t be…is more than just editing out a few words from our writing. It is editing out concepts from our way of life.
I can never fully understand someone else’s motivations, life, perspective – as I am not them. And I can never know all the facts of a situation – I just don’t have the time to learn it all. But I can try, every day, to live knowing that not everyone experiences life like I do, should do things like I do, or has the same perspective as I do.
And with that non-negotiable comes the need to avoid being with people and in places that require that I use all and every not only in my writing, but in my life. Just as I refuse to force my perspectives and requirements on others, I refuse to have someone else’s perspectives and requirements forced on me without my consent. That sometimes leads to hard choices of ending relationships or leaving projects.
I know, on my own, I can’t completely weed out all and every from my life (because, that would mean “all”). But whenever I can – if by my own doing or by the instance of others – I do what I can to edit those words out of my life.