…because some thoughts are worth remembering
One of the quotes I used for my signature file was
“I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process—an integral function of the universe” ~Buckminster Fuller
It appealed to me because a noun as one’s identity was too easily (mis)categorized. I am a woman, but my identity is also that of a daughter, a wife, a friend, an executive, an immigrant…and the list goes on. But a verb seemed more expressive, less permanent, Even if I were to pick a particular verb, the very nature of a word that describes an action seems like one can morph into another action because no action is expected to continue in our minds: you start swimming, and at some point you aren’t swimming anymore, and you start walking instead. But a noun, like our names, we don’t feel like they can be changed, even if we outgrow them.
I’ve updated my signature file several times since this one, and I forgot about it until recently when I was meditating on a particular topic: accepting change. The world changes, we change, and others change, but we have a tendency to hang on to what we have, what we used to have. We build a narrative about ourselves and others, and we cling to it like a security blanket. When that narrative is threatened, we feel attacked, and we lie (to ourselves and to others) to protect that version of reality.
Buddhism focuses on acceptance of what is. Mindfulness cannot be achieved by clinging to me, myself and mine, the nouns of the world: that we must focus “to be” and not to be anything, that even our feelings and thoughts do not have to define who we are.
Psychologists explore the consequences of this linking verb, “to be” in neuroplasticity research. We are now told we shouldn’t tell kids they are smart, because that statement encourages the belief that there is a predetermined level of intelligence they are born with, contradicting the robust malleability of our brains. Restating the compliment as “you prepared well for that test” encourages grit rather than innate talent.
Indeed, people’s (and our own) expectations of how we “are” do affect our performance, and it applies to adults as well in a variety of circumstances. When students have to identify their gender before taking a mathematics test, the performance level between female and male students widen.
I started editing my thinking when I tell myself, “I am….” whether it is a positive statement or not. I reframe the statement to capture a similar sentiment without the linking verb, from “I am kind, or I am a kind person” to “I took the time to actively listen to a friend in need”. One careless comment that may have hurt my friend doesn’t make me an unkind person as much as “I chose my words carelessly”, giving me an opportunity for improvement.
I realize what I needed, beyond being a verb, was to be an action verb. As dynamic a person Buckminster Fuller was, he may not have considered the verb to be, a verb at all.
Photo: Chateau Montelena Winery grounds, Calistoga, California