When we use the word Is, we lose all sense of time or location. "I am a good person." What the crap does that mean? I do things, I say things, I travel through time and space on a one way journey, but I am not exactly anything. I am is timeless but I am anything but timeless. Yesterday I was tired and listless. Today I feel full of energy and ideas. How does one come up with a general state from two discrete states? Maybe I can average those two days, or a month of days, and come up with a statistical representation of myself, but really what does that mean?
A medically respected form of psychological therapy, one which has been scientifically validated to consistently help many people, is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Among other things, it seeks to change the ways that we talk to ourselves about ourselves and about others. For instance, a person with classic guilt and anxiety might tend to think "I am a bad person." The power of the timeless, placeless I am helps that person to feel bad, afraid, and anxious.
Through repetition, the idea gains traction and becomes more than words. The therapy seeks to change that generalizing language into specifics. "Yesterday, I yelled at my parents." The therapee then examines that actual act in the context of reality. What does that one incident mean? Are there other incidents which counteract that moment of not badness, but rather, anger? worry? honest disagreement? Killing the verb to be forces one to focus on the act and the moment. A universe of intangible forces shrinks to one of comprehensible activity. I have no doubt that other forms of psychology, recovery movement thinking, and even religion and philosophy contain this very idea. For whatever magical reasons, changing small elements of language helps the mind to drift toward sanity and self-control.
Is is poison because it supplants concrete reality with abstraction. It also creates shitty writing. Writing style books make the point that eliminating to be in favor of other verbs strengthens and shortens writing. I've come to agree. I would take this even further: exterminating the verb to be produces not only good writing, good psychology and ethics. To be murders the world a little bit. To be kills truth and the mind. To be is a perverter of reason. How can I speak of anything actual without reference to time or space?
On the other hand, to be helps us to gain some distance. To be allows us to separate the specific from the general, to see the forest for the cliches. Not all writing is Hemmingway, and sooner or a lot of specifics form a trend, and soon a blur of discrete moments in time and space become something else. Something abstract, which Is. After we've been alive, all of those moments and places add up to something: we were.
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