I’ve developed a rule/aphorism because of two different life situations.
The first was in Improv. In a scene, you’ll often see two characters talking and, in order to fulfill some unspoken rule about always needing conflict, they’re yelling at each other.
Quite often one will say to the other, “You always…” or “You never…” followed by whatever mean, stupid, or annoying thing the other person supposedly Always or Never does.
They’re trying to establish a pattern or offer a motivation for the other character. I get it. It’s just a bit heavy-handed.
It happens a lot. But, I won’t go so far as to say it always happens.
The second opportunity to learn this came from having children. Often kids will say things like “You never let me…” or “You always let…”
If you’re a parent, you’ve heard a similar line… a lot.
The child is trying to build their case for what they want by casting you as this unrelenting, ever-denying monster. They’re probably hoping that once you realize how you Never have done it in the past, this could be your one chance at redemption; to come through for them just this one time.
The problem is that Always and Never are Never true Always.
“You’re always telling me to put my clothes away.”
No, sometimes I ask you to take out the garbage.
No, just last Tuesday I told you to leave your clothes because we were in a hurry.
“You never let me have ice cream!”
Last Wednesday after baseball, we went and had ice cream.
“You never listen to me!”
I do listen. I remember when you told me about…
I’m listening now.
Always and Never are Never true Always.
It’s a funny little near-palindromic phrase I made up to remind improvisors and children to stop pitching these exaggerations.
There are no such absolutes. (Except in the phrase itself to be funny and memorable.)
These blanket generalizations are simply exaggerations used to make their point seem more real or important. Maybe you don’t need to pump up your argument. Maybe you don’t need hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point.
Being honest and real in the moment works.
If I’m mad now because you said something rude at the party, it doesn’t help my point to say “You are always so rude to me when we go to parties!” That’s probably just going to lead you down the path to a fight.
People will want to defend against your “Always” attack. Most likely, they don’t think of themselves as “that sort of person” so they’ll fight against the label.
But, a direct statement about how you are hurt by it now could have the same impact. “When you told that joke about me at the party, it made me embarrassed in front of my friends. That hurts.”
If you have another example of when that happened, it might help your side of the discussion. But, don’t start piling on examples because again, they’ll almost be forced into a defensive argument.
Another thing to consider when people are making these absolute-type statements is that they are looking for something.
If they say “You never listen to me,” they might be upset because they don’t feel heard. It’s doesn’t matter if sometimes you Do listen. They haven’t Felt listened to.
If their comment is “You never take me out,” then maybe it’s been a while OR you haven’t been making memorable outings.
“You’re always rude to me when we go to parties” may not Always be true, but it’s happened enough times to have them upset about it. Perhaps you might want to be more aware of how you treat them in public.
Remember when you hear Always and Never statements that there is something going on underneath it.
In Improv it’s easy. They’re usually trying to create a conflict or give some backstory fast. It’s a cheap shortcut with positive and negative fallout.
But in your day-to-day conversations, I recommend you try to eliminate them from your vocabulary AND listen for others that use it. What are they really saying?