When I was a young child, I would occasionally hear statements like this:
“If only [those people] would just go away and leave the community, then everything would be better.” [Those people] were some sort of Other – racial, sexual, political, etc…)
Luckily, my mother was close by and at the ready to remind me that this was cruel nonsense, and that we treat people with kindness, equality, and respect no matter what our differences are perceived to be. Yet, the phrasing stood out for me, and as I got older I started to recognize it in many different situations.
“If only addicts would stop using drugs, then our streets would be safe again.”
“If only they would clean up the homelessness situation, then there would be a thriving downtown.”
“If only people would just recycle, then the environment would be saved.”
“If only people would wear a mask, then COVID would go away and life will go back to normal.”
“If only Republicans would come to their senses, then we could have a functioning democracy.”
“If only Democrats would come to their senses, then we could have a functioning democracy.”
“If…Then” statements are pretty common in the English language. You hear this type of conditional statement everywhere. It’s even common in BASIC – one of the first of the computer programming languages. In friendly discourse, these “If…Then” statements are bit bothersome because they are usually too simplistic. (It’s going to take a lot more than everyone coming to their senses for there to be a functioning democracy again.) Yet, in programming languages they’re actually quite handy and foundational.
The phrasing that really makes me perk up my ears is when the “If” is followed by a “people” or some sort of word for a group of people and the “Then” is followed by some sort of good or general benefit for the speaker. That particular usage is like a tripwire for me, and makes me go a little deeper whenever I hear it.
I think this is because that particular usage of the “If…Then” statement is actually a spell, but not a typical one where the speaker voices their intention or will into the world to create an effect in material reality. If you look closely, then you will see that the speaker actually abdicates their power in these types of statements.
The power to create the benefit or condition in the “then” section of the statement is given to the people in the “if” section of the sentence. For example, in – “If only addicts would stop using drugs, then our streets would be safe again.” – the power of creating the condition of safe streets is put in the addicts’ hands. The people not wearing masks hold the power of life getting back to normal, and the non-recyclers are dooming the entire world.
The speaker becomes powerless to effect the desired change through this spell. They are in face divided from their desired outcome by the people in the “If” part of the statement. The people in the first part of the spell become a wall between the speaker and their desired result.
This division and powerlessness is by design. You see, the speaker of the statement isn’t the one casting the spell, but the target of it.
The linguistic phrasing of that type of “If…Then” sucks up the speaker’s power and divides them from a part of humanity. It’s a trap. Sophisticated malefica.
It’s a very old trap. Now, I’m not sure who or what laid this particular trap. Or where the power goes when it’s taken away from the speaker. Is this something that arises from language itself? Does language have personhood and a will to divide people from people and people from their power or desires? Or is language just the tool?
I’m not sure that I’ll ever know. But a trap seen, is a trap avoided.
These “If…Then” traps are not just with other peoples, but also can be seen in statements to oneself. For example – “If I can only lose 15lbs, then I’ll start having a fun nightlife. If only I get the promotion, I can start looking for a nicer place to live. If I can only get a solid night’s sleep, I can start writing again.”
While some of these statements may make the desired result easier to attain if the condition were met, they’re not absolutes. While a promotion often comes with earning more money and the ability to pay a higher rent, that nicer place to live could be a cheaper place away from the town center or with a roommate -something that may be attained with or without the promotion.
Fortunately, there are counters to this “If…Then” spell trap. Positive Statements or Affirmations are a good defense. Here the spell and its counter are both language based which has a nice symmetry. Simply adjusting the “then” statement and making it into an intention statement is a good counter. So, for the example above, affirming “I live in a nice place”, will start to bring that reality about. (I highly recommend Mitch Horowitz’s The Miracle Club for more about Positive Affirmations.)
Desire is the point around which much of this revolves. Getting right with desire and obstacles around one’s desires will help in avoiding the trap. Connecting with Venus to dissolve the walls of division or even just journalling to clarify desires may have a protective effect.
There is also power in recognizing that the trap is garbage. This recognition neutralizes its effect. Like the old grandmother way of dispelling things – when something garbage came their way, they spat on the ground. That took care of that.
Although spitting on the ground might not be a good idea during the pandemic. (I’m sure I’d probably end up spitting inside my mask.) There’s something to repelling the abhorrent physically that appeals to me.
Happy Halloween to everyone! I hope that this is helpful in avoiding the tricks / traps and getting to the treats.