You Just Can’t Feel “Like”
May 2, 2016
A Facebook message from a valued colleague in Kuala Lumpur read: “CBK—the NY Times took your idea. You are right about so many things.” Actually, these days, it’s fabulous to be right about anything at all! So I was more than glad to read the article Stop Saying “I Feel Like, an exceptional article by Molly Worthen.
This ubiquitous phrase has become an unfortunate cultural norm. And it is wrong. Flat out wrong. I have written about this and included this in my workshops and presentations for over two decades and still it persists!
In her article, Molly indicates “I feel like” began seeping into our speech “toward the end of the last century.” I protest a bit and would offer a different history, if I may.
Perhaps I feel like is actually a close younger cousin of the also inaccurate I feel that. I trace the roots of this original evil back to a misunderstanding of the Fritz Perls version of Gestalt Therapy wherein a person was entitled to their feelings. Back in the late 60’s when we were thick into the controversial Vietnam war, a person could stand on a soapbox and rant on about a particular perspective and remain unchallenged as long as the rant began with: “I feel that . . .” Can’t argue with a feeling.
The phrase became a way to avoid stating any opinion and is heard everywhere American English is spoken. My mother used it, “Cathy, I feel that it’s going to be cold out, get a sweater.” What? Even after I teach the erroneous nature of this phrase, and everyone “gets it,” three minutes later a person in my workshop will say, “I feel that my administration should . . .” This is so deep into our speech and unfortunately into how many of us think.
The phrases I feel like and I feel that are simply ways to avoid owning our thoughts and experiences and expressing them as such. Simply catch the moment and say, I think. To use the word “feel” properly it must be followed by a word that expresses an emotion or state of being – I feel happy, sad, anxious, eager, thrilled, curious, alert, peaceful, uncomfortable, or I am happy, sad, anxious, eager, thrilled, and so on.
Basics of communication: There are numerous ways to express thought, for example, I think, wonder, believe, know, understand, reckon, attest to, and more. There are only two ways to express a feeling. There are several shades of verbal grays, however that’s for another article.
Using language properly in this case removes the hesitation and places us in certainty with the words we say being a part of our conviction.
Teach this to children. They get this idea in a flash and then will help the adults around them by catching them in faulty communication. What I have discovered in guiding students with this knowledge is it helps in all kinds of situations, such as analytical essays and in conflict resolution.
Take this scenario. Sue and Joe get into an argument on the playground. They sit with an adult for “conflict resolution,” and the adult says, “Sue, tell Joe how you feel.” Sue responds, “I feel that (like) Joe is being mean.”
What’s wrong with this scenario?!?
“Sue, remember when discussed words that express feelings? Look at this long list of words on the wall. Now tell Joe how you feel.”
“I feel upset because I wanted to practice shooting baskets and didn’t get a turn.”
Now the conversation can move forward.
I feel grateful to have this article provoke this blog. And I think this is a critical topic to infuse into as many conversations as we can to interrupt this pervasive pattern and become clear, accurate, precise thoughtful, and engaged in meaningful conversation.
A lover of words, ideas and thoughts — I would welcome your addition to this conversation. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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