Pays au dela

"As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling [wobbling] in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate." Montaigne-"On the Education of Children"

My domain name, "Pais au dela," is the original French translated here as "extent of land before me." My goal for this page will be to explore, in an ambling way at times, the great land before me hoping to find clarity as I advance. I will focus centrally though not exclusively on mental health issues in my stumbling march forward.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Trpytich Series 5: Mood and Anxiety

When I say "mood" here, I'm not referring to what we usually mean when we use the word. This post is about linguistic mood and how it plays into our mis-calibrated understandings of the world and people around us. I've leaked to some my intentions to write a breathtaking and groundbreaking piece on modal verbs. This is not yet that piece, simply the overture, or maybe the shorter sonata that I will one day incorporate into a linguistic symphony of mood, making my language into the music my boyz from band always assured me it could be.

In grammatical terms, the mood and tense of a verb are often discussed together. Tense is a much more familiar concept for non-languagefreaks. "I am eating" and "I have eaten" are two different tenses of the same verb that each indicate when the action happened. Mood is not as simple. It refers to different levels of possibility and potential. You can talk about things that might never actually happen by changing the mood of the verb. "I don't eat horse," but "I might eat horse if someone said I was too chicken shit to try it." Those two sentences are the same verb in two different moods. If you have studied a romance language, you might remember the difficulty of trying to remember how and when verbs take the subjunctive mood, something that doesn't really exist much anymore in English.

In much the same way that our understanding of past, present, and future often goes awry, we can easily confuse things that are true with things that could be the case. Here is a fictional example.

A brother and sister live together and share a car. Rosita goes for a walk one Tuesday afternoon and comes home to find that Enrique has gone somewhere and not left any note about when he will be back. Rosita is on a Jujitsu team that practices every Tuesday night. When she sees the car isn't there, she gets furious and goes through the following thought sequence.
  • Enrique took the car.
  • He must not want me to go to Jujitsu practice.
  • He wouldn't do that if he really cared about me.
In this sequence, one thing is true. Enrique took the car. The rest is over-interpretation of that one true thing. Rosita has extrapolated, assumed her brother has malicious motives, generalized a single inconvenience, and worked herself into a state of rage where she's ready to Jujitsu choke Enrique into submission. All this rage built on potential, built on the modals describing things that might be.

Here's what really happened.
  • Enrique got a call from a friend who needed to be bailed out of jail.
  • He got really upset because he was worried about his friend.
  • He took the car forgetting momentarily in his emotional state about Rosita's Jujitsu.
Conflicting circumstances meant he couldn't simultaneously be a considerate brother and a good friend to his unfortunate incarcerated buddy. But there is no malicious intent like what Rosita was thinking in the first scenario. He doesn't want her to miss doing the things she enjoys, and he does indeed care about her. He doesn't deserve to be submission choked, and perhaps more importantly, Rosita doesn't have to feel the frustration and anger that come when she interprets the absent car as an intentional slight and a sign of her brother's general indifference. You can save yourself a lot of pain and anguish if you can learn to recognize when you are using modals poorly to form an unfounded, negative outlook about things you don't really know.