Last month I wrote about ‘Minding your language’ and this month I want to focus on a particular heinous offender, the increasingly ubiquitous phrase ‘it is what it is’. Having done the obligatory ‘Google’ search I found that the phrase was first identified in a 1949 American article about frontier-era living. However, it seems to have lied mainly dormant until the 21st Century when it began to gain traction in relation to sporting losses, it is now everywhere and 2020 seems to be its’ year. As we go into another month-long lockdown in the UK, I had this said to me at least once every day by friends and family as if it was a Pandemic mantra. That got me thinking and this article is the start of my campaign to banish the mindless phrase from popping out of our mouths all over the place, now this may seem a little extreme and given all the things I could be action about currently I am happy if people think it’s a little odd. So, let me state my case. What this pernicious little phrase does is shut down conversation; I’ve got to stay at home for a month, I haven’t seen my elderly increasingly frail mother for 7 months, I haven’t hugged anyone for the same period, I’ve only seen some of the people I love most in the world on a screen over the same period. Are people really saying to me and everyone else that ‘it is what it is’ is an adequate response to this typical but heart wrenching roll call of current experience? What this phrase does is shut down conversation, it is a full stop to the expression of distress, a dead end to feeling and emotion. It effectively says I don’t want to hear, or I can’t bear to say and if that is so then at least let us be honest about this. I found myself responding to a family member who trotted out this well-worn response, that may be so, but I am allowed my feelings about it.
So next time you find yourself slipping into the easy route of a mundane reply I ask you please to pause. What else could you say? How about, ‘how do you feel about that’, or ‘what does that mean to you’ or ‘is there anything I can do to help you’ or all of the wonderful possibilities that can flow forth if one engages both one’s head and one’s heart and doesn’t let our mindless mouth dictate.
This year has been brutal and extraordinary, it has stirred up anxiety, grief, longing, loneliness, uncertainty, unity, community, love, thoughtfulness, courage, and everything in between. Let us embrace these things as we are able to support each other in the holding of them and allow our ears to hear and our lips to pour forth what might support each other not stop us in our tracks.