Many years ago I read the book Meta-talk: How to uncover hidden meanings in what people say by Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry Calero.

The basic concept is sort of like interpreting body language for the use of words.

With body language, the position and motions of the body can amplify or refute the words you say. When you understand body language, you can better understand people’s actual meanings, sometimes when they don’t understand it themselves.

With meta-talk, one of the concepts is that the choice to use certain words can amplify or refute the content of what you say or write.

One of my favorite examples of this is the use of the word, “but.”

“But” is a conjunction that superficially merely links two clauses: “I love you but I have to go.”

As was revealed in that book (and later in NLP), however, “but” does not simply link two clauses, it negates the first clause completely.

People will often use “but” when they don’t want to admit to themselves or another person that they have certain beliefs or behaviors, when, in fact, they actually do.

“I don’t like to gossip, but…” and then they’ll share all the juicy gossip they know. They want you to believe they’re not a gossip. They may want to convince themselves they’re not a gossip. And yet, they want to do everything they say they’re not.

I had always been interested in psychological concepts as were presented in that book. It especially struck home with me on a personal level. About 15 years after I first read the book and about 20 miles from where my family and I lived, there were some demonstrations in a primarily African-American community which became violent. I still remember the words of my older brother. “I’m not a racist, but all the Blacks in that area don’t take care of their yards. They have no civic pride and no pride in themselves.”

I was incredulous. “All of them?” I asked? “Surely there are some people who take care of their homes.”*

“No,” he responded. “None of them.”

Knowing that he never drove in that area, I asked, “Have you really seen every house in that neighborhood?”

“Yes,” he lied. “I’ve seen them all.”

As it turned out, and as I learned later on, my brother did have some very racist tendencies. Interestingly, it was important to him to believe that he was not a racist, and it was also important to him for us to believe he was not a racist. He used his “‘but” as an attempt to convince us—and perhaps more importantly, himself—that he wasn’t racist.

Know Yourself—Know Your But

As I’ve written before, and as many of you know, the words gnothi seuton, Greek for “Know Thyself,” were supposedly written at the front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. This concept of knowing oneself has remained important in occultism for thousands of years.

Shakespeare has Polonius, a character in Hamlet, say essentially the same thing:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Aleister Crowley had the same idea with his concept of discovering what your True Will is and then doing exactly that. This would not allow for self-deception.

In Tantra, there are five blockages to spiritual development known as the kleshas. One of them is Asmita. This is often translated as “ego,” but is more accurately described as a false ego. To discover the extent of your false ego, make a list of character and behavior traits and rate yourself on them between one (none) and ten (high). Examples might be introverted, happy, friendly, helpful, and so on. Then ask some friends and family members to rate you for the same personality traits and behaviors. Problems to spiritual advancement can be seen wherever your ratings are widely different from theirs. If you say you’re outgoing and gregarious, while they say you’re standoffish and quiet, you clearly have a false sense of who you are. The goal for the Tantric is to free himself or herself from the klesha of asmita and overcome problems associated with the false ego.

Watch Your But

As a magician, a person who uses his or her words in the performance of rituals and spells, it’s important to be honest with yourself and honest with others. If you are trying to do an evocation of spirits but lie about yourself all the time, why should the spirits listen to you?

I am not proposing that you should change in any particular way. However, I am suggesting that you should examine yourself, your motivations, your beliefs, and your actions. I believe we should each be clear on the reality of who we are and what we believe. Once you understand that reality, you’re free to choose whether you want to change or stay as you are.

And one good way to do this is to simply become aware of your buts.




*Many years later I would learn that trying to get a person out of their mindset that was very generalized and unrealistic (examples: “all people say…” and “everyone hates me”) by trying to get a person to focus on specific situations was discovered by Virginia Satir, the “mother of family counseling,” and used in NLP with the name, the “Meta-Model.”

Written by Donald Michael Kraig
Donald Michael Kraig graduated from UCLA with a degree in philosophy. He has also studied public speaking and music (traditional and experimental) on the university level. After a decade of personal study and practice, he began ten years of teaching courses in the Southern California area on such ...