Yes-Butting and You: Answers and Final Thoughts

If you haven't read Part 1 of this series, be sure to do so before continuing with today's post.
In the other day's post I shared a particularly dangerous variation of the yes, but conversation script that I call the yes, but by proxy script. Today, we're going to dive into what actually happens behind the scenes in this soul-sucking conversation vortex.

First, let's quickly review the script. Be as objective as you can while re-reading each of White's responses (and remember, don't get sucked into the vortex!):

Yes, But By Proxy:
White [whining slightly]: Healthy food is too expensive.
Black: You could try eating more lentils, or potatoes. They're extremely healthy foods and practically free.
W: Yes, but there are lots of poor people living in food deserts in the inner city who don't have the resources to take advantage of foods like lentils.
B: You can find lentils almost everywhere, even in the inner city. And they are so inexpensive! You can buy a pound for like $1.50 and eat them for days.
W: Oh sure, your solutions are great for you. But people who don't know how to cook, and people who don't have all the knowledge that you have, can't just "whip up" a batch of lentils.
B: You'd be surprised how laughably easy it is to boil up a batch of lentils. Seriously, anybody can do it.
W: Look, people working multiple jobs just to keep their bills paid just don't have the time to cook like that.
B: Okay. But there are lots of other foods which even easier to cook and are also inexpensive: potatoes, beans, carrots, celery, leafy greens like collards and swiss chard--
W [Interrupts]: Sure, easy for you, but people who live 15-20 miles away from the nearest Whole Foods can't take advantage of these foods the way you can.
B: Uh, wait, if you want to cook healthy food for less money, living 15-20 miles from a Whole Foods is an advantage, not a disadvantage--
W [Interrupts again]: Whatever. But just because you can eat healthy for less doesn't mean we all can.

First, an observation. White's responses all have one thing in common--they all discuss hypothetical people: a hypothetical person living in a food desert, a hypothetical person who doesn't know how to cook, a hypothetical person working multiple jobs, a hypothetical person who lives 15-20 miles from the nearest Whole Foods. And so on. Each of these hypothetical people has a hypothetically insurmountable obstacle preventing them from considering each of Black's suggestions. Convenient, right?

Which brings us to the fundamental problem with White's responses--and yours too, if you ever play White's role in a yes, but script: None of these hypothetical people is you. Yet people use the existence of this hypothetical person as an excuse for not taking action.

Sure, it's entirely plausible that a person working multiple jobs might have a hard time with some of the above solutions for finding healthy, inexpensive food. But why would you invoke a hypothetical third party with these hypothetical problems as a reason for you not to embrace a possible solution?

Ah, here we go again: White isn't trying to solve his own problem, he's seeking validation. For whatever reason, Black's ideas are a threat to White's ego. And since White has run out of reasons why he himself shouldn't embrace these solutions, he resorts to employing someone else in the conversation, someone projected from his own mind. And conveniently, that someone has hypothetical disadvantages that are insurmountable:

Well, that guy over there doesn't have an internet connection, he can't read, he lives in a food desert, and he works ten jobs. There. Beat that. I win. Lentils suck.

A brief sidebar: It should be obvious to any thoughtful reader (especially those readers who actually read posts in their entirety before commenting), that I'm in no way denying that there are people out there who live in food deserts, or work multiple jobs, or don't know how to cook, or live in poverty, etc. And it's pretty certain that there are millions of people out there (including me, actually) who live 15-20 miles from the nearest Whole Foods.

Look, disadvantaged people do exist, and in no way do I intend to commit the singularly insensitive act of pretending this isn't true.

But here's the critical point: why make a false conclusion for yourself using a hypothetical disadvantaged person? I can't imagine anything more defeatist than to create a straw man with hypothetically insurmountable disadvantages as a reason for you not to consider your own possible solutions.

Moreover, it's hard to think of anything more condescending than to blithely assume that someone else can't surmount a disadvantage just because you imagine it to be insurmountable for them. For one thing, "disadvantaged" people may not be as helpless as you presume. Read some of the comments on various posts here at Casual Kitchen and you'll be shocked at how readers have surmounted all sorts of problems, setbacks and economic handicaps in their efforts to eat well for less. And yes, this includes most of the types of hypothetically insurmountable disadvantages White lists above.

But here's the thing: the hypothetical failures of these hypothetically disadvantaged people are the ultimate secret behind White's success in this conversation. By shifting the debate from his own excuses to the imagined excuses of a hypothetical, third-party proxy participant in the conversation (again, this is why I call this conversation script yes-but by proxy), he gets to bring an ally into the debate.

It's kind of like bringing an imaginary friend into an argument--but you get to pretend he's real.

Voila: White instantly captures the moral high ground, he achieves ego validation, and he has a bulletproof excuse that allows him to avoid taking action. Best of all, he wins the debate.

Furthermore, White can also attack Black by saying that by offering all of these so-called solutions (that are easy for him because he's so privileged, of course), he's being presumptuous, pretentious and/or ignorant of the condition of disadvantaged people.

Poor Black. He thought he was just sharing a few helpful ideas. Now he's a bad person.

Brilliant isn't it? And utterly ironic, because White is actually showing far more profound condescension to the poor and disadvantaged than Black.

How? In two ways:

1) By automatically presuming that disadvantaged people are too incompetent to take advantage of any solutions that might work for them, and

2) By rejecting legitimate ideas for himself, when he could use his decisions and purchasing dollars to help drive the food industry in the right direction.

By his inaction, White actually hurts the very people for whom he claims to have sympathy. Think about this the next time you're involved in either side of a yes-but by proxy conversation script.

Of course, nobody can really win this "conversation." Black was just trying to help, but he walks away wondering how he suddenly became a privileged, heartless, insensitive jerk who has no sympathy for the poor and disadvantaged.

White may have a wonderfully validated ego, but he unknowingly uses the hypothetical excuses of a hypothetical person to justify taking no action to improve his situation.

Everybody loses. Nothing gets solved.

Why am I talking about this? Because nearly every time I read (or write) an article on how to eat healthy food for very little money, every time I read or write posts talking about how many easy, quick and laughably cheap recipes there are out there, somebody inevitably invokes the yes- but by proxy script and cites a hypothetical disadvantaged person with no cooking knowledge, living in a food desert, who's bored by lentils, who works multiple jobs, who has no time, etc., etc., etc., to try and shoot down any and every possible solution.

Look, it won't work. That person is not you.

This is a blog about finding solutions and solving problems, so let's spend the final words of this post discussing how to disrupt, repair and reroute a conversation that's been hijacked by a yes-but script.

First of all, how often do you recognize yourself in conversations like the one above? Have you ever found yourself disagreeing repeatedly and fiercely with someone who's just trying to offer you a few ideas and solutions? Have you ever been anti-solution in your thoughts and speech when discussing something with others? You owe it to yourself, and everyone around you, to stop and ask yourself why.

Unfortunately, once in the middle of an increasingly heated conversation, it's nearly impossible for people in White's role to step outside their egos and recognize the fundamental corrosiveness of what they're doing.

Therefore, the vast majority of the responsibility for stopping this conversation script lies in Black's hands. It's Black's job, once he hears the second or third "yes-but," to disrupt the script. Stop offering suggestions--just stop--and instead, validate the person by saying back to them a rephrased version of what they just said to you. A couple of examples:

So you think potatoes are boring huh?
So what I'm hearing is you have concerns for people who live far from Whole Foods.

Another possible solution (courtesy of commenter Little Les in yesterday's post): Black can take the initiative and reframe the conversation from the beginning by saying something along the lines of Yes, it can be expensive, but I know how to cook healthfully for very little money, would you like some tips?

These are both examples of pre-emptive validation (for lack of a better term), and in both cases they reduce the potential threat level (in White's mind, that is) of the conversation.

And then shut up. Let your act of validation--and your silence--disrupt the yes-but script. Watch what happens next.

It's up to us to try to help our friends, family and readers avoid indulging in repeated, robotic excuse-making. Take action.

Related Posts:
How to Give Away Your Power By Being a Biased Consumer
Ten Tips on How to Cut Your Food Budget Using the 80/20 Rule
A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food
Death of a Soda Tax

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jimlinzee said...

I've been to West Africa and seen what truly poor people eat and how they struggle to survive. To say that anyone in America can't afford to eat well and healthy for cheap is laughable. We would all be healthier if we weren't so rich.
But, that said, I cannot change someone's heart or mind by arguing,ever. "un-asked for advice is always seen as criticism".
I can only lead by example and not engage with people who don't want to learn or change. It is sometimes very hard to step back and agree that "yes I concede, It is too hard for you to change"
But, I have found that that statement will quickly bring the discussion around as they defend the reasons why they CAN!

chacha1 said...

I just love this mini-series and hope you don't mind but I'm going to link to it. I see the "yes, but" at work ALL THE TIME as a social dancer, competitive dancer, and dance teacher. DH sees it ALL THE TIME in his physical therapy and personal-training clients.

Love jimlinzee's comment. There is no better way for "Black" to pull the rug out from under "yes, but" than by agreeing that "White" is a hopeless case, LOL.

Milehimama @ Mama Says said...

OT, but I usually read your posts in my Reader. Today I clicked through and your popup ad at the bottom of the page was really, really annoying and intrusive. I just thought you would like to know what a loyal reader thought.

BTW, this comment is pretty much just for you so delete at will!

MCM Voices said...

Dan, I have 2 almost-16 year old boys who are always hungry. At their age, I was reading Adele Davis and making yogurt and whole grain bread, and have tried to teach the kids about the importance of nutrition and good food. Somehow, the outside world has encroached and junk food is very appealing to them. I'm always getting chewed out because there is "no food" in the house and sometimes I give in and buy things that I would rather not. Although I've never had an actual "yes, but" conversation with myself about this, I think I'm going to try it, because I'm sure it would help me come up with some easy solutions to this problem.

And of course, recognizing the "yes, but" paradigm in one's approach to any problem is a great first step in getting around the obstacles we throw into our own paths throughout our lives. Thanks so much for bringing it front and center for me.

Carol said...

Hi, Dan,

I love this series. I have a very tiny food budget, as I'm on a disability pension. Supplies for making the gluten free bread, etc, that I need to eat takes up a lot of that. I admit, too, to getting bored, sometimes, with lentils. But I LOVE beans! Even my flatmate, who won't eat them, comments on how delicious they smell as they're cooking, with some onions and a piece of bayleaf in them. Once I've cooked up a big pot, they can be frozen in meal-size containers. They can then be pureed into refritos, mixed with salsa to top a baked potato, tossed into spaghetti sauce to provide protein (though lentils, being smaller, are better for this), dumped into a simmering pot of soup, or served up in hundreds of different ways. They are one of he most delicious foods ever! And cheap. Relatively cheap, even if you keep a couple of extra tins on the shelf for emergencies, like when my frozen bean stash runs out and I really don't feel like "cooking" (That's the beans, salsa and baked potato night).

I'm poor, yes, I don't drive, there's no supermarket within easy walking distance, but I do know how to cook. It's easy enough, with a good basic cookbook or two, to find enough cheap recipes to live well within a limited budget. Heck, I even get salads!


Daniel said...

Thanks for the comments and feedback so far!

Jimlinzee, I love what you're saying, that is an exceptional suggestion. And I bet it's extremely rare that anybody detects what you're doing when you use that approach. Usually when people are in "ego defense" mode they will just defend their ego at all costs and not recognize or notice the new direction the conversation takes. Thanks for an excellent idea.

Chacha, you never have to ask me to link to anything here at CK. Go right ahead. Links are the currency of the interet. I'm so glad you found good value here.

Milehimama: Thanks for the feedback, but I'm not sure what you mean--I'm not running any popup ads, only text/image ads. To be honest, I don't even know enough HTML to run a pop-up ad. Could it be a popup from another site or from your feedreader possibly? In any event, thanks for taking the time to notify me.

MCM Voices, thanks for your thoughts. I remember when I was 15 I loved junk food too, and it took me until my mid-20s to start to appreciate "real" food. And my mother was the same, she did her best to fight back the outside world, but for a few years in there it was often a losing battle. I hope you can put this series to work to give you some ideas.

Carol, I'm grateful for your feedback. Keep doing what you're doing and set an example for the people around you!


Ronda said...

Okay, I just found your blog a few minutes ago, and am browsing. I LOVE this post!!!! This is so true, not only of healthy food, but of a myriad of other "shoulds." I can remember being the yes-butter myself and realizing, hey, I'm just making excuses. But the thing that really struck me was that this is exactly what so many politicians do. When they are presented with a positive solution to a pressing problem, they invent hypothetical people who it wouldn't work for. Great post and good thoughts! Thanks so much.

I just read your blurb above the comment box--chuckling. ;)

Daniel said...

Ronda, you're absolutely right: you can substitute practically anything into this complaint script--it's extremely effective. That's why we have an enormous obligation to recognize it and disrupt it.

Thanks so much for the feedback and positive vibes. Glad you found me!