Sometimes, my mind wanders during a meeting into a whole other area of thought. This happened recently in a meeting about resting on one’s laurels. I have been hearing this topic a lot lately, and inevitably someone always says, “I got the gift of desperation.” I think I ponder individual words on a level most people do not. I presume it is what makes me a great English teacher, if at times a somewhat irritating friend and wife. (What do you mean I am mostly kind-hearted!??) I digress.
In the past, when confronted with the “gift of desperation,” I have been caught up with the word “gift” and all that connotes. But today a new thought occurred to me as I lost track of the meeting, and that was the word “got,” more specifically, about the simple past tense of the word “got.”
English is an odd language. It stands out form other languages because its root is the Germanic language. When German warriors invaded England in the 7th century, they brought with them their language. Four hundred years later, Britain was attacked and held by a section of France called Normandy. Consequently, the English language went through a radicalization process changing largely into what might be considered a French/German hybrid or a Latin/German hybrid since French was originally an offshoot of Latin. The grammar system by which English is based reflects this Latin influence.
English has a variety of tenses that all define or denote a different place in time in which an action, the verb, takes place. Did something happen in the past? Did something happen in the past and finished before another thing in the past happened? Or did it happen in the past and is still happening today? It is very precise. And maybe exactly because of this precision, in conjunction with the lack of grammar taught in schools today, these tenses have fallen out of favor. People do not know how to use them, or if they do use them in academic or business environments, they do not use them in common speaking. Instead, people tend to fall back on the so-called “simple” tenses, favoring context to convey time.
This is not unheard of in other languages. In fact, many non-Latin influenced languages have much simpler forms of verb tenses. Some languages, Mandarin being the most widely spoken, have no tenses at all.
And then all this thought reminded me of a Ted Talk I heard about the philosophical, economic, and medical consequences of tenses on cultures.
Keith Chen speaks that cultures with future tenses allow people to distance themselves from the future, unlike the cultures who do not differentiate the present from the future. Subconsciously, languages that differentiate the future have cultures that save less money and have less impulse control because they seem unaffected by the actions of today, but rather set off into the distant future.
I cannot help but wonder how language we use in recovery affects our recovery. We speak of a daily reprieve and a “spiritual bank” from which to draw, but Chen might argue we do not fully and consciously understand how the repercussions of our past acts, and the acts we perform today, have on our future.
“I got the gift of desperation.” Grammatically, it would mean that I got it, but no longer have it. Maybe, a better way by which to speak of it would be the present perfect progressive tense indicating an action continuing from the past into the present and possible into the future. “I have been receiving the gift of desperation.” Not an over and done task, but a continuing act.
Or maybe better yet, no tenses at all. Yesterday, I have the gift of desperation. Today, I have the gift of desperation. Tomorrow, I have the gift of desperation.
Yesterday, I recover. Today, I recover. Tomorrow, I recover.