• Posted: March 2014
  • By: Michael Carroll

Value Judgements are Bad! Who says?

An Article by Michael Carroll

Have you, in your relationship every heard yourself saying ‘it’s wrong to __________’ or ‘it’s bad to __________’ or ‘it’s inappropriate to ___________’  or maybe you have been on the receiving end of such language.  Usually I get a shiver when I hear this type of language, the speaker is distorting the world, and they are making a value judgement, without a specific source seems and turning into a global rule.  So when someone says ‘shouting is bad’ they are making a value judgement and global rule on the behaviour of shouting.  In most cases the speaker has no clue where this rule has come from, they just picked it up, often in the family home when they were very young.    This language style is called a ‘lost performative’. 

Here is a story;  A young couple were recently married and on the first Sunday of their marriage the newlywed husband cooked the Sunday lunch. His young wife watched as he did all the ‘right’ things, such as cutting the vegetables, peeling the potatoes and they he did a ‘crazy thing’ he put the meat in the roasting dish without cutting the ends off. ‘That’s crazy’ she thought. 

The following Sunday, the happy young wife was to cook the Sunday dinner and was looking forward to show her husband the ‘correct way’ to cook meat. He watched his beautiful wife prepare the lunch, and yes she was doing everything ‘properly’, until she did something ‘totally crazy’ she rather dramatically cut off the ends of the meat before placing it in the roasting tray and in the oven.  In the early stages of this blissful marriage the young man thought he would keep quiet, after all it’s not a major problem she cooks meat this ‘weird way’.

The following week the newlyweds were visiting the bride’s mother for Sunday lunch and the young man decided to offer to help, to see if his mother in law,  like her daughter,  cooks in a ‘peculiar way’. To begin with the mother in law did everything ‘the correct way’ ,  she peeled and chopped the vegetables, seasoned the meat, greased the roasting tin,  warmed the oven, and without any thought the mother in law cut the ends off the joint and put it straight in the oven to cook. The young man called upon all his resistance to refrain from telling his mother in law she was cooking the meat the ‘wrong way’.
The following week the family were to visit Grandma, and now the young man was really curious as to how grandma would cook the meat All week he was wondering would she do it the ‘right way’ or the ‘wrong way’.

Once again he offered to help. He helped Grandma with all the preparation of the vegetables and seasoning of the meat and he nearly fell on the floor when he saw Grandma put the meat straight in the roasting tin ’without cutting the ends of the meat off’  In his surprise he shouted ‘you cook correctly’ unlike your daughter and grand-daughter who ‘do it wrong’.  You do not cut the ends of the meat off before placing the joint of meat in the roasting tin. The old lady, in her response laughed and said, “they don’t still do that do they? I did that when the roasting tin I had was too small.”
In the above story, the statements are called ‘lost performatives’ in NLP.  A lost performative is a linguistic distinction where the speaker is making an evaluation e.g.  good/bad/right/wrong without making explicit the origins of the evaluation and turning it into a global rule. So in case of the young lady her statement ‘it’s right to cut the ends of meat before cooking’ is a value judgement that defines for her a global rule for cooking meat, in this case she had no clue of its origins.

But she ‘knew’ it was right and his way was wrong.  Unconsciously she had learned something from her mother who had learned from her mother and believed this was the right way of doing an activity, if you believe you are right by default another is wrong.  The young man also had rule for cooking meat, his way was right as well based on his experiences.  In the story above the young man’s way was more practical in most cases, however there are exceptions such as when the roasting dish is too small, a fly has landed on the end of the joint, or you want the meat ends for something else. There always exceptions to global rule statements so it is useful to modify and explore how ‘lost performatives feature in the language between you and your partner.

The effects of value based judgements

It’s rude to be late           >      It’s good to be flexible
It’s bad manners to shout       >      It’s important to be heard
It’s bad to argue           >      It’s good to argue
Laughing too much is immature >   Laughter is the best medicine
Working hard is good           >      Too much work is not good
Relaxing is important           >      Too much relaxation is not good
It’s bad to swear           >      It’s good to be graphical in language

I would like you to consider times when you have been on the receiving ends of lost performatives and times perhaps when you have used them in your own language to your partner, or someone close to you.

In the above you will see contrasting sets of lost performatives.  These statements are globalised statements, they are statements made as if they true in every case. In a relationship it is most likely you will both form contrasting rules for different behaviours and it is possible you will not be aware of the origin of the rule. So one partner may say ‘it’s good to argue so both parties can be heard’ the other partner may say ‘it’s rude to argue, let things go’.  One can imagine the situations that could arise based on the statements above.

Lost performatives can appear as criticisms if one partner is continually imposing on the other a global rule of what is good, bad, weird, inappropriate etc. In a relationship you can move beyond value based judgements that are formed on historic rules. Remember the cutting the ends off the meat is useful in certain contexts.  If you are open to explore your rules and then move on from using lost performative language, you can create shared space free of judgement.

About The Author

Michael Carroll is the founder and course director of the NLP Academy and co-founder with John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair of the International Trainers Academy of NLP. He is the only NLP Master Trainer in the world certified by John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair and he works closely with them in developing and delivering high quality NLP training.

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