July 5, 2011

What's wrong?

Every once in a while I will be talking and, without much thought, some innocuous colloquialism or phrase will come out of my mouth. These can be regular phrases like “what’s up?” or “are you okay?” or “I’m all right.” But rather than accepting these little phrases as just idiomatic expressions (which they are), I will spend hours pondering them, their meanings, their origins, their connotations. English continues to baffle me on a daily basis.

I know. I’m cool. Get over it.

I was recently talking with someone – or, rather, I was attempting to start up a conversation with said person who was instead making things incredibly difficult and being obscenely non-responsive not like I’m still ragey about that or anything – and this person was acting out of colour (yes, the “u” is necessary) for him. So, being this person’s friend, I instinctively asked him, “What’s wrong?” The moment I did this, my brain went into Grammar Mode.

I started to think about the question “What’s wrong?” It doesn’t mean literally, “What’s wrong?” as in “What is incorrect?” Colloquially it means about the same as “Are you okay?” But there is so much more to it.

What really hit me was the implication, the tacit layer underneath the topical meaning of the phrase. I realized that, unconsciously, I only ever ask question this to people I care about – everyone else gets the traditional, “Are you okay?” (I feel like someone is going to read this and then realize that they only ever get “Are you okay?” and their feelings are going to be hurt and I will feel awful and I’ll never forgive myself. Oh wait, no one reads my blog. Win.) While asking someone “What’s wrong?” is just a way of trying to figure out what’s going on with a person to cause them to be upset or simply less than their best, it’s more than that. The phrase implies that someone or something is not right.

You aren’t right.

Morally, there is a fairly distinguishable line between right and wrong. Being kind to others is right. Murder is wrong. Cut and dry, right? In school, the difference between right and wrong is even clearer. 2+2=4 is right. 2+2=5 is wrong (except for really big values of 2).

But how are you right? Or, for that matter, how are you wrong?

If we ask how a person can be right or wrong, things get murky.

“Wrong” is defined, among other things, as “not proper or usual…out of order; awry; amiss….an injustice.”

“What’s wrong?” is asking what is causing you or something to be amiss or out of order. It is asking what has caused things to be not as they should be. If something is right, it is the way it should be. What is right is you, you being you. For the people I care about, the way you should be is the person I see, the person who shows me on a daily basis his or her incredible courage or intellect or compassion or kindness or simple propensity toward the silly and absurd, even if other people don’t see it. And it is an injustice for you to be anyone but yourself, for you to not show the world for even a moment the incredible person that you are. I see you, and I see your potential and talent and ability, even when you don’t.

When I ask you “What’s wrong?” I want you to know that I care. I want you to know that you matter to me. I want you to know that I see something in you that is worrying me. I want you to know that I see something is amiss that is causing you to be less than you. I want you to know that I will do anything to make it better or fix it or rectify it or simply kick it until it is better because you deserve nothing but the best. I want you to know that I am here for you. And I want you to tell me what is going on. Don’t say, “I’m fine.” That’s a lie. You’re not fine, because you are not being you, and you are what is right.

You are right.

Sorry I just subjected you to that. I promise I’ll write something funny tomorrow.