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January 4th, 2019

This phrase is defined as being used to politely invite a listener or reader to do something or to entertain a fanciful term.


It’s fairly straightforward with regards to asking someone to do something. But why ask with a fanciful term?


Is this just a relic of earlier times when perhaps conventions in language were more formal in the same way that the word ‘please’ comes from the phrase ‘if it pleases you’?


Perhaps, but even so, the lingering linguistic tendency can be usefully interpreted regardless.


So much of the dialogue that goes on is a kind of battle where points are launched in debate against one another.  Arguments abound and a phrase like ‘if you will’ strikes a completely opposite tenor from the tone we often see, most particularly on social media and the news. 


‘If you will’, is an invitation, asked with kindness, to be generous.  Generous with what? we might ask? 


Generous with our perspective, if you will.


Our perspective is a kind of place in the conceptual and linguistic landscape.  If you will is a gentle request that we move – if only for a moment or two – out of our perspective in order to inhabit a different point and place in the conceptual landscape. 


It’s almost as if to say ‘if you will entertain my idea for just a moment, you might be able to see things how I see them, from the place that I stand.’


The suggestion to ‘walk a mile’ in someone else’s shoes seems to be under-used in the atmosphere of today’s divisively inclined world, but it fits in well here.  The phrase in focus asks,


“If you will step into my shoes”


The phrase is almost demure, and perhaps this attitude is more generous than submissive because it can be read to carry an implicit understanding that it’s difficult to abandon one’s own perspective in favor of trying to truly see and understand what someone else is thinking, feeling, experiencing, and ultimately what they are trying to express.  We are all too often trying to achieve this on our own terms, to express what we are thinking and feeling instead of going on the difficult quest of generously entertaining someone else’s point of view. 


Which is, perhaps, the tragedy of the age, if you will.

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Podcast Ep. 264: If You Will

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