Ellen Langer

A rose is not a rose is not a rose ·


Gertrude Stein aside, a rose is not a rose, is not a rose. It is certainly easier to talk about the rose if all the subtleties are ignored, but in doing so, we come to react to it oblivious to the finer distinctions we could have made. This rose is different from other roses and different from itself from other perspectives and at different times.

It would be inefficient to have a different name for each difference for mundane discussion about roses. Thus we have created language that effectively directs our attention to a level of abstraction that enables us to communicate easily. We talk about a rose. However, this language leads us to accept all that the label entails and ignore all that appears irrelevant to the general case.

Our everyday language directs us to similarities, not differences. We notice it is a rose by seeing how it is like other flowers we call by the same name; and we mindlessly react to it the basically the same way each time. As will become clear, however, the opportunity for creating new choices for ourselves comes when we become responsive, rather than reactive, to the very differences that would make interpersonal communication difficult. The same is true for our disorders and emotions.