I was talking with a friend recently. I’ll call him Ralph here. Ralph’s relationship with his brother has been on the outs of late, and he was trying to understand what had happened and what he might be able to do at this point to improve the relationship.
I asked a series of questions. This revealed that the rift had started when Ralph had voiced his stand (e.g., opinions, religious views, moral position and, dare I say, judgment) on some of his brother’s recent personal decisions.
I asked Ralph, “How do you think you’d handle it if you were in the mix with a flamboyant gay guy?”
At first, Ralph looked bewildered, like he thought I hadn’t heard him clearly or that I was having a flashback to my famed Amnesia Episode of 1999. But trusting that I usually have a point to my rabbit trails, he answered. “Well, a few years ago, I actually was in the mix with a flamboyant gay man that I needed to interact with at an annual event. And we got along great.” It was clear from the phrasing that this was one of very few such people Ralph had ever known, if not the sole example.
I continued, “So, would you say it would feel comfortable for you to use the words ‘even though’ in describing your relationship with that person? For instance, could you easily complete this sentence, ‘I liked the guy even though…’?”
Ralph straightened up, answering quickly and confidently. “Yes, absolutely. I feel comfortable saying that I liked him even though he was gay, flamboyant and married to a man.”
The slump to his shoulders told me that he wasn’t expecting what I said next.
“I thought that might be the case, Ralph. And that’s a problem.”
I love words.
There’s an inherent power in words. The right word or phrasing used at the right time can earn a first date or seal the impossible business deal. Likewise, a word used carelessly or at the wrong time can start a war.
My curiosity is continually piqued by connotation: the implied meaning or feelings that become associated with a word or phrase over time among a particular group of people. One example I cite often is rocking chair. Here’s the dictionary listing:
/ˈräkiNG ˌCHe(ə)r /
a chair mounted on rockers or springs, so as to rock back and forth
Nothing particularly earth-shattering for a native speaker to learn there.
However, answer the following questions to yourself:
- What is a rocking chair made of?
- What color is a rocking chair?
- Who sits in a rocking chair?
Cultural connotation all but guarantees that the majority of people will form an instant mental image paired with the following connotations:
- Rocking chairs are made of wood.
- Rocking chairs are brown or white.
- Elderly people (usually “grandmothers”) or young mothers sit in rocking chairs.
If you “saw” something different, it’s either because you yourself had or have a rocking chair that came to your mind—or because you are simply trying to be contrary.
However, there is nothing about the actual definition of rocking chair that in any way prohibits it from being plastic, being purple with green polka-dots, or being used by a teenaged boy.
Ignoring the connotations of language causes us to falter in our communication (or to choose willful deceit).
With this in mind, let’s dig a little deeper into that two-word transitional phrase that had my friend Ralph feeling so confused: “even though.”
Looking up “even though” in a dictionary, here’s basically what you’ll find:
/ˈe ˌvən ˈTHō /
despite the fact that
Not very helpful.
Here’s where diving a little deeper gets interesting. And please know…I realize that not everyone is a linguistic nerd like I am, so I’ll try not to get too crazy here.
At the most basic level, “even though” shows contrast. In this way, it fits into the family of meanings similar to “but” in logical flow.
Here’s the example sentence given by Merriam-Webster:
“She stayed with him even though he often mistreated her.”
We have two facts here:
- He often mistreated her.
- She stayed with him.
The phrase “even though” is used to join the two facts while adding a logical (or in this case illogical) connection.
What would be considered the parallel or expected or natural course of action resulting from “He often mistreated her”? I think most of us would consider it to be something along the lines of “She left him.”
By pairing the two facts with “even though,” we show a contrast between the actions of the two people—and, in fact, between the people themselves. We’re not concerned in this sentence with exploring why she acted as she did. But by using “even though,” we’ve essentially created opposites:
abuser / victim
too mean / too nice
As such, while it’s not expressly stated in the sentence, “even though” asserts the following strong implication:
She did not often mistreat him.
In other words, if the speaker of the sentence knew that the woman had also mistreated the man, to use “even though” would have been an intentional act of deceit aimed at making it seem that she had not.
Coming full circle, I’ll say it again: “even though” shows contrast.
Opposite qualities or expectations.
Well, let’s revisit Ralph’s reply to my probing question:
“Yes, absolutely. I feel comfortable saying that I liked him even though he was gay, flamboyant and married to a man.”
And here’s the diagnostic element. Since using “even though” felt comfortable to Ralph, he had set up a foundational separation between himself and the other man. In fact, he’d created logical opposites, not merely “differences.”
Make sure you grasp that. It’s key.
When we say (or think, or would feel comfortable saying or thinking)…
“I [nice / positive / right thing] even though that person ________________,”
…we’ve revealed that we believe whatever fills that blank is not nice / not positive / not right.
We are in short saying, “I am good but you are bad.”
Certainly, in some cases, that dichotomy is true and accurate:
“Nora loved her brother even though he had murdered a man.”
It would be good and kind and noble of Nora to continue to love her brother. And we would consider that her brother was, at least in this regard, not good or kind or noble.
Or consider this one:
“I love my kids even though they are messy.”
That’s terrific. But make no mistake: a contrast—an opposite comparison—is being made here. I am not messy (which, by implication, is the right way to be), so it’s mighty big of me to overlook the flaws of my kids. The use of “even though” casts me in a favorable light and, therefore, my kids in an ugly one.
The problem comes in when we deceive ourselves into thinking that our expressions of love or acceptance for someone “even though”… is somehow an indicator that we’ve become a beacon of true equality. In fact, it reveals quite the opposite about us.
So when someone who identifies as Christian says, “I get along fine with my neighbors, even though they are Muslim,” it’s really saying…
“I am right and good and so big a person that I can get along with those wrong and bad people.”
And when my friend Ralph expressed, “I liked him even though he was gay, flamboyant and married to a man,” he was really saying…
“I—being a straight person of reserved demeanor whose family is doing things the only correct and acceptable way—am by default the moral standard; and yet I’m such a good person that I found it within myself not to mention the flaws and wrongness of that other morally depraved person who really should change to be more like me.”
Still not convinced? Then please accept a challenge.
If you don’t think this type of comparison is being made when you have an “even-though” view of others—if your claim is that it does somehow reflect true equality and that I’m just nitpicking—try flipping your statements around so that you are on the other side of “even though”:
“My kids love me even though I…”
“The Muslim family next door gets along with me even though I…”
(And if you’re a teen, or you are Muslim, put your parent or Christian neighbor first in those examples.)
When I asked Ralph to swap the order of his “even though,” here’s how he completed it:
“My flamboyantly gay associate liked me even though I…am a self-righteous and judgmental jerk.”
Kudos to you, Ralph. You’re on the road to enlightenment.
The fact is, “even though” statements feel bizarre where a mindset of true equality exists. Consider:
“We have been friends since childhood even though she has brown hair.”
Weird, right? But why? Well, the reason such a statement likely feels off to you is that, in your heart of hearts, you truly don’t care about hair color. You may notice it. You may even appreciate or admire it. But at the core of your being, where truth lies, hair color simply holds no connotations of right or wrong, good or evil. It just is.
True equality draws no lines. But neither does it draw attention.
True equality is invisible to itself. It forgets that it even exists.
“Even though” isn’t just about the words you happen to say aloud.
It’s an attitude, a mindset, a revelation of self.
“Even though” is a worldview.
And true equality finds little use for it.