The Most Dangerous Four-Letter Word

The word “only” nearly killed me.

[T]he single most dangerous word in all of suicidology is the four-letter world only.”

- Edwin Shneidman

I operated with the incorrect assumption that my life was worth living only if I accomplished certain things, at certain times, in certain ways. Eventually, that kind of thinking narrowed my perspective on every aspect of my life until I became convinced that suicide was the only answer to my problems.

This word is also the bane of my existence as an educator of officials. At clinics across the country I heard these types of responses when I asked why an official was doing something:

  • I am only supposed do this in this situation.

  • I was told never do it that way; only this way.

  • I heard that I could only do it like this.

“Only” is dogmatic, and the only thing about dogmatism I like is the movie Dogma. Otherwise, I cannot stand any person arguing for only one way of doing anything. It shows a lack of flexibility, of adaptability, of Mental Agility.

It also shows someone who is ready to widen their gaze, which is why I enjoy debating those who plant the flag for only one way of doing things. I suffered under the weight of that limiting four-letter word. I know how enticing having one answer can be. Only one answer allows you to think less. You narrow the scope of your options and beliefs until every situation gets crammed into the tight confines of “only”.

I advocate for training the mind to be flexible, adaptable, and agile because I know what can happen when “only” is taken to the furthest extremes. I have no desire to limit people because I limited myself. That limitation nearly killed me, and I will equip those I teach with all the tools to keep “only” far, far away.

Teaching the marist boys’ high school lacrosse team about mental agility, and how to focus on the little details that can help their team performance improve.

Teaching the marist boys’ high school lacrosse team about mental agility, and how to focus on the little details that can help their team performance improve.