The Power of Words
What are words?
Words are elements of expression or units of language used to convey meaning.
When we think of words, we usually think of spoken and written words. Today let’s expand on this definition.
Words are like water.
Water is in continuous movement. It changes states from vapor, to liquid to ice and back. It’s a perpetual cycle.
Our words have a similar cycle. They start as ethereal, invisible thoughts. In their fluid state, they are spoken or written down. And in their most solid state, they turn into actions. The results of actions create more thoughts, words and so on.
Water goes through its cycles with delicate balance. When that balance is disturbed, nature erupts to restore it.
What about our words? What would happen when the balance is disturbed?
The dangers of polarity
Words have tremendous value and power. Their value comes from being an effective method of communicating. The power of words can be felt in every aspect of our lives. The quality of every experience we have is shaped by what we think, what we communicate and what we do. We live by our words.
How can our words be out of balance? It’s in the polarizing meaning we choose to express.
When our words are unbalanced, we suffer their wrath. In most cases, we feel pain and negativity. We can also experience the other extreme as a positive charge that may come from unrealistic expectations.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
I lent $500 to a friend in a jam. He said he would pay me back next month. I’ve been chasing after him for a couple of months and I can’t seem to get anything.
Here is what would be my automatic reactive response:
I can’t believe I was that naive. I’m so stupid. How can I let him do this to me? He’s a liar. He said he would pay me and didn’t. He is selfish.
I’m so angry right now. I regret helping him out. Can I even call him a friend? I want nothing to do with this SOB. Argh!
Consider this alternative:
I made a mistake. I lent money to a friend. I should’ve either politely said no, or gave him the money. This situation is painful. I feel hurt that he didn’t keep his word and pay me back.
I feel he added to my financial burden. Luckily, I don’t need this money right away but it would be nice to get it back. I was hoping he would honor his word.
What can I do now?
I will tell him how frustrating the situation has been for me. I will give him a couple of weeks to come up with the money, or start making payments towards it. Then I’ll drop the whole thing. I want to have closure and move past this painful experience.
I have learned my lesson. I won’t let money stand in the way of relationships any more.
Reactive vs. intentional
The reactive response is all about regret and name-calling. What purpose did it serve? How did you feel when you read it?
The alternative had a calmer tone. It’s about what happened without fueling the situation with unnecessary adjectives. The biggest difference is that I take responsibility for what I did and reflect on how I can learn from it. I also express how I feel—the hurt and frustration.
I write an article and it gets tons of reactions on social media.
Wow! That is so cool. I’m such a brilliant writer. I knew this would resonate with people. I feel great.
The next article I write doesn’t get 10% of the attention the first article did.
What did I do wrong? I feel like crap. Maybe I shouldn’t bother writing any more.
The alternative to the above extremes separates the actions of others from my own.
I enjoyed writing both articles. I feel both messages reflected the ideas truthfully. I can’t control how others perceive the work I’ve done. I hope with time I get to write more articles that help and inspire the readers.
To balance your words, neutralize them by stripping them of any subjective polarizing meaning.
Your words don’t need to be negative or positive. They need to be truthful. And the truth is always neutral.
How do you neutralize your words to reflect the truth?
Just like nature balances the cycle of water, the truth balances the cycle of our words. Try to use the three steps below.
1. Focus on facts.
Don’t confuse what you think with what happened. In the example above, one can’t say for sure if the friend is a liar or selfish. He didn’t pay me back. This is a fact.
Facts are neutral; they reflect what happened without judgment. Meaning on the other hand is always subjective.
2. Avoid the ego trap of using adjectives and possessions. Use verbs instead.
Nothing satisfies the ego more than what follows the I am or he/she is. Once you attach an adjective (e.g., I’m stupid or I’m a genius) you become that word in your mind. The same applies to others—you start defining them.
I lent a friend money. That’s the fact; I’m neither stupid nor smart. I wrote two articles I’m neither a genius nor a nobody.
You are never angry or brilliant. There is anger in you, and there is brilliance in you. You are much more than limiting descriptions.
I feel hurt is better than I am angry. It focuses on the feeling and not me.
The other type of attachment comes from possession. Instead of saying my friend did something, I’d say a friend did something. We don’t own anyone.
3. Forget positive and negative thinking. Embrace neutral thinking.
The glass doesn’t have to be half-empty or half-full. The glass has some water in it. That is neutral thinking. I found over the years when I tried to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, I felt uneasy; I felt I was lying to myself.
Instead, I try as much as possible—and it’s one of the hardest things—to focus on what took place and how I feel without infusing my thoughts and words with reactive ego drivel.
I wrote two articles, one was shared a lot and the other not that much. I feel confused; I want to explore what resonates with the readers. Here, I focus on the action, the feeling and then what I want to do next. This is more powerful than feeling overly thrilled or upset by readers’ reaction to what I wrote.
The sun is the power source of the water cycle. And you are the sun of your words. You have the ultimate power.
The way we think and act won’t change instantly because we used different words in a few cases. True transformation will happen gradually over time as you become more aware of your power and more mindful of the words you choose.