Words

I just spent the past two weeks watching the RNC and the DNC.  Like many, I tend to get take a peek at the political frenzy every four years or so.  This go-around seems to be a little more frenzied than in years past.

Past experience has prevented me from engaging in political discussion outside of my close network of family and friends.  Listening to rabid political discourse, on the left or the right, tends to be a bit of a buzz-kill.  That being said, our current state of political affairs seems to be all-encompassing and unavoidable at the moment.  One can’t simply turn on a television, open a newspaper, log onto the Internet without being exposed to some type of biting political rhetoric.

Which leads me to this…and it’ something that’s been on my mind for a while.

People tend to forget that words have a profound impact on us.

Allow me to digress for a moment.  I’ve been a public school teacher for 16 years, but prior to teaching, I was in IT for 11 years.  In 1997, I was asked to attend a workshop on Assertiveness.  I supervised a staff of seven and my manager suggested that I attend the seminar (with her) following my first (and only) negative employee evaluation.  The gist of it was that I did not handle criticism well.  Back-story:  She continually berated my staff and I defended them by asking that she speak to them in a professional manner.  That, apparently, was a no-no.*

I dreaded attending the seminar with her, but it turned out to be one of the most important events that I’ve ever attended.

We began by participating in the obligatory ice-breaking activities after which, we listened to a guest speaker.  The focus of the speech was our daily interactions with people, particularly how we speak to one another.  To demonstrate the profound impact that our words have on others, she asked for a volunteer.

I volunteered.

The woman called me to the front of the packed hall and asked me to hold my arms outstretched at my side (like a “t”).  She told me that she was going to firmly push down on both arms and asked that I resist her, with all of my strength, to keep my arms outstretched.

She pushed.

Hard.

I resisted.

My arms remained outstretched, unmoved.

I was strong.

Then she informed me that she was going to say some things to me, but they were all lies that she did not truly believe.  She reiterated that she was going lie to me and that she did not believe one thing that she was going to say.  She asked if I understood that she was going to be lying.

I understood.

She proceeded to make snide comments about me.  “You’re not smart”, “You’re not going to amount to anything”, “Why did you even bother coming here?”, “You’re useless”, “Why did you choose that outfit to come to this conference?”

She asked me to outstretch my arms again (“t” form) and asked that I resist her attempt to flatten my arms down with all my strength.

I outstretched my arms.

She pushed.

Not very hard.

I tried hard to resist her attempt to flatten my arms.

My arms collapsed like a rag-doll.

She asked, “Do you see what mere words have just done to your strength?”

She made her point about the profound impact of our words abundantly clear.

I’ve used this technique to demonstrate the power of words to both children and adults. Our words are powerful.  Words can emotionally AND physically affect us, even if we understand that the words spilling out of the pie-holes of others can be lies.  Words can give us strength or they can knock us down.

I’m not claiming to be perfect.  Far from it.  I’m just as guilty as the next person of occasionally making comments or adopting a tone that may be less than uplifting to others.  I’m human.  Everyone slips from time to time.  But when negativity and vitriol become a person’s entire persona, Houston, we have a problem.  Particularly when we are in a position of power, be it a mother, father, brother, sister,  teacher, preacher, celebrity, politician.

My students do projects in my class in which they  copy and paste a few paragraphs of text from a novel into a website and generate a “Word Cloud”.  The word cloud is formed by highlighting the most common words used in the text that they chose.

I created two word clouds with full transcripts from both the RNC and the DNC.

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I’m not trying to get on a soapbox here.  I get it.  There are countless reasons why a particular candidate resonates with each and every one of us.  I’m not attempting to sway anyone in one direction or another.  I’m merely asking that we listen to what is being said both in the political arena and in our every day lives and consider how those words will impact us and our daily interactions with others.

Don Miguel Ruiz wrote, “Be impeccable with your word,” in his book, The Four Agreements.  Maybe we can’t do it all the time, but we can at least try.

*In case you’re wondering, I quit my job after the workshop and became a teacher. Thanks, Assertiveness!

 

Profound

 

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