2012 Word Diet
Here we stand at the foot of 2012 while still basking in the afterglow of the festive season. What will the year bring? What manner of changes? What manner of discoveries, heartbreaks and celebrations? Whatever the flavour one thing is certain; it’ll be much more satisfying if our relationships can not only withstand but also buoy us through the more difficult days that will inevitably make an appearance. There's no doubt there are plenty of them. And have you ever noticed how the speed
of our lives seems to make it very easy for us to forget how to relate lovingly? The abrupt morning alarm followed by an inhumane to-do list pulls our attention into a straightjacket and one of the symptoms is that we begin to sound like drill sergeants whether we’re speaking to ourselves or loved ones. We know all too well what it sounds like. We become preoccupied with getting things done and assigning blame when they don’t get done. It’s no fault of our own really. Rather it’s the fact that life is a difficult proposition and we humans seem bound and determined to stay on top of it all with unreasonable deadlines and expectations. We create the very conditions that make it difficult to relate.
It’s time to take a deep breath. It’s time to remember that our tomb stones will not say, In memory of someone who got a lot done. What we usually see engraved on the granite is the word Beloved. What’s left of us is how we loved, memories of what we did and what we said. Having helped people through relationship and communication rough spots for over 10 years, I am struck at how language so often escapes our scrutiny when we work at improving our relationships. People will admittedly say that they have communication breakdowns but it’s rare for us to look at language itself as a primary culprit especially if it is not accompanied by a harsh or blaming tone.
To give an example, I’ve started asking people this question: Do you think we could get by without ever again saying things like I feel disrespected, or manipulated or put-down? My experience is that people actually live far better without these words. It forces them to take a closer look at their existing dynamics and to look for what blocks rapport and find ways to reestablish it. It invites them into deeper listening and honest expression instead of the defensiveness and alienation that such language stimulates. To this day I’ve never seen such words generate a favourable response except in rare cases where the listener had the skills to translate the words into a message they could eventually empathize with. Ultimately such language generates defensiveness and increases alienation. So let’s find another way!
When we say we want to live in a non-blaming world, it would be very useful for us to take an objective look at our language and eliminate language that makes it easy for us to blame. Isn’t that what it would mean to speak to others like we love them or at the very least care enough about them that we wish them to be spared from suffering? Language in not a neutral medium. It closes doors or builds bridges. It inspires creativity or collapses our imagination. For better or for worse, it carries enormous power. If this time of year has you wishing you hadn't eaten so much turkey or so many sweets and you're consequently considering making some chances to your diet, how about a word diet too? Let’s let go of language that assigns blame and places us in the victim position and others on the defensive. There are much more connecting and generous ways to speak about the things we yearn for. May this be a year where we individually and collectively cultivate the ability to speak in such ways.