Oh My Word!!
When I was studying English at school, I got introduced by one of my English teachers to the concept of “faux-amis,” words that mean something in French and have a very different meaning in English.
To illustrate his argument, that teacher would tell the story that would tell, how during WWII, the French free resistance and the British army had a moment of almost falling out, when the French asked the Brits for some help, and the Brits got upset because, how dare they demand from us (and you guessed it, in French, to ask is “demander”). I don’t know if this anecdote is true, but I can just imagine how history would have turned so differently had not someone taken the time to think the story through.
Author and Organizational Anthropologist Judith Glaser said in her “Conversational Intelligence” Book, that “words create worlds,” in reference to the fact that each of us interprets words in our own way, depending on our upbringing our culture, and our experiences. Words can be the perfect triggers for many misunderstandings. As a consequence, not only do we need to pay attention to what others say, but also how we interpret these.
The truth is, I have been way too attached to my personal interpretation to some of the words I hear. To the point that I hit a roadblock, I get stuck and stubbornly would not move. I got hit with this realization during a coaching session with my own coach. The conversation went like this…
Coach: One of the keys in life is to love what you already have and be grateful for it.
Me: Grateful? I have no idea what this is, it is a very artificial thing for me to make lists of what I am “grateful” for, this is so silly…
Coach: it’s one of the keys to get you unstuck and help you move on outside your fears…
Me: I feel like a hypocrite when I do these lists, I worked my bottom to get everything that I have, I deserve it, so not sure who I should be ‘grateful’ to
Coach: You DO appreciate the things you have, you are very appreciative!
Me: yes, absolutely, I enjoy everything I have, my family, my friends, I appreciate all the moments of joy and bliss that come my way.
Here is, unstuck, moving from grateful to appreciative, not that much of a difference, more of a nuance. Problem solved!
Are we too attached to the meaning we give to words?
A personal interpretation of a word can get you stuck, they are one of those tools that our minds use to self-sabotage. And words can be part of a healing process too.
There is that Catholic prayer that I have in my head, like a mantra, and it says: “God, just say a word, and I will be healed” (this is a personal translation from the French).
The word is what made the world begin in the Bible. It’s what gave humankind Freud’s psycho-analysis, it’s the cornerstone of coaching, it finds it roots in Socrates’ method called maieutics.
In Eastern religions, it’s the expression of the 5th chakra, the throat chakra, the energetic center of the will and self-expression. Caroline Myss in her book “Anatomy of the Spirit” sees this energetic center as the merging of the chakra of Willpower (Vishuddha), the sacrament of Confession, and the sefirot of Hesed and Gevurah.
It’s a place of our own honor and integrity, this is why we give our word as a gift and an unbreakable promise to do or not do. This is why we get so hurt when someone we trusted doesn’t keep their word, he is not a man of his word.
A word can get you stuck or heal you…your choice
And examples abound in the daily language. Of the sacred link that the word creates. And yet, so many of us get caught in the trap of being attached to a meaning, that we only created. Consider that quote attributed to the Dalai Lama: “We often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, over-reacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally.”
How many relationships and ties were severed because of a bad word, because we had words because we didn’t keep our word? And yet, how all civilization abound of artworks built on the words in sacred books? How many humans healed by the kind word of a stranger, a friend, a therapist or a caregiver?
The word has a magical power that only us humans can perceive. It is the key to unlock our unconscious, to make us happy or be part of a community; jargons, languages, and prayers can get people together, or, on the contrary, isolate and exclude them from the closed club of professionals, religious or other exclusive communities.
Ultimately, we can make words what we want. They can be a means to state facts, or an instrument to intrigue, offend or soothe.
The Sacred Books urge us to use our word wisely.
I will add, use the intention behind the word wisely.
The intention behind our words we speak is how we build trust and connections.
While silence can be golden sometimes, we will eventually need to speak up and as we turn our tongue seven times in our mouth, we can remember and abide by this Buddhist advice on Right Speech:
is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?
Judith E. Glaser: Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results
Caroline Myss: Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing