Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Power of Words

From the beginning of time (or at least recorded history), one of the ways that the progress of a society has been measured is by its ability to communicate.  Some civilizations or societies maintained an oral tradition, passing on the knowledge and experiences gained throughout generations by a father talking to a son or mother to a daughter.  Others used a written language or process.

I have always loved words.  In many ways, it runs in the family.  We love to read and we love to talk.  The cynical among you might suggest a genetic predisposition to wordiness in my family.  It is possible.  Certainly, we are not afraid of words, written or verbal.  A quick scan through a couple of genealogical layers reveals writers of plays, poems, music, novels, encyclopedia, manuals, etc.  There are many accomplished orators in the same ranks.  Most love to read.  I know that I do.

Few things have the ability to affect a reaction more than WORDS.  Those reactions can vary across an incredibly diverse spectrum.  Words (and their associated symbols) can:
  •  evoke memories
  • trigger visualizations or mental images
  • elicit strong physical, spiritual or emotional responses

Words (written or verbal) carry a massive memory response or linkage.  The linkage goes in two directions.  Sometimes seeing or hearing something like a phrase or a word will bring a rush of memories.  Going the other direction, sometimes seeing, hearing or feeling something will bring “forgotten” words or phrases to our minds.  For example, for me, the image of a skull bring the words of The Bard (Shakespeare) from his play “Hamlet” to mind “To be or Not to be/ That is the question” (although technically, it should trigger “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well”, but who’s perfect?).

The words of songs often have a strong memory or association.  Whether it is a children’s nursery rhyme or the song you associate with your true love, lyrics bring memories, good times and bad.

Some (verbal or written) symbols are firmly entrenched in our deep societal memory, going back beyond our physical lifespan.  They exist simply because it is such a huge part of our history. For example, consider a simple thing like a small red flower worn on a lapel.  For many Canadians (or at least for me), this triggers the lines of an oft repeated poem, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow; between the crosses, row on row...”  This brings memories of sacrifice and freedoms, memories of stories of ancestors, feelings of sadness and loss, but also joy and appreciation.  All from a simple poem and a symbol that is associated with it.

Words have the power to elicit a physical response. For me, the mere recitation of the lines of the above poem causes me to have a physical shiver and a tightening of my throat.  Hurtful words cause a physical tightening in my chest.  Spiritually stirring words cause warmth or burning feeling in the same area.

The old children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” may be true in theory, but words can cause (and have caused) many strong emotional responses, resulting in a physical reaction.  Some words cause us to smile or frown, laugh or cry.  “Them’s fightin’ words” is a pretty descriptive phrase, don’t you think?

It has been said that “the pen is mightier than the sword”, perhaps due to the ability of words to bring about permanent change more readily than physical and violent action.

I think that the true power of words comes from the ability to alter our emotional state.  Words can calm.  Words can upset, render us sad, angry, depressed or worried.  Words can brighten our day, improve our attitude or improve our morale.  Words can enrich us.  Words can be treasures or they can destroy.

Words are like rocks thrown into a pond.  The next time you are in a room of people, watch what different people’s words do to the emotional atmosphere.  I’m sure you’ve seen it before.  The first words or comments will set the direction or tone of the subsequent discussion.  A positive or optimistic word will spawn more positive comments.  Negativity will do the same.  Nothing dampens enthusiasm or creativity like negative words.

While we often take our words for granted, words can have a major impact on those around you.  We are careful of our physical movements or how we act towards others physically, but we usually give less thought to our words than we ought to.  We would rarely physically hurt someone deliberately, but we’ll toss words around casually.

We should consider the key place that our words take in our lives and our human natures.  Consider the following equation.

Words = Thoughts = Action = Habits = Character

Words lead us to think.  Our thoughts lead to action.  Our actions turn into habits, which in turn reflect or define our character. 

Words are powerful.  Some of the most powerful words are “I’m sorry” and “I love you”.  Use your words delicately.  They’ll take you places.  If you choose wisely, you’ll probably like where you end up.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Value – What are you worth?

Over the past couple of months, I have been seized by a desire to make some changes.  That has meant making adjustments to who I am, both cutting as well as adding.

I have taken some new steps.  I’ve attempted to tap into some creative options and energies.  One area that has been at the forefront of my mind is the potential for some other work or extra income.  I’ve undertaken some work on the side of my regular, full-time job.  One could say that it isn’t really a huge leap or shift, as it merely represents similar activities in a different venue or to a different audience.  That being said, it has resulted in a whole series of internal (and sometimes external) self-worth exercises.

When you ask someone to pay you to do something (assuming you can get to that point), you have to outline what you are worth.  And it doesn’t really stop at “Here is my fee” and them smiling and accepting it.  You have to outline the what, the why (usually several times) and the how.  You have to prove, in a sense that you are worth what you are asking.  It is hard. 

Our society has developed individuals that generally follow two trains of thought or that fall into two categories.  There are those that feel that humility or modesty is most important, where the worth of an individual should not supersede that of others around you.  Often, this turns into self-deprecation or undervaluing ourselves.  On the other end of the individual value spectrum are those that have a strong and inherent sense of value.  I suppose one would call that confidence.  Some people exude a sense of superiority.  This mutates into a need to “toot their own horn” or feel like their value must exceed that of others. 

Wherever you fall into the value or self-worth spectrum (and I’ve found it can shift as you progress through life or from situation to situation), it isn’t always easy.  At least it hasn’t been for me.  You have to constantly re-evaluate your abilities, including whether you are actually capable of meeting the value that has been contracted.  You have to prepare, demonstrate and then deliver.  It is tough.  I assume that this gets somewhat easier with time and with experience.  One can hope.

While I don’t feel that modesty is wrong or incorrect, it is a challenge to look past one’s current limitations and embrace what you can become.  What I’ve learned from this whole experience is this:

1)      You (and your time) are worth something – don’t undervalue.  If you have to sort out what that time is worth, consider what you would have done with that same time if you were to do something else.

2)      Accept that it is going to be painful, or at best, mildly uncomfortable to negotiate your value.

3)      Do your best.  When all is said and done, you just have to bear down and get the job done.  Let your work and efforts demonstrate your value and wipe out the doubt (your doubt and their’s).

As I contemplated this topic, a faint memory of a poem came to mind.

Author: Anonymous

Not - How did he die? But - How did he live?
Not - What did he gain? But - What did he give?

These are the things that measure the worth

Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

Not - What was his station? But - had he a heart?

And - How did he play his God-given part?

Was he ever ready with a word of good cheer?

To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?

Not - What was his church? Not - What was his creed?

But - Had he befriended those really in need?

Not - What did the sketch in the newspaper say?

But - How many were sorry when he passed away?

These are the things that measure the worth

Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

Here are several other quotations that I came across that resonated with me.

Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having a low opinion of yourself is not "modesty". It's self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not "egotism". It's a necessary precondition to happiness and success.” – Bobbe Sommer

Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” – Malcolm S. Forbes

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein