Saturday, September 10, 2005

Are You Superficial?

“So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way.” From Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell

Like the clouds in Joni Mitchell’s song, words get in our way all the time. Have you ever stopped to think about the power of your words? Especially the words you use all the time.

Besides the value of words for sharing ideas and experiences, words can also cause us to limit our understanding of the people and things in our lives. After all, words are only shortcuts we have invented to describe something in our reality. Words are not the object.

You might think of a word as the surface of a lake. The reality lies under the surface. Most of the time, we don’t dive in to see what’s under the surface. We’re satisfied to skim over the surface.

Think of some of the words you use to describe the people you know. Have you ever called someone stupid or ugly? Once you have labeled them as such, isn’t that the way you tend to view the every time you see them. The words you use have effectively put blinders on you. It becomes almost impossible to see them any other way, doesn’t it?

Or consider the words used to describe people in the news. The media uses carefully chosen words and names to create the images they want you to have in your head. Maybe you read about the debate over what to call the unfortunate people in hurricane Katrina’s path. Are they refugees or what?

Here’s a list of seven words. Take a minute to think about what each word on the list means to you. Your meanings will be personal and unique. You may be surprised at what you discover.


Here are some questions to ask yourself as you think about each word.

Is my definition of the word accurate?
Where did my meaning come from?
Does my meaning lead me to greater understanding or does it stop me from seeing a bigger picture?

As you do this little exercise in self awareness, you will begin to see how the words you use everyday have the power to control and limit your life. Awareness is the way out of this trap.

Ask someone to define the words from this list. How close is their meaning to yours? Listen and compare. Are you beginning to see how easy it is for misunderstandings to happen?

Now here’s one more question you can ask yourself any time you find yourself shortcutting with a convenient label.

What else is there about this person, this place, or this thing, that I’m missing?

For more information about books that inspire, have a look at the Transformational Book Circle.

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