Today I'd like to address the topic of word baggage. Not the word "baggage," but the baggage that some words come with that prevent us from really having an unaffected or unbiased conversation.
You know these types of words. Words like "Religion." "Politics." "Biker." "Convict." "Minority." "Celebrity."
I suppose when you think about it, almost any word could come with some kind of built-in context, depending upon the experiences the listener brings along to the conversation.
What happens when we hear those words as part of an innocent conversation? Often we have some sort of physiological reaction - whether we mean to or not. Immediately the little voice in our heads starts filling that listening space with words from that experience, whether they really add to the value of the conversation or not, and we're left with a very biased view of what that person said.
Humans for the most part are pretty poor listeners. After all, when were we ever taught how to listen? Brian Tracy has identified something like 50,000 random thoughts that go through a person's brain in any given day. Those random thoughts can range from thoughts like "did I remember to take out the garbage today?" or "I wonder where she got those shoes" to "he's got a tattoo on his arm so he must be a biker and all bikers are bad people."
Regardless of the way the voice in our head comes to us, the result is the same: we're not present in our conversations. We're busy formulating our comeback or we're threatened by something we're perceiving that might not even be intended.
It's important to remember that everyone who is alive in the world has his or her own set of experiences and understandings that they bring to any communication. If, in conversation, someone mentions the word "politics," you can be sure that somewhere in his or her experience, there is a context around that word and it might not be the same as your context.
We need to lighten up as we learn to listen ... and lighten up with the baggage we attach to certain words or phrases. As we lighten up, we can actually shed light on a previously dark or unknown situation and bring a new space for understanding into our communication.
As Edith Wharton said: "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."