Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Word Baggage

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."

Friday, July 23, 2004

Welcome to YAKTS - You Already Know This Stuff

With workplace experience in the electricity and telecommunications industries as well as a short stint in manufacturing, I've become quite familiar with the world of acronyms. I'm not sure YAKTS is a great example of an acronym that comes tripping off one's tongue, but it certainly is a shorter way to say "You Already Know This Stuff."

Now that you've found your way here, I have two questions for you:

1) If "You Already Know This Stuff," why are you reading this blog? and ...
2) If "You Already Know This Stuff," why aren't you doing something with it?

Both of those questions are posed very tongue in cheek as we all KNOW way more than we DO. I'm curious about why that is.

I'll try to post some food for thought here on a semi-regular basis, in the hope that we can figure out a way to collectively make our small talk bigger. With bigger small talk in our own individual circles of influence, I'm confident that those of us playing this game will start to make a real difference by starting small, but focusing our attention in ways that will take us beyond conversation into action.

Insight without action makes no difference so although we've got to start with making our small talk bigger, it can't stop there. What can we commit to actually DOING that will make our circles of influence more influential? It's that whole "Pay it forward" concept.

I know it's difficult to make a significant difference in the world individually (but good thing no one told that to Ghandi, or Mother Teresa, or MLK, Jr.) ... but, as Margaret Mead said:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

So, the thought for today is about CHANGE, and here's my two cents' worth:

Change doesn't work because change is nothing more than more of the same. For example, if I wanted you to give me "CHANGE" for a quarter, and I asked you for the easiest way to do that, you might give me 2 dimes and a nickel. That's CHANGE, all right. But let's say I didn't like that combination, and wanted something different. You might give me a dime and three nickels. If that doesn't satisfy me, you might give me five nickels. We could keep playing this "CHANGE" game until you'd finally given me 25 pennies. Change? Sure. But each time all I've really gotten is more and more of the same stuff (and heavier pockets).

If we really want something to be different in our lives, it's got to go beyond mere CHANGE. In the above example, what's missing is the key component to what's missing in any situation in which we want something to be different: the element of giving something up. In order for us to make a significant alteration in that change cycle that doesn't work, we have to be willing to give something up. In the 25 cents example, that means I have to be willing to completely give up my 25 cents (in whatever combination I'm left with) and replace that with something completely new (like a pencil or a piece of gum).

That, I propose, is what's been missing in our quest for CHANGE - the concept of giving something up in order to get something new that LASTS OVER TIME.

What do you think?

Next time ... words with their own baggage.