Power and Meaning
I went to the doctor last week for a check up on my ankle. I asked him if my difficulties and the dramatic differences I felt would be permanent. He responded that it would “be different after a year.”
He had dodged my questions before with this same answer, in one phrase, committing to nothing while dismissing me. Being a surgeon, I don’t expect much. I think medical schools let surgical students substitute a class like “Cutting 101” for the general requirement of “Bedside Manner Basics.”
The doctor’s words had power. In fact, regardless of our position, our words have power. Buddha said, “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or evil.”
When I was in school, an art teacher told me not to bother coming back to class because I couldn’t draw. I didn’t made art again for the next 20+ years. When I met a Camille Whirley last week, I found her confessing to me that she hadn’t sung in public for her whole adult life because a choir director cut her off during an audition when she was a child. A parent may think she’s being encouraging when she praises one of her children’s work while the other child in earshot understands clearly the unspoken message–that her own work is not good enough because it did not receive Mother’s accolades. She unwittingly may have done years of damage.
Words have power. How to use that power for good is sometimes the challenge. Make your words meaningful! Instead of merely telling someone that “they look great” or that something they made is beautiful, take the opportunity to have your praise be substantive. When you say that “the purple shirt you are wearing brings out your eyes,” it has the effect of telling the person that you really looked and you are commenting on what you saw. To say “your picture is made exciting by the varying textures you used” gives the person positive feedback based on what they accomplished. Leave the platitudes home. They are empty and false. “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and help them to become what they are capable of being,” advised Goethe. You can show how you truly feel by responding to the environment with meaning.
I know this is not intentional. I realize that these are long engrained habits that die hard. However, by using language to communicate something specific, you have created value and used the power of language for good. Try it and see how it goes.
Have you ever found that words used inadvertently have had a lasting affect on you?
Musicians – Morocco pastel This painting, part of my Morocco series, is one of three that are being exhibited in a group exhibition with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in a concert series entitled “Arabian Nights.” Co-sponsored by the arts organization, City Without Walls, the concert will be performed February 25, 26 & 27 in three venues in New Jersey. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my piece is being used for their promotion. For ticket information, click here.