Why we care so much about words and why we do what we do
If I asked you to point to northwest right now, would you struggle? Would you have to think for a second? Or would you have no idea at all? In Australia, there’s an Aboriginal tribe with no words for left and right. Instead, they use cardinal directions. So they might say, “I have a pain in my northwest leg.” To you and I, that might seem like a complicated way of doing things. But not to them. That’s because at any moment in time, they can tell you which direction they’re facing. A six-year-old child can point to northwest without a second thought.
Resisting things we enjoy but don’t move us towards our goals is hard. As Winston Churchill once said, “I can resist anything except temptation.” But there are ways to increase your chances of success. In a study conducted at the University of Houston, students with a healthy eating goal were told to say either ‘I don’t eat that’ or ‘I can’t eat that’ when offered a tasty but unproductive treat. Those that said ‘don’t’ rather than ‘can’t’ felt happier and more confident about their choice and were better able to resist the temptation.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Chairman’? You’re probably picturing a middle-aged man. He might be sitting in a high-backed leather chair in a vast office. He might be in a meeting room talking to the Board. But he is always a man. Naturally, since it’s built into the word. Many professional titles have traditionally taken the male form. Today, neutral options are available (Chairperson or Chair) but when the actual sex is unknown many still revert to the masculine version. The problem with that is it sends subtle but powerful message to young women that the role is not for them. They do not belong in that chair or that meeting room.
So why are we telling you all this? These anecdotes, along with countless others, tell us something important. They tell us that the words we use matter.
Our language shapes our world in a much bigger way than you might imagine. It shapes what we pay attention to, what we value, even our cognitive abilities. It shapes the way we think, which shapes the way we feel, which shapes the way we behave. And of course, it shapes how those around us think, feel and behave too.
We think that’s phenomenally exciting. Why? Because it means that simply by choosing our words wisely, we can exert huge persuasive power. Now only can our words inform, excite or inspire, they can bring about concrete change – change in our own behaviour, in other people’s, even in the world at large.
And that’s why The Giles Academy exists – to help you master your words so you can consciously shape your own destiny and the world around you. Powerful stuff, don’t you think?