If you have spent any amount of time with me you have probably noticed that words matter to me. One of my most impactful memories from graduate school at Case Western Reserve University was when David Cooperrider introduced the idea that words create worlds. I have sat with those words and brought that idea into my daily practice every day for the last 15+ years.
I’ve always been drawn to words. I guess it’s my love language. It’s why I was drawn to psychology in undergrad at Marietta College, it’s why I was drawn to marketing and advertising early in my career, it’s what I loved about Case Western Reserve and the incredible MOD program, and what I love about working with leaders and organizations today.
Words matter and each of those experiences focuses on the language we use, what it communicates, and what it misses. The words we use and how we behave come together to showcase who we are and what we value. Inconsistency between our words and behaviors creates a dissonance. If we are listening, we can feel it in our body and see it in others.
Yesterday I was reminded of the power of words. A dear friend of more than 10 years used the word brave to describe me. I’ve heard that word or similar before and every time I hear it I’ve become a little confused because I’ve never thought of myself as brave or courageous.
The first time someone called me courageous (that I can remember) was when I chose to go to undergrad at a place that no one from my high school had ever gone. Making my selection intentionally so I could step out and do something different. A lifelong friend called that decision courageous. I thought the decision just made sense for the next step on my journey.
A second life instance that someone identified, was when I decided to leave my job to pursue my own business and freelance work so that I could have a better balance between work and life as a single mom. Again, to me it was the obvious choice. To others it was viewed as brave. To my parents it was seen as risky.
This latest reflection was again about work and life choices. I’m sitting here on this snowy Friday continuing to think about the words we use, the communities that we surround ourselves with and inviting each of you to do the same.
I still would never label myself as brave or courageous but as I reflect on how others might see me, that’s probably one of the biggest complements that someone has ever given me. And as I work to continue to bring my values, my words and my actions into congruence, I will continue to make changes that some will see as strange, risky or maybe even brave.
So as you watch yourself and others move through the twists and turns of life, pay attention. Changes being made might be an attempt to come into alignment between words, actions and values. You may not understanding it but know that your words matter. They may provide some insight (as my friends provided) and they can cause hurt, shame and damage. Choose you words carefully. Be kind in every room. We don’t know the journey that others are on.