The Power of Language

Janna Carlson | Brevard, NC

According to dictionary.com the word language means “a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or nation, the same geographical area, or the same cultural tradition.” I am always amazed at how something so complicated can be summed up in so few words. When you are talking about language, it is more than words. We communicate with one another in different ways and it is sometimes hard to get the whole picture with just our words. Bodies are useful in both communicating the message and receiving the message. When we are good listeners we can get the whole message and minimize misunderstanding and therefore help avoid conflicts. To some, conflict is a hard idea and something that we should avoid at all cost. This is not always true. We learn from conflict and we need conflict in some cases in order to make sure fairness and kindness are being honored. We become more powerful the clearer we communicate.

  Clear communication is a skill that must be learned and practiced throughout our lives. We start as scientists, a.k.a. babies, where we cry in order to get our test subject a.k.a parents to give us what we want. Later we use hand signs or just a different style of crying if you were like me to get the message across. As we grow, this evolves into different sounds that form into words then those words form sentences, and we continue that on and on.  I am lucky enough to have my nephews who inspire me everyday. The oldest, who is now 17, came into this world telling us what the difference between backhoes and excavators were as we drove down the road and he would see them working. Years later my youngest nephew, who is now 6, can not see the large construction equipment as we drive by them. He sees the world differently, literally, therefore he communicates and interacts with the world differently. Sound is his passion, to be specific the sound of the ‘96 4Runner cranking in the garage, or his favorite country station where he will tell whoever will listen the artist and song title within the first 5 seconds of the song. Both communicate with the world around them in special ways that have been nurtured by the community that raised them. Being clear in our own language and remembering that our audience has it own filtration system inspires continued practice. We are all still scientists learning from our test subjects all around us. Practice using the words that will carry your true message and give yourself the chance to try again. We have everyday to learn a new perspective and gain a new appreciation for the art of speaking and listening.           

Good listening is also a skill that is learned and practiced. We can so easily fall into debate brain, where you do not really hear the other person talking but rather you are using that time to prep your comeback. “STOP!” we need to tell ourselves when inevitably we start to do this very thing. Naturally the brain wants to fill in the gaps and move to the next step. This leads us to anticipating what someone else will ask or say and speak too soon or respond inaccurately to them. In doing this, we are doing ourselves and the speaker a disservice. Let us wait, slow down, and give ourselves the chance to really hear them. We can do this with our families, friends and coworkers. Stress makes this process all the harder, and there are techniques that can help us be better listeners. Remember the reasons we listen are not just to be polite but because we want to learn something from the speaker. When it is time to listen, it is time to quiet your mind. We need to turn off the “to do” list in our heads or set down the phone in our hands. This is often a time to practice centering because the world around us is so loud and distracting. We need to ask more questions in order to tell the speaker we are actively listening to them and that they are in a safe space to share. We need to start questioning ourselves or reflect on how much did we talk and how much did we listen. Becoming a good listener like many other talents means we have to pay attention so we can improve and continue helpful habits. As we are listening it is very helpful to repeat what we hear. Many Mountain Sun students are very familiar with this because of our peace talk practice. They learn to say “STOP!” on the inside and ask themselves “Are they finished?” We circle back to where we started: slow down and give the other person the chance to get everything out then it will be time to use what we have learned to give the clearest response or most thoughtful reply.    

It is our job to be brave enough to communicate and even disagree sometimes. We also need to be confident enough to be good listeners. Language and community changes but we can all hear each other if we are practicing the beautiful and delicate art of communication. Stop, look, listen, and respond. We stop our body so the focus is on the speaker. We look at the person who is speaking so we can see if their body is telling us anything and so they feel heard.  Listen to what they have to say so that when they are all done we can say something that gets us more information or lets them know we understand what they said. These are not often automatic things that children or adults do without practice and conscious choices, so give grace where it is due and show patience when frustration starts to build. All of these tips help us become more powerful as our communication is clearer.   

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