Words are powerful. The words we choose can make a conversation productive or destructive. And to further complicate matters, words can impact us differently and are often subject to interpretation, despite their dictionary definition. So, it’s no surprise why human relationships are so complicated. Constructive communication is the foundation of every successful relationship. And learning to construct solid communication strategies requires authentic intention and effort, as well as a generous sprinkle of humility!
I recently began watching a comedic Netflix series called, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” The premise for the series is centered around a woman who was kidnapped at age 14 and held captive in a bunker for 15 years. She survived the ordeal due in part to her innocence and naivety, but also because Kimmy tends to think on the literal and surface level. This is what prompted my thoughts on words, including the feelings and memories they can trigger almost instantly. I found myself recalling words that reminded me of my childhood; words like “neat” and “nifty.” In fact, I inserted both of those words into a few informal conversations just for fun. They were reminiscent of times when words seemed less dubious and communication less convoluted.
Is it a natural progression of adulthood to complicate communication? Do we automatically become more defensive and critical? I remember being asked once by a significant other if I was ok. I replied, “I’m fine.” Of course, this was also over text messaging which adds an additional layer of complexity to communication. But in his relationship experience, “I’m fine,” really didn’t mean, “I’m fine.” Instead, he learned it meant, “I’m not fine, in fact, I’m really pissed off, but I’m going to say I’m fine because I’m not comfortable sharing how I really feel until later after I’ve had a glass of wine or two and you’re relaxing on the couch watching football and I blast you with my real feelings which are now fueled with resentment and anger!” Whoa… that’s complicated!
How we interpret words depends not only on the literal meaning but also the context and experience we have with them. Saying, “Shut up,” in my family, was equivalent to telling someone to “F#@! off,” so even as a seasoned adult, I cringe when I hear this phrase, specifically if it’s expressed in an angry tone.
Navigating these intricacies can feel like madness. We’re taught we can only control our choices, our intentions, and our reactions, not others’. But communication is a two-way street. If we’re communicating with someone who doesn’t share a similar awareness for conscious communication, it can feel like we’re speaking two separate languages. The answer isn’t easy. It takes collaboration to build bridges of communication. But as Mahatma Gandhi said so brilliantly, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Be the change you wish to see in your communications with partners, friends, colleagues, and children. One conscious being is better than two unconscious beings. Though words are powerful and can leave an impression, the silver-lining is our actions can speak louder than our words. This is why when we say, “I’m fine,” when we’re really not, our actions that follow will speak louder than our statement. Therefore, we can simplify our lives by learning to be more self-aware and accountable. We can learn to understand how we personalize, assume, and misinterpret based on our unique lenses through which we see the world. When we mean what we say and say what we mean, relationships grow and thrive, not only with others but with ourselves. The expansion that comes from knowing yourself, both your beauty and your beast, is immeasurable. Your relationships improve, your self-confidence increases, and your capacity for experiencing peace and joy soars.
I invite you to practice courageousness in knowing your truth; speaking and living it. Choose your words wisely and authentically. And be the change you wish to see in your life and in the world.