Just Words? There Is No Such Thing: The Power of Language

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I may not be a fully fledged member of his groupie team, but I must give credit when it’s due. This man has a way with words.

The Power of Language

Language: A system of signs, symbols, gestures, or rules used in transmitting thoughts, feelings and ideas from one person or place to another

Today I thought I would share with you some quick thoughts on language and how you can use it to your advantage. Whereas the impact of language varies from person to person, I can tell you that in my case,the way that I have used language has had a huge impact on my life. After all……………

An Event is Just an Event. Language Gives it Meaning

If someone throws a rock at you, the only thing that has happened is that someone has thrown a rock at you. Somewhere in your brain, soon after, you will form words and change the way you use your body (body language) and in so doing will give that event meaning to you.
What I really want to emphasize today is the large number of choices that exist in terms of how one can use language to not only describe this and all other situations in your life. One could define (by this I refer to using language to give an event meaning) the rock-throwing event as:

Stony beach: Get it stones? Throwing of them.......

a) An accident

b) A personal attack

c) A bullying incident

d) Proof that people hate them so much that they throw rocks at them.

e) Someone is crying out for some help, attention and love.

Now of course many other factors, especially the context of the situation come into play when describing just what has gone on. But undoubtedly, the way you define the situation will affect how you respond to it.

Don’t Believe Me

When I was a kid, I didn’t have a stone threw at me, I had a snail thrown into my mouth while one kid held my hands pinned behind my back. I immediately framed the situation as one in which I had been defeated and my dignity had been taken away. I went under the stairs and cried and cried and cried.

What was interesting was that the next day, I said to myself, though subconsciously,

“Well they took my dignity for a day, but it’s back now.”

I know other people who faced with the same situation defined it as proof that they are scum and not worthy of attention or love and this has gone on to have adverse effects on their lives. Sometimes events such as this even lead to suicide because people feel they no longer want to live in a world in which they now feel unwanted.
On the other hand, when Martin Luther King got stoned, he looked at it as the price he had to pay to get ‘to the promised land’.


The Choices are Infinite

I want to keep this post short and sweet, so let me reemphasize again that the choices are infinite in terms of how you can use language to define a situation.

It all comes back to being in control of yourself . After all, if you look back to the definition I have given for language, you realize that it is a tool that we use to communicate with ourselves (sometimes we forget that we have choice over how we use language to converse with ourselves) and others. What this means is that:

a) When you feel that heavy stirring and discontentment in your soul, you can choose how you will define it. You don’t immediately have to jump up and call it depression, or ‘the end of the world’. You can call it a:

1) Stirring in my soul

2) Sign from my heart, body, mind and soul that something needs to be fixed in my world.

3) A divine sign that I need to grow because where I am no longer satisfies me (How is that for a novel one?)

Now I know probably every one reading this has had a time in their lives where they described what they were feeling as ‘being depressed’, I’ve been there too. I want you to look back at the time and imagine just how differently you would have interacted with the scenario if you used the gift of language to define the situation as a stirring in my soul and a divine sign that things need to change.

Divine intervention

When people define what they are feeling as depression, it usually becomes a pretty good excuse to wallow in self-pity and engage in all sorts of self-destructive behavior. If you define the situation as a stirring, all of a sudden it becomes a challenge. All of a sudden it becomes an opportunity to grow. All of a sudden you have a better place you could be, and the feeling is merely an indication that you need to be heading there. Do you see how different the situation becomes when you define it differently?

The Situation in Kenya

I have probably spoken about this before, and if I have apologies for the redundancy, however, I think the point must be made. How are you using language to define what is going on in Kenya right now?

Do you define it is another incident that supports the belief that Africans are nothing that animals and sub-human? If so, to you, the situation at home is probably hopeless and you feel guilt-free in allowing Kenya to continue down it’s depressing self-destructive road.

Do you define it as an opportunity as so many people in the blogosphere have? When you do this, all of a sudden you begin to notice things like:

a) The youth of Kenya have a passion and an energy that is just waiting to be unleashed and can be fired in all sorts of positive directions.

b) Our youth are politically active. Australia, truth be told is pretty good in terms of youth participation in politics, here kids get pretty engaged. However, my understanding is that in places like States, for young people, politics are about as relevant as the birth of a new born amoeba ( I know they don’t give birth, they do the whole divide-into-two-organisms things but you get my point)

Drawing of African youth

c) People in Kenya are aware of their tribe. It was just over the weekend that I was learning about the Luo customs regarding death – the wailing women, wife inheritance and the staying with the body among other things. Truth be told, in terms of death, Luos are absolute geniuses. The customs around dyeing allow ample time for grief, creating a sense of completion surrounding someone’s life and moving on ( I will definitely post about this in future). People have not forgotten their tribal customs. We need to be recording these customs and entering them into the debate and the definition of a national identity that we are all currently striving towards.

I hope in the example above you have also seen how the use of language completely changes the way we interact with the situation.

Opportunity vs Stressor

One thing that has had a huge impact on how I interact with the world is redefining every single negative emotion or thing I ever feel or do into an opportunity. Any time I feel bad, I always ask myself:

How can I convert this event into an opportunity?

I was blessed with teachers who taught me how to use language to take a situation from being “just stress” or “the end of the world” or “depressing” to an opportunity for me to learn something or ( as said above) ” a divine indication that something isn’t right in my world and I need to fix it.”

My hope is that this post has not been to abstract for you and it will have some practical application for you.

Just as God stretched out to bless man. Stretch out to bless your brothers and sisters on this Earth

As always be blessed and bless other people (Me using language to tell you to carry yourself as one who has been given many gifts and talents and use these gifts and talents to help other people discover and utilize theirs),


PS: This man is a genius, a hilarious genius



No Comments

  • By MARTHA CHEO, February 28, 2008 @ 2:06 am


  • By Mwangi, February 28, 2008 @ 2:09 am

    Thank you for the kind words, hope that you can stop by in future :)

  • By sci-culturist, March 11, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

    i couldnt agree with you more – our words are more powerful than we give them credit, more so on a day-to-day basis. they are inextricably tied in with the emotions that determine how we then feel – this is linked to the chemicals our bodies release in response.

    in connection to your thoughts on i am depressed vs. this is an opportunity for me to grow, i havent read it yet, but i am told the book “molecules of emotion” by candace pert effectively illustrates this with scientific fact.

    btw, the divide-into-two thing is called binary fission. trust me, i am a scientist :)

  • By Mwangi, March 11, 2008 @ 11:59 pm

    Now I have learned two things:
    1) Binary Fission – As someone who hasn’t learned anything biology related in a long while, thank you.
    2) Molecules of Emotion – I just checked it out on Amazon and it looks like quite the intriguing who dunnit type of story.
    If there is one thing that has absolutely amazed me it was to discover just how interconnected everything we say is, our food, our thoughts, our emotions, our environments can all have deep effects on the chemicals our body releases, our general well being etc etc
    And of course I always love to meet people who agree with me, so thanks for stopping by and hope to hear more great tips from you in future.

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