All we have is language

The only thing that creates and destroys in this world, is language. Words, body language, sign language, expressions, symbols, icons, thoughts.

Most people have a limited vocabulary. Most of which they cannot spell or use properly, only further limiting their ability to communicate.

Vocabulary is not the same thing as communicating. An incessant beep is communication, just like a symphony. What differs is how many notes are available to be played.

Our vocabulary is more than letters on a page. It’s our toolbox that helps us to understand, be understood, to influence, and be influenced. It’s all we have as human beings that allow us to live, grow, feel, and comprehend.

It’s how we listen, how we talk, what we look for, what we’re willing to try, how we inspect and reason, how we think, question, and truly answer the questions inside of us (and outside). It’s a significantly wider range than ‘good’, ‘bad’ and okay.

In the pursuit of efficiency, communication is seen as a burden, likely by those who have lacked the vocabularly to feel fully self-expressed. So they built a substitute.

Instead of facing the demons of being misunderstood and thus judged, rejected, or being alone, our society simply invented ways to avoid the work and called it clever.

And yet, we have all felt the injustice of being misunderstood, or lacking the ability to influence others. There’s no emoji for the heart wrenching feeling of feeling invisible.

One of the most common expressions I encounter is, ‘I just don’t understand’. I’m constantly challenged when people are quick to give up rather than take another look. We seem blinded to the fact that our limited vocabularies (and the psychology necessary to build/groom one) have anything to do with it, and so we try to re-evaluate with the same few words.

It’s only when people experience a personal injustice and wish to speak up, do they understand the gap between what’s in their head/heart, and the bark that comes out. You see, you cannot take a vocabulary for granted, or believe that it’s there by default. It must be learned, challenged, nurtured, and tested.

Our tech world has moved towards removing words and replacing our ability to articulate with icons. Our media outlets use simplified language to reduce complex situations into binary states. Our relationships are filled with over-simplified language as poor substitutes for expressing complex emotions. Our communities and companies are filled with exasperated people who just want to be understood, and to understand.

In the pursuit of efficiency, we have been proud to espouse, ‘done is better than perfect.’ And yet, none of us feel ‘done.’ There is always more we want to be, to understand, to articulate. But this condition doesn’t permit a sense of completion, so we settle for being cut off. We are desperately living inside a locked coffin, being lowered into the ground. Some of us scratch and scream, others close their eyes and hope it will be over soon.

By neglecting our vocabularies, and avoiding the fear of being misunderstood, we are willingly reducing our human experience by an unfathomable proportion. Everyone afraid of the same thing, but believing they are suffering alone.

We are responsible for our own pain, our confusion, our fear, and our limited lives. Our sense of justice, morality, relationship, and righteousness lives in lanuage. Our sense of pride, purpose, and achievement do too. It’s all we have, so why do we avoid and mock it? What are we afraid of that we aren’t already experiencing?

I’ve worked with companies, teams, and people, and I’m often asked the same question — “Pauly, what do you often see? What is common?”

I have typically answered that I see a lot of limited psychology, a fear of the unknown, and a lack of skill and patience in people to understand themselves. I see people who are looking for ways to contribute, and to be visible and wanted while doing so.

After an immersive two-day workshop with a friend’s company, helping them to discover their Intangible Competitive Advantage, he too asked me this question over dinner. I gave him the token reply, but I parted ways with an unspoken dis-satisfaction with my response.

I knew I needed to look further into my vocabulary to see if there was a better set of words to articulate what was really there. Perhaps I’m overlooking something.

In my hotel room, I stayed up until 3am, staring out the window and searching my mind. I read a few chapters of my current book “The Magician’s Way”, spoke with a couple of friends on the phone, and then opened my laptop to write 2000 words to myself. This is nearly a daily practice for me.

At 11am the following day, I saw a comment from a friend on Facebook, who teased me that no-one cares to read my stuff because it’s too long.

I felt mildly challenged by his comment then stopped to look why it bothered me. I thought I was committed to helping others to fulfill their potential, but perhaps I was attached to being heard.

During my coffee, it came to me. I wasn’t challenged because I felt unheard. I felt challenged because he saw my style and volume of communication, as wrong somehow. I was challenged because I place a high value on articulation, and I felt I was being denied or made wrong for doing so.

In my work, I’ve encountered this same judgement from others. I cannot speak for my friend, but what I discovered along the way is that people weren’t bothered by my vocabulary as much as they were afraid of being able to reply, contribute back, or feel understood by me. It’s forced me to be a better listener, to let go of my ego, and to ask more questions than I answer.

So what do I see?

A lack of vocabulary to articulate who we really are, how we really feel, what we really want, what we’re truly afraid of, what we really need, and what we hope to be, especially when we think it’s impossible. I see people who are desperate to grow and overcome their fears, but get overwhelmed by a lack of ability to express it safely. Furthermore, they are suspicious of those who do. And so they revert to hiding, pretending, deflecting, and acting rather than discovering the vocabulary to be fully self-expressed.

If there’s one single thing my work, my vocabulary, my values, my fears, and my willingness to suffer could do for the world, it would be to help people to develop a more extensive vocabulary for themselves, so they may have a bigger and more authentic experience of their own life, and those around them.

Just perhaps in that world, we may be able to discover that we are more alike than we are different, and this whole box and dice only works, because of each other.

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