Words have always fascinated me: what we say and how we say it, the phrases we use in birthday or sympathy cards, words spoken in anger or in love, the thousands of books I’ve probably read, our endless interactions on social media with all its pitfalls, from how we encourage our babies to speak to the almost incomprehensible jargon of technical or legal documents. Words and language are so vital to being human that the deliberate withholding of them is often seen and used as punishment.
We use words and language as weapons, to cut and hurt, but also as a warm blanket in which to wrap the lost and bereaved. We simplify our talk for children and those who don’t speak our language, and we also take delight in speaking other languages to show that we can communicate outside our own, sometimes narrow, communities. Words have huge power – writers, thinkers, scientists, and artists have recognised that for millennia – but many of us don’t think about this too deeply.
Our own self-talk shows how powerful words can be. How many times have you ‘talked’ yourself into or out of something? I wonder if you’ve ever convinced yourself that you’re an amazing human being, or that you’re totally worthless, just because of the words you’ve used? I think language is one of the greatest evolutionary developments in humans, and we don’t often appreciate it.
Humans have developed the most amazing, detailed, precise, descriptive, beautiful, but also bland and terrible words to communicate everything about their lives. From the humble shopping list, that carefully chosen verse in a card, the resignation letter, scientific research, years’ worth of diary keeping, school or college assignments, love letters, to critical theatre reviews, breaking up with a girl/boyfriend via text message, a letter confirming a medical diagnosis, the best and worst of literature, or cruel and shameful words that can break families or communities – we spill out our hearts, tell our stories, and send basic information with a myriad of word combinations. Words can change how we think, feel and believe, for better or worse; they can stop us in our tracks or they can offer support and guidance, they can even change or bring down societies.
Our choice of words can change how we feel about or approach our personal lives, too. It seems to be a thing at this time of year, when people are thinking about change, to choose a word (or words) to help guide or shape the months ahead. Using some simple exercises, you can work through a series of words, narrowing your list down to a handful from which you can choose (usually) one word to guide you through the year. Some people have more than one, have a separate word for different areas of their life, or change them through the year for various reasons.
I’d been thinking for a while about how I hoped 2022 might begin and progress, and then, lo and behold, not one but TWO of the groups I’m privileged to be part of both had a session discussing this very thing! I think the fact that both groups (Juliet and Clair’s WOW, and Deborah’s Impact) thought along the same lines tells me that 1) I’m so lucky to be involved with some amazing, like-minded people, and 2) during these dark, grey months of post-Christmas, we’re all looking ahead and hoping for or planning change – and happy for anything that helps this process!
Some people find this process of choosing a guiding word quick, easy work – they may have been thinking along the ‘right’ lines already, and just needed some focus to enable them to narrow down their choices. Others may need time to work out where they are right now before they can begin to think about their future, even just a couple of months ahead, and so the mild discipline of following some simple exercise is invaluable. Neither approach is wrong, there isn’t a wrong/right way with this stuff – it’s more about having some time to think about what matters to you, and how that word can lead you through times that might be challenging. It’s also about being open to changing your word if it doesn’t serve you, or if your ideas, plans, or circumstances change – don’t rigidly stick to your first word if it’s making you miserable!
You could think around the words you’re considering – see their dictionary definitions, look at words with similar meanings, consider how they might apply to your hopes and dreams for the year, maybe even try them on for size in another language – looking at things, especially words, from a different viewpoint often makes all the difference (rather like people, in fact!).
There’s a saying about a picture painting a thousand words, but if we didn’t have those words how could we begin to describe what that picture is telling us, what we feel when we observe it? How could we debate its merits with others, or how could we explain the image to someone from a different culture or who can’t see it (whether they’re blind or absent from our viewpoint)? Then that image becomes something that only the viewer can appreciate, love, hate, or absorb information from. We need those thousand words then to explain and understand our experiences.
After all these words, are you wondering whether I chose a word or two to guide me through 2022?! Well, I’d had an inkling even before I did the exercises in each group, a couple of words have been whispering to me for some time, and finally I heard them. I keep coming across the following quote:
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” Mary Anne Radmacher
I’m usually a quiet person, I observe and rarely put my head above the parapet, and when I do speak out it’s because something matters deeply, so this quote sings to me. The root of the word courage is Latin for heart – cor – and later the French word coeur, and courage originally meant to speak from your heart, although it’s more often synonymous with heroism or bravery nowadays. I think that ‘courage’, with both meanings, is a word meant for me – speaking and behaving from my heart and becoming braver in what I say and do in 2022.
I’m considering a second word, too, and I’m still working through this one. It’s somewhere around joy, happiness, contentment, beauty, glorious, but I’m still absorbing what these words mean to me before I decide. I also want (need?) it to work with ‘courage’, so I have a little work to do yet – I’ll let you know how I get on!
I’m curious about your guiding words for 2022 if you’ve chosen, could you share in the comments below? If you’re not choosing one/any, that’s perfectly fine, it’s not for everyone and we all have our own way with words!!