September 28, 2020


At one of the recent Spinning classes I lead, a participant greeted me with the question, “so Kirk are you going to put us through an arduous workout this morning?”  Following a chuckle and a moment of processing we moved into our 60 minute routine.  Curiously, throughout the next hour or so that word, arduous, resonated.  For one, I was impressed that my friend Dave’s mental acuity was already percolating at 5:57 am.  Secondly, it was a term I’d not heard muttered for some time.  Third, it was still on my mind more than a full 12 hours later as I’m crafting this piece.


Words and phrases have power.   Consider some from the past century:


·         “Today I consider myself to be the luckiest person on the face of this earth.”  Lou Gehrig

·         “December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt

·         “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Neil Armstrong

·         “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  Ronald Reagan

·         “You can’t handle the truth.”  Jack Nicholson, “A Few Good Men”


In his book, “The Five Love Languages,” Gary Chapman writes that we receive love in five ways:  acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch, and words of affirmation.  For me the most powerful is words of affirmation.  To this day I can still recite almost verbatim parents expressing pride or praising choices, kind expressions of recognition, positive comments in a performance evaluation, professional recommendations on LinkedIn.  Conversely, the less affirming reminders penetrate deeper and reverberate even longer. 


My mother had a glass swan on an end table.  One day while running recklessly through the house, I nudged its beak, nicking it.  My mom treasured that swan.  The scolding, “look what you did, shame on you,” still echoes.  As an adult I’ve walked into more than one, “I can’t believe you did that, what were you thinking?”


Words impact self-confidence.  Even when the affirmations exceed the criticisms in multiplicity, the pull towards criticism can still be demoralizing.  Compounding that proclivity is the rhetoric we see and hear on television, in social media, and even often unintentionally from our family, friends, and neighbors.  It’s almost like we’re in the balcony with Statler and Waldorf, the two cranky muppets, and we just want to…well you know.


In the midst of this chaos, then, as in the prayer of St. Francis, “how can we be an instrument of God’s peace?  Some ideas that came to my mind, not only as a Career and Life Coach, but individually:


·         Listen.  Listen actively.  Active listening encourages the speaker through the listener repeating back to the speaker what they have heard them say.  It’s affirming.

·         Save your breath.  Likewise, speaker, say it succinctly.  I was listening to a colleague the other day who spoke for 15 minutes straight, prohibiting my ability to activity listen.  I also wondered how they were able to go for 900 seconds without taking a breath!

·         Be curious.  Be open to understanding another perspective or viewpoint.

·         Listen to word usage.  Visual individuals will describe their viewpoint, vision, or insight.  Those of an audial persuasion seek harmony, rhythm, and tempo.  A kinesthetic person might feel cool to or irritated about a subject. 

·         Be careful with assumptions.  Those who I think “may think like me,” may in fact not.

·         How about disagreeing with someone without using a negative word?  In other words no can’ts, won’ts, shouldn’ts, or nots in your lexicon.  How about that for a challenge?

·         As another challenge, Netflix has a 93 minute documentary, “The Social Dilemma.”  If you’ve not viewed it it’s worth a watch to learn more about the algorithms each of us feed into and encourage as a result of our TV, email, computer, and social media behavior. 


In these lyrics alt rockers Missing Persons refrained,


            “What are words for when no one listens anymore,

            What are words for when no one listens,

            What are words for when no one listens it’s no use talkin’ at all.”


when the song “Words” was released in 1982.  After 38 years, I don’t know about you, but I want to be better.


The Seed Sower