On July 12th Reynelda Jones gave a lecture at Calvin Christian Reformed Church for the "Take Charge" women's group of Grand Rapids. Her lecture, "The Words We Choose," focused on the way words affect our lives and outlooks in our development as people.
The way we verbalize the simplest of things in our lives can have an impact on how we perceive the world and ourselves. Reynelda asked audience members why they had come to the group and showed them how certain words in their answers, both their positive and negative, produced a certain quality of perception.
The Words We Choose
STICKS AND STONES
Though sometimes unacknowledged, some of the deepest wounds people experience are from only words. This is especially relevant to women in our society as language has often reinforced an inferior role for them. It is vital to educate women about the role of language, as in Reynelda's words: to educate women is to educate a nation.
WORDS AND WHO WE ARE
Sharing a case study from her career in social work, Reynelda used "Sue's Story" to exemplify the often-subconscious act of using certain words in defining ourselves. She said that Sue had a recurrent pattern of finding herself on probation every two years. There was a time that Sue had said to Reynelda, "That's just me." In saying this, Reynelda said, Sue had essentially set in stone that this pattern had defined her as a person. A situation, she added, is only a part of your experience--it is not who you are.
“You can define yourself…
Your experience does not define you.”
HOW YOU TREAT YOURSELF
Especially while working in trauma, Reynelda has heard a lot of words over the years which have a large impact on how we regard ourselves. One of those words has been 'try'. It is a word which lacks confidence and often exemplifies self-doubt. Another common word which often carries with it very negative connotations is ‘the b word’. This word shows up a lot and leads a lot of people, particularly women, to define themselves in very negative ways because of it.
Reyelda took time to explain the way we come to learn words in development and how this has an impact on words used later in life. In fact, she said, the first thing to develop in children in the womb is the ears--even at three weeks old we begin hearing information coming from the mother's environment. After birth, between 3 to 12 months, they begin trying to mimic words. It is in this stage that many parents are surprised when the b-word comes out.
As we age, our own knowledge of words becomes influenced by family, social groups, media and we absorb not only words but their meaning and how they are applied to us. Being aware of this impact and giving ourselves the agency to maneuver our language to more positively affect us is certainly worthwhile.
The words we let others call us and which we use to describe ourselves have an immense impact on how we see ourselves as people, how we regard ourselves and how we treat ourselves. All people can benefit by paying attention to the words they use to describe themselves.