The words we use reveal our paradigm. How we talk tells the story we believe. With words we speak truth and tell lies. We encourage or dishearten. We influence those who listen and can dissuade when we mispeak. We’ve known forever that we make our decisions based on our feelings. We’ve experienced the emotion that is brought forth in the beauty of song, poetry, preaching and storytelling. We’ve also experienced the emotion brought forth from criticism, accusation, name calling and bullying. The words we choose and how we use them matters.
We are seeking a paradigm shift. We’ve let go of the cultural story we were telling and it got away from us. We’ve become a disconnected culture that pretends that our independence is our greatest asset and our ability to produce or perform is our value. All the while, we are achingly lonely and feeling desperately insignificant. This sobering reality is being demonstrated in the behavior and outcomes in our youngest generation.
Our concern about suicide, substance abuse, homelessness, academic failure, bullying and cutting is urgent. We have seen a statistical rise in these behaviors. We are also seeing increases in mental illness, relational conflict, employment instability and health issues like auto-immune deficiencies, cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. These outcomes and behaviors are powerfully connected to disconnection and insignificance.
We decided years ago that our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” hyper-individualistic approach has created a silo-ed, competitive environment that is not conducive to relational or community health. To plant, nurture and harvest resilience, we need to build a community of connected people.
We believe that the resources we need to build healthy community are already present. The puzzle pieces are here, we just need to keep finding those connections. Putting a people puzzle together is a relational effort. It can’t be done at a town hall meeting or a school assembly. It’s one on one and small groups sharing stories, sharing passions, discovering similarities and combining resources. It happens during the mundane moments.
And how we talk about it matters. There’s a lot of momentum going into independence and disconnectedness. Our jobs and churches and schools and families and nonprofits are still silo-ed. We still keep our boundaries and do it all within our four walls. The cultural shift we want won’t happen until those boundaries become permeable.
One of the key efforts we need to undertake is talking differently.
We need fresh understanding of words like collaborate, interdependent, synergy and organic. We can’t be in a hurry with words like these or they just float by with no impact. A new paradigm of connectedness and intrinsic value requires new thinking. New thinking requires… thinking. And talking more - and more slowly.
The pace we operate at is a stumbling block. We are moving so fast, with so many important things to do, that we struggle to use enough words. Our new words need paragraphs and stories and time to sink in, gestate and produce new instincts. To get comfortable relying on each other, sharing resources and recognizing intrinsic value, we need to spend time and words. And in doing so, we will wrestle with new meanings and fresh understanding together.
It’s worth it. Our children to follow us to connectedness and significance if we are leading them there. And we want them to be and feel connected and significant.
Have a long, slow conversation and choose your words carefully.
I write semi-regularly about belonging, storytelling, community building,