On context, performance, and the underutilization of language.
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“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein
It’s so easy, isn’t it? To take note of an event and immediately, instinctively, deliver a sharp and cutting remark to encompass what just took place. Depending on our surroundings, we may pull back a hair but generally speaking, we let our words fly — both out loud or in our heads.
Reactions are more abundant than anything else on the planet. There’s no shortage and there never will be. Various hacks, tips, and teachings are available to explain ways to interrupt our deeply-rooted defensive ways of being and yet, they make no difference.
We still say what we know we shouldn’t say, do what we know we shouldn’t do, and behave in manners completely incongruent with what we’re committed to.
Contrary to popular belief, reactions are not at the heart of the matter. A reaction is merely a by-product of what’s given rein at a far more profound and consequential level. Dealing with a by-product is much like dealing with a symptom — you have to address the source, the sickness itself, if you wish for it to disappear. Otherwise, you’re looking at a series of perpetual Band-aids.
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Before I explain what I mean, let me explain what I don’t. I am not speaking in terms of simple cause and effect. I’m not saying the circumstances, situations, and people in life are the origin of these reactions. I’m not saying you should seek to lower the stakes in which you play the game of life to avoid encountering situations that divulge such reactions. And I’m also not saying to pretend like they aren’t there.
What I’m saying is not the truth, something very much open to interpretation anyway.
(That last statement is not the truth, and it’s also not not the truth.)
This is not an attempt to be cute, serve as a quick-fix, or even change the way you live your life. As a writer, it’s discouraging at times to know how little a difference words — not just my own, but in general — actually make beyond a few days inside person’s running internal commentary or weeks on a whiteboard in their office.
Instagram may as well be Instaquote — and none of those make any difference beyond a few days, either.
Because the context is the same, therefore so are the limits.
Speaking of quotes, one of my favorites of all-time comes from Viktor Frankl in A Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
My attempt, is merely to allow us all to see a reaction for what it is — instead of the messy, overly-significant, wildly-emotional fog it shows up as.
To see that you’re not only accountable for choosing the response,
But also, the stimulus.
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In Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan’s The Three Laws of Performance, they recount the one thing that makes all the difference in personal effectiveness and communication, which also happens to be their first law of performance:
Performance is a result of how the world (or a person, or a situation) occurs for us.
In other words, we get what we say. We have certain statements or views we’ve carried around with us about how the world is, how certain people are, and how particular situations that look similar will unfold. These “occurrences” become our limitations — the context for our lives. When we get responsible for how things occur to us — as merely a matter of occurrence, not truth — the reactions no longer run the show.
This is also true when dealing with others. When you get that someone’s response to you is a result of how you occur to them, not your intention or what you actually did and didn’t do, it cuts out most of the trivialities.
Leaving you more space to make a difference.
This shift in context is a result of a shift in language — different words being used to create what’s happening and your experience of it.
Which we’re about to find out, is the most decisive component of all.
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Life may just happen, but our experience of it arises in language. Want a litmus test? Imagine your life without language — not just English, any language.
Not out loud. Not in your head. Nothing.
Essentially, with no language, there’s no you. There would just be your body and nature, which wouldn’t occur that way because the terms wouldn’t exist.
So we’re back to nothing.
Would living really matter at that point?
This isn’t a common conversation. We don’t see language as the source of our experience. We treat it primarily as a tool to describe our surroundings and happenings — essentially we use it to just refer to something that maybe leads to something else. Lots of “figuring it out”. Lots of “fixed”-ness. Lots of “it is what it is”.
Until we really look at our use (or misuse) of language, we’ll continue to operate at less than our fullest expression of ourselves. By merely “going along with” and not deliberately creating a context for ourselves with what we say, life occurs much more like a Rubik’s Cube instead of an Etch A Sketch.
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While language certainly does describe and reference, we forget that it’s also generative — a matter of creation. When you say, either verbal or non-verbal, it gives way to a future that otherwise wasn’t going to happen. Had John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Ghandi, and Martin Luther King not first created the future which did not exist with their language, there would’ve been nothing for anyone to live into. It would’ve gone business-as-usual, as what they were speaking of had not happened yet.
That’s the basis of an idea — it exists linguistically. It’s not in the realm of physicality. Once created, it’s only realized by keeping it alive with our speaking. When we cease to give it power with our language, or give a contradictory idea more power, it deteriorates.
From here, we can see that the future is contingent upon the conversations we created and kept alive for ourselves.
Now that’s power.
Unfortunately, this power is often stepped over in lieu of handing it over to the what’s already there and always been there—the past. The occurrences that have been kept alive as a matter of our speaking. And whatever language gets honored is what shows up in life.
When we honor a thought or a feeling (which also exist linguistically — not in reality), instead of a commitment that we chose irrespective of a trigger, it’s no mystery we end up with a crappy experience of life.
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So where’s the silver lining? How do we deal with this?
Put simply, your saving grace is uncollapsing linguistics and reality.
Let me give you an example.
If I don’t like the way I look, I immediately address my body. I go to the gym. I eat healthier meals. I ride my bike. I sleep more.
After a few weeks, I see some results — and I’m not satisfied. My friends comment on my progress, but what they see, I cannot.
What’s the deal?
The deal is, my problem did not exist in reality — my “problem” existed in language. The problem showed up once I said I didn’t like they way I looked. Moreover, I can make all the changes I want to my body but until I actually say I like how I look (or cease to honor the conversation that says I look like crap), my experience will be the same.
This could explain why a large percentage of people are “never satisfied”, why the bigger house itself doesn’t make you any happier, or why random sex never fills that void.
What exists in language must be dealt with in language.
Trying to address something linguistic by dealing in reality makes as much sense as shouting at your parked car to start moving.
Nothing wrong with it — it’s just got a pretty low success rate.
Reality is reality.
Language is language.
Keep them distinguished, and much of life’s weeds die off — leaving you plenty of room to plant as many flowers as you like.
Either the world creates your words,
Or your words create your world.
The choice is yours.
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