Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Power in Words

Often times we are content to rely on commonly used terms when describing certain actions or feelings in our lives. I have always thought that all words contain a type of power; a power to set certain things in motion.  These things could be emotional reactions, physical choices or deep pensive moments.  The nuances contained in word choices can make all the difference in how we travel through our lives.

One particular piece of advice that I find most troubling for many situations is the use of the word "accept". We are told that to move on from a not-so-nice, or toxic, situation we should "accept" the situation as it is, and determine how to react in the most positive way. The intention is to help a person push beyond the pain, or annoyance, of the situation and to be able continue on in a sort of amicable way.  I think that a more appropriate term to use in this case is "acknowledge".  By accepting something as it is, you give it power.  You are sending a message that the behavior is "acceptable"; that it is okay for someone to be treating you like they are.  Instead, if you acknowledge the behavior, you are not sending a message that you condone it, but rather that you recognize it for what it is.  Only then have you claimed the power over the situation and can determine what your reactions should be to it.  I realize this is a subtle difference, but a very powerful one that has helped me over the years to not get stymied by a bad relationship, or put myself in a situation of reacting in a way that was not in my best emotional interest.  This conscious choice of using "acknowledge" versus "accept" has given me the power to be in control of my feelings and actions.

The other benefit of making this choice is that minimal energy is wasted trying to fully understand, or change, another person.  It helps to maintain the focus on  your own actions.  It is, of course, very important to think of others when reacting to situations.  I am not suggesting that reactions should be determined without thought for others.  I am simply stating that to change a situation for the better, it is important to "acknowledge" and not necessarily "accept"; thereby changing the power dynamic of the situation.

I encourage you to take a look at how different words make you feel as you go about your day.  It may not be this particular word choice scenario that resonates with you.  It might be something like peace versus harmony, or angst versus stress.  Words are very powerful and a wonderful tool for reshaping your perspective at a given moment.  Try on some new words and enjoy!


Michelle H.


  1. Michelle thanks for this post. You write so well!

    Do you think that the power in your own words comes from the power in listening as well?


  2. Mike,

    Thank you for the compliment and for the thought-provoking question. This one has had me thinking for quite a while now.

    My first inclination was to answer yes, that I thought the power in words could come from the power in listening. However, the more I thought about it, the more complicated the answer became. I believe that there is a certain power in words that is augmented by the ability to listen carefully and fully to another person. When listening attentively to someone, we are more apt to select the most appropriate, or powerful, words in response to them.

    From the listener's perspective, there certainly is a relationship between listening and the power in the words heard. The problem is that, as listeners, we put words through our own personal filters of prior experiences or knowledge. We do this both consciously and subconsciously. When we do this, we alter the power in the words to be what we think they should, or could, be. So again, another powerful impact of listening on words.

    I think that words have a basic power tied to them and we modify it based on our perceptions of meaning for the certain moment. This is what makes communication so challenging. We mean one thing and people hear another. This is due to all the factors compounding the power of the naked word. It is also what makes language so beautiful, as there will always be a smidgen of mystique surrounding true meanings.

    Thanks again for asking this question. I hope you are enjoying the blog and I look forward to more feedback and questions.


    Michelle H.


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