“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.” Martin Luther
Throughout this year, I seem to be using fewer words. One — I don’t need to talk as much; I seem to be spending much more time listening, Two — I seem to be reading more than I’m writing; I’m in absorption mode. Having spent more time listening and absorbing, I’ve begun to notice the language we use, especially words that tend to be overused. I’ve also noticed that many of us users haven’t thought about the meaning behind our words. Despite the fact that the language choices we make (and the hidden meanings behind those language choices) are vital.
Have you ever noticed the titles of the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ from the TV show Get Smart? The ‘goodies’ were named ‘Control’ and the ‘baddies’ were named ‘Chaos’ (spelled Kaos). Consider for a moment the hidden message here. Control = good, chaos = bad. Wouldn’t you love to have overheard the conversation that occurred behind the naming of these two groups!
Alternatively, consider Orwell’s thoughts on the use of language to control the mind and exude power over others. In my experience, it appears to be that those who use the correct buzzwords are those with the power; making others around them feel inferior and out-of-the-loop. Check out the website below and consider the ways in which we use ‘Doublespeak’ (Orwell’s term).
We often talk about the importance of our organisations having a “common language”. Generally, what people mean by that is that when Person A is talking about [insert overused term here], Person B creates the same association with that word as the speaker and thus better communication ensues. Let’s test how common our language really is. Humour me for a moment and take out a writing implement. Write down these words and then the immediate association you have with these words (NB Don’t think too hard about them and definitely don’t google them):
If you would, choose 1 word and post on Twitter why that one word changes when applied to learning with the #commonlanguage and @notosh . I’ll collate the data and post the results on back on Twitter under the same handles.
All of the terms above are currently buzzwords in the education space but what do they really mean? What do they mean to you, your context and the wider context? Here’s an idea — In the next meeting with your colleagues, conduct the same activity and share what was written down. This would be a great way to determine genuine common language and terms that need defining as well as develop collective empathy.
I encourage us all to compare the various meanings and, perhaps, set ourselves and our teams a mission to find the most appropriate term according to what it is we all really mean.
Another great article to read about the power of words is this one below: