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Expressing what you mean

(The picture to the post is the empty stage just before we saw the second and most likely last play of 2020 “Geisterseher” at Thalia Gaußstrasse – this picture is matching as the choice of words in a play is so crucial – an in the case of this play both moving and funny)

Being a meditation teacher and working in the personal development, self-help sector AND being a trained media engineer at the same time has its challenges. While I try to understand the intention behind the words my partner is stricter and takes the words literally. This regular causes tension between us. I need to admit, in the long run, I usually agree with him and try to be more precise.

Because words matter.

Words matter when it comes to our conversations around race, gender, equality and equity. They even matter when talking about breakfast. I read the other day “using the right pronouns is suicide prevention”.

Words matter every single time a word is spoken.

Words matter so much as they are our only form of exchanging ideas, thoughts, motivations, intention, and everything else really.

Precise words matter because we already read so much more alongside the words spoken. Friedemann Schulz von Thun’s four sides of communication model has that drawn out beautifully. Besides the factual information, we have “self-revelation”, “appeal” and “relationship” piggybacking our words. So the less precise we are with the meaning of the words we speak the more room for interpretation what we say has. Given the negativity bias in us humans, we are more likely to come up with a negative interpretation if we have the choice. But also mixing words from different areas makes sense at first glance, but once the idea transported with unclear words mixing concepts gets out there in the world it gets a life of its own. Rarely for the better.

Mixing words and concepts

Here’s the catch: We want to talk about things we are not experts on and hence do not have the specialized words for, about politics, equality and equity, about the soul, about purpose about getting along with each other, about the profound changes meditation and gratitude practices have on us, and we start using words that come the closest to what we want to say. So we use words like energy, frequency, vibration – and I totally get it. I feel some strange “vibration” while meditating sometimes. I realize that there’s a different “energy” when meditating with others, which for me even works online. I am not even saying we shouldn’t use these words in this context (I think my partner disagrees) but we need to make sure that we know we are not mixing them with their counterparts from for example physics. We speak of higher energy or a higher frequency when referring to personal growth and that ok. Still, it’s really tempting to now add the formulas for those concepts from physics and claim that we can direct our growth (we are also not actually physically growing either) with the help of the laws of physics and that’s where we get into a fishy area of pseudoscience which sounds cool but is rooted in mixing up words:

A scientific concept propped up to the wrong basis.

Here’s an actual example: Frequency – There are soundscapes available for meditation that claim to use the frequency of love or gratitude to support our practice. While I think it does not work – at least not in a strictly mechanical way – it’s more complex. I sometimes do them anyway because I think they work on a subconscious level, but less because of the concrete frequency chosen to hit my eardrums but because I set the intention to meditate on gratitude for the next half hour and the frequency I hear is a constant reminder of said intention and hence deepening my practice. Meditation has positive effects on the immune system studies now suggest (do not take my word for it, though. As a reference to back up this claim I recommend the book “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body” a fascinating deep dive into what we know, what studies suggest and what’s wrong about the benefits of meditation). What I am saying is the world of science is already full of wonder and things unknown, it’s enough to stick to that to get our minds blown.

In this example, no harm is done, but what if someone claims you only need the right frequency to heal for example cancer?

Btw. I am not even against trying things out even if they are quite far out. We can combine different approaches and if someone claims to know the absolute truth and that their solution is the only solution with absolute certainty it’s a red sign anyway.

What I see it that using scientific concepts on a blurry basis of wrong words hurts both our understanding of physics and it also hurts our intention for growth (I am not talking about actual physical growth) because it creates sidetracks that can lead to longwinded “convincing sounding” explorations that in the end are more of a detour or worse – spiritual bypassing.

All I am asking for really is us to be cautious with our words and open to listen, research and learn.

Inspiration and disclaimer

This post was inspired by a conversation with Milo on Instagram. A human I admire for the enthusiasm and openness navigating the world with enormous curiosity while being conscious about causing as little harm as possible. If I get too frustrated about the state of the world someone like them gives me hope.

I am on quite thin ice with this post as I am not a writer, or linguistics scholar, not even a native speaker, but I am here to learn.