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Language Matters Article

The way that we represent all of our beliefs and interpretations that Joan speaks of is through language. In the following article I look at language as a tool and as such how it can be creative or descriptive.

First Structure of Interpretation:

The most common structure of interpretation utilized by human beings at this time in our evolution is one of separateness and individuality. We view the world and everything in it as separate, especially from us. We see ourselves as individuals in a world of other individuals and things. Our job then, is to accurately describe the world around us, the people in it, including us. This particular structure of interpretation has us use language as a descriptive tool. This is the world of beliefs (most of which we didn’t create and commit to, we inherit and call our own) assumptions, assessments and judgments. It is the world of ego, self-protection and self-preservation. When we are working with people from this paradigm we describe them based on our past perceptions and associations along with other people’s perceptions and evaluations. We label and describe people and then try to fix what we perceive as wrong or change what is not working.

Second structure of Interpretation:

This is working from the structure of interpretation of the world where you see yourself as a part of a whole. You are a being in the world with others. Your actions affect and relate to all others. You are in partnership with people for the good of the whole and you don’t always have to have answers to be successful, what you have is access to possible answers through inquiry, wondering, thinking and being willing to question things like beliefs and opinions. This is a world that is less fixed, more malleable and interesting. In coaching it is from this perspective that we can affect real change, lasting change and transformation. Following is a chart on the two paradigms, what they make available and the kinds of language used in each:

Structure of Interpretation:
You and the world are separate

Structure of Interpretation:
You and others in the world are together

lonely-man People's mandala - 12 hands
Descriptive Language Creative Language
Assessments Wondering
Judgements Allowing
Opinions Revealing
Labeling Uncovering
Knowing Not knowing
Change Discovering
Fixing Possibiity
Answers Questions
Separate Connected
Projecting Reflecting
Protecting Vulnerability

Peter Senge represents this well in The Dance of Change. “We can be more effective, if we let go of the arrogance of knowing and move toward wonder and reverence; if we move away from the black and white, secretive approach of trying to keep things “under control,” toward the gray zone of greater openness and influence; if we engage not just our minds but other parts of ourselves, including our hearts and spirits; and if we move away from a passive attitude of only adapting and reacting toward intentionality and generativity. Of course, all of these lessons are easier to talk about than to practice. But I think they carry a prize worth struggling for: the capacity to make the world a better place.” Maybe the struggle is really only in the letting go. If you observe people operating from having to know and make it, they do not look very graceful or comfortable. I think it is a much more natural state to come from wondering and allowing.  There is a beautiful poem called The Swan that represents this awkwardness before the letting go into what is natural:

The Swan

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
As if in ropes through what is not done
Reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die; which is a letting go
Of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
Is like the swan when he nervously lets himself down

Into the water, which receives him gaily
And which flows joyfully under
And after him, wave after wave,

While the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
Is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
More like a king, composed, farther and farther on.

Rainer Maria Rilke