Today I’d like to explore our perceptions of reality, the power of language, and the ways that we use it. As a species, we come to know both our internal and external environments through our senses. This is paramount to our survival. We observe wide ranges of light, which helps us recognize familiar faces, identify distance, and color. We hear the invisible waves which create sound, and can feel a wide range of temperatures and objects. We can smell beautiful flowers and taste whether food is sweet or bitter. We have used our powers of observation to thrive on this planet we call home.
At the same time we know our senses are limited, we can only see, touch, taste, smell and hear a small fraction of the knowable universe. For instance we cannot see x-rays nor hear sounds of very low or high pitches. As such, we only perceive a fragment of reality. Making matters more complicated is each of us has our own unique perceptions and the experience of the redness of a fire-truck to me, may be a very different experience of the redness of a firetruck to you.
There are a variety of schools of thought when it comes to trying to understand the nature reality. Some think that there is an objective universe, but it is beyond our feeble abilities to ever truly comprehend it. Moderate realists believe that there is an objective reality, and given our feeble natures we can gather a close approximation of what it is. Critical realists believe there is a knowable universe and through scientific measurement we can truly come to know and understand it. In contrast, phenomenologists believe that there is no universe beyond the construct of the mind which is perceiving it. Regardless of which of these philosophies about reality is correct, the only experience of reality that we can have is our own.
Words are labels, they represent a construct of our reality. They can be written, spoken, or chattering inside our minds. As a species we use language to communicate with each other, spread ideas, help each other out or even to deceive one another. Words hold immense power. Right now I am using language to explore my perceptions about the constructs of reality and language with you.
Let us explore some ways in which words can influence our experience of reality. Ever feel those butterflies in your stomach, or that thumping in your chest before a big event? Perhaps it was before a sporting event, a test, an important conference, or a big date. If you label that energy as anxiety or nervousness, you’re more likely to have an apprehensive reaction and experience a decline in your performance. If you label that energy as excitement or enthusiasm, you are more likely to embrace the event and see an increase in performance. A small reframe can have significant effect on our experience of reality.
Ever have that worry that you can’t shake of, “what if I left the stove on?” It does not matter in the context of objective reality whether or not the stove is on, you are going to have a stress reaction if the words create a cause for concern. How about the experience of receiving an effusive complement or some unwarranted criticism? The words in themselves do not change the quality of your character, but they do ultimately have an effect on your experience and well-being.
Subtle changes in the words we use can have big implications about our experiences of reality. For example, I know many people struggle with their self-talk in describing acts that they want to accomplish as shoulds. “I should clean the apartment,” is a loaded phrase. Should -like supposed to, need, or ought – describes a moral imperative. If a should is not accomplished it often gets loaded with guilt or a sense of lacking if it is not accomplished. Because now the implications of the language “I should have cleaned the apartment” means I did not do what I was supposed to do. Whereas the sentence “I wanted to clean the apartment,” simply communicates an unmet desire without any wrongdoing implied.
From these examples it can be seen that words have significant influences over our experience of reality. It is important to be selective of the words we choose, because they will frame our individual experience, and the experience of those we communicate with. Furthermore, there is power in the existence of, or the creation of a word. It doesn’t matter whether you believe magic in itself exists or not. The fact that the word exists means that the idea breathes in the collective conscious. Likewise there is the same power in the elimination of a word. A knowable concept can be erased from our collective conscious. The language creates a perspective on reality for the group and for the individual. And is that power not in itself magic? How will you use your magical powers?