One of my favourite ways to spend my spare time is to watch TED talks- videos of 20 minutes or less – the place where thought leaders are invited to deliver ideas worth sharing. If you haven’t browsed the TED library yet, you really are missing out on a phenomenal source of inspiration. So, I was listening to a talk by Mandy Len Catron titled ‘A better way to talk about love’ and she articulated something that I have attempted to say for some time; that is that the metaphors and language we use about ‘love’ is not useful.
“In love, we fall. We’re struck, we’re crushed, we swoon. We burn with passion. Love makes us crazy and makes us sick. Our hearts ache, and then they break. Talking about love in this way fundamentally shapes how we experience it, says writer Mandy Len Catron”
She suggests finding or creating a new and better ways to talk about love.
Mandy is highlighting something close to my heart – semantics and the power of language.
Although sometimes the words we use might appear on the surface to be very similar, they can in fact invite a very different response from the receiver.
In the world of language and linguistics there are collaborative and non-collaborative conversations to be had. The one set of language invites amenable, acquiescent and cooperative responses while the other invites defensiveness, righteousness and opposition. The one solicits love, the one does not.
Let me share an example to illustrate what I mean. Let’s say there is a disagreement between a couple about a situation. Both spouses believe they are ‘right’ and their partner is ‘wrong’. They each speak to their friends and family to gain support for their opinion and eventually find themselves at a stalemate. There is gridlock because both individuals hold their position of being right. They make their way begrudgingly to see a 3rd party to obtain another opinion (if they are lucky it will be objective) to support their ‘rightness’ in the matter. Secretly both hope the 3rd party will agree with them and force the other to concede/ give-up/ compromise.
In that situation, the couple have been having non-collaborative discussions. Both seek to be the ‘right one’ and ironically there are no winners in the relationship, even if you win the argument.
In any dialogue, you can either place value on the relationship and maintaining the respect between the participants (collaborative language) or you can place value on the individuals winning and being right (non-collaborative).
Which do you imagine will generate a climate for love to grow?
When we are in relationship with someone we can either prioritize ourselves or the relationship.
If we choose to prioritize the relationship, we choose words and language that pulls us together e.g. What is helpful right now? How does this work for you and us? Does this contribute toward our relationship? What is the wise thing to do if we want to get along together? What can we do differently?
If we choose to prioritize ourselves, protecting our ego and looking out for ‘me’ and ‘my best interests’ the language shifts to demonstrate a desire to prove rightness. e.g. Who is right/wrong here? Who is to blame?
It’s not really a surprise that we currently communicate in this unhelpful-to-relationship way.
Our well-intentioned parents raised us to know the difference between right and wrong as well as good and bad. We were trained to be judgmental and to evaluate the rightness or wrongness in any particular situation. Our parents, care givers, preachers and teachers rewarded us for the pursuit of winning, being the best or most right. WE were wired to compete for titles, awards and privilege. The system we live encourages us to remain first, best and right by incentivising us to win clients, territory and profit. Even if it means working against our own colleagues to get to the top. It can really be ‘the survival of the fittest’ out there and looking after oneself is the best way to ensure we make it to the top which is where power, status and privilege lives.And who doesn’t like a bit of that?
Unfortunately, those tools do not work well when it comes to ‘relationshipping’. It especially doesn’t work when it comes to love.
There are different tools and a different language when you are in a team and want to make a relationship thrive. You can either be right or you can have a healthy relationship based on mutual regard or respect.
Essentially, we reach adulthood and become judgemental persecuting adults who are a little (or a lot) righteous. We judge ourselves and others behaviour against what we believe to be morally acceptable and appropriate. When we feel that our (or others) behaviour is ‘wrong’ we suffer from anger, shame and or guilt for long periods of time. These strong negative emotions can even become debilitating. It is the judging of what we perceive and subjectively believe to be ‘right’ that causes the upset- when someone/ something does not fulfil our expectation of how it should be.
The should however is based purely on our limited view of the world, our limited point of view, our limited social, economic and cultural upbringing. The should is often not even communicated but assumed e.g. you should want to spend time with my family, you should want to have sex more often, you should be saving your money so we can have nice things, you should have more energy for me. Should she/he? Or is that simply true for you? And even if that is the case, using non-collaborative language to force a partner to do something against their will is short-sighted. You may win the battle but lose the war in the end when resentment brews and tears the relationship apart.
No one wants to be guilted into something. No one wants to feel that their partner does not see or hear them. Love, kindness, tenderness and respect do not grow in a climate of disrespect.
If the relationship is the priority, use collaborative language. If the relationship is not the priority, right and wrong evaluations can be appropriate.
“Love is a collaborative work of art. It requires communication and discipline. It is frustrating and emotionally demanding. It involves joy and pain. It is unpredictable. Love is creative- it allows us to decide what it will look like.”(Len Catron)
What do you want to make together?
Do you communicate in ways that make you easy to love?
What new language might you need to learn to become more loveable?