The power of a word

At the top of my blog, dosage under the title, there is a quote from Anthony Robbins in which he says that we must recognize the differences in the way that we perceive the world, and then we must use that understanding as a guide when we communicate with other people.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about a conversation I overheard last night on the TRAX train as I rode home from work.

Let me interrupt myself to tell you how much I like riding the train to work. We live about 1/2 a mile from the Historic Sandy station, and I work about 1/4 a mile from the Delta Center station. Riding the train is GREAT. Since I stopped listening to music on the train (another story for another day), I have learned that I really enjoy listening to other people; it really is fascinating. Okay. Back to my story.

Yesterday evening a family of maybe 8-10 people boarded the train at the City Center station. They had obviously just been to the Titanic exhibit at the ZCMI Center mall in downtown Salt Lake. They were carrying bags with souvenirs and had a replica of a newspaper that described the sinking of the ship.

Seated directly in front of me was the dad of the family. To his left was his son who seemed to be about ten years old. Across the aisle was the boy’s mother and sisters; behind me were the rest of the extended family (maybe including aunts/uncles/cousins, etc.). The boy was excitedly holding a model he bought of the Titanic (called Titanic Book and Submersible Model Purchase/Reviews at: Yes Magazine, Amazon.com, Deseret Book).

The boy’s mother asked him how much he had paid for the model. He said it was about twenty dollars. His mother didn’t believe him and asked to see the receipt. He showed her. The receipt showed he had paid twenty-one dollars and change, with tax. She asked him if he had got the right change back. He said that he counted it, and it was right. She then said that store clerks like to take advantage of kids and try to steal their money. The boy responded by saying, “But I look smart.” The mom replied (in a somewhat teasing tone), “No you don’t.”

Looking for validation, the boy turned to his father and said, “Daddy, do I look smart?” The dad, not looking up from his newspaper replied (also in a somewhat teasing tone), “no.”

Ouch.

Later in the trip, the boy was describing the sinking model to his dad, and the dad said, “I don’t think you can even put it together.”

The boy replied, “Yes I can. My friend has one, and I’ve seen him play with it.”

The dad responded, “No you haven’t.”

The boy said, “Yes I have–and it is really cool how it floats, then when you flip a switch, it takes a couple of seconds, but then it sinks just like the real Titanic.”

The dad said, “I bet you will probably just break it after a couple of days–if you can even put it together in the first place.”

Ouch.

Later in the train ride, the boy said that he was really thirsty. The dad told him that there was a drinking fountain in the front of the train. The boy said, “Really?” The dad replied in the affirmative. When the boy stood up to go look for the fountain, the dad started laughing at the boy’s expense. I guess he thought it was funny that he had tricked his thirsty son into looking for a non-existent drinking fountain on the train.

I share this story not in an effort to make this father look like an awful person or to say that he was totally unkind or horrible or whatever.

I share this story for two reasons. First, I think it illustrates the point that Anthony Robbins makes in the above-mentioned quote. I can’t judge this man because I don’t know how he sees the world. I can’t judge the reaction of this boy because I don’t understand his perception of the world. I can, however, notice how the boy reacted to the communication (both verbal and non-verbal) of his parents. After being told that he “didn’t look smart” by both of his parents, he ducked his head and didn’t say anything for a few minutes. My perception of this incident was that even though he heard the teasing tones in his parent’s voices, twice in less than a minute he was told that he didn’t look smart. That has got to sting, no matter how much sarcasm was in a parent’s voice. (What do they say about sarcasm? It’s 80% truth?)

Second, I think the experience was enlightening for me. I tend to be a teaser. I like to give people a hard time in a joking way. However, when I watched the same kind of communication from the outside, it wasn’t funny. It only seemed hurtful. I need to watch the way I communicate with other people to make sure my communication patterns are building people up, not dragging them down.

Look at the world around you. Are your communication patterns a force for building or a force for destroying (however slowly)?

3 Responses to The power of a word

  1. gryffinkat October 8, 2004 at 10:20 am #

    Wow. This was an enlightening post for me, too. I also like to tease people, but this story made me think of my childhood and the insecurity that (most) children inevitably feel as they learn how to function in a society. And conversations like this one can be really hard on little egos, which we’re all still trying to develop as we continue to grow.

    So, I ask myself: “How much of this kind of thing do I perpetrate, whether knowingly or unwittingly?” Probably a lot more than I like to think.

    You have to wonder how this kind of thing will affect that kid as he grows up. What kind of communication patterns will he have?

  2. Anonymous October 10, 2004 at 8:15 pm #

    Paul, I know you to be a man of honor and a bit of a tease, but you are naturally one who is a people builder.

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