Words: Creation, Solidification and Stagnation
Armand Kruger, MA
Overview: We cannot not use words to organize our thinking. In this process of organizing we create new maps and understandings by "informing" our minds. Words is how we confirm and create our beliefs, another way of organizing. But, for all this organizing, words can be the tool with we can become estranged from the reality of our experience where we live. Sentences becoming condensed into words, and words becoming labels, things (nominalizations), attributes, unspecified verbs, etc. Words setting unknowable ideals for living, under the pretense of familiarity.
What we Say Count.
"Words are powerful, important, significant. It was meant to be that way. When we speak, it must be with the realization that God has given our words significance. He has ordained for them to be important. Words were significant at Creation and at the Fall. They are significant to redemption. God has given words value.
"You do not really understand the significance of words until you realize that the first words that human ears ever heard were not the words of another human being, but the words of God! The value of every piece of human communication is rooted in the fact that God speaks. Into the sights and sounds of the newly created world came the voice of God, speaking words of human language to Adam and Eve. When God chose to reveal himself that way, he raised talk to a place of highest significance as his primary vehicle of truth. Through words, we would come to know the most important truths that could be known― truths that reveal God's existence and glory, truths that give life. (Tripp, p.7; cursive mine)1
"God's words not only define him, they define his creation as well. They give identity, meaning and purpose to all God has created. We only know ourselves when we listen to the words he has spoken about us. God tells us who we are, defines what we are to do and the way we are to do it. None of these things could we discover on our own! The only hope for Adam and Eve was that God would speak to them, giving them identity and purpose, and making sense out of the world in which they had been placed. God's words set boundaries and give freedom. His words create life and bring death. God created talk and his first words to Adam and Eve demonstrate its significance. Words are not cheap. Words reveal, define, explain, and shape. (Tripp, p.12; cursive mine).
"Words direct our existence and our relationships. They shape our observations and define our experiences. We really come to know other people through conversation. We want to be alone when we have heard too many words and we feel alone when it has been a while since anyone has spoken to us. (Tripp, 12; cursive mine)
"There is one more thing we can learn from Genesis 1 about words. Words define, explain, and interpret. Even though Adam and Eve were perfect people living in a perfect world in a perfect relationship with God, they still needed God to talk to them. Their world needed definition. They needed to understand themselves and to understand life. Everything needed to be interpreted, and for this Adam and Eve were dependent on God. They could not figure things out on their own. Whatever discoveries they would make about the world and their lives would need to be explained and defined by the words of God. Words interpret. Human communication, like God's, is all about organizing, interpreting, and explaining the world around us." (Tripp, p.13; cursive mine).
In the above quotes Tripp spells out some of the functions of words: they have significance; they are vessels for truth; they reveal, define, explain, and shape; and words interpret. To use a NLP-frame of mind one can say the same thing using the words: Our words are how we language the distinctions and comparisons we make in our experience.
Tap dancing between three Realities.
As human beings we tap dance between three "realities". The first "reality" is where our brains (the same as mind?) organize the information we are exposed to through our senses. At an incredibly rapid rate2 our brains use it's existing data basis to recognize, interpret, prioritize and "present" to our conscious awareness. We are at the same time creators of the worlds we live in, as well as recipients of the worlds our brains have created outside of our awareness.
Our awareness ("screen of the mind" as Michael Hall refers to it) is where we can pay first/primary attention to the world that we have familiarized and organized. Here we can become aware of the first set of distinctions we have made about the world, namely, through the coding of our world in picture, sound, feeling, smell and taste terms (the domain of NLP describing the structure of our representational awareness and the processes which results from that). Our first awareness of having made comparisons at this level presents itself to us in the qualities of the pictures, sound and feelings called the submodalities. At this level our words have a strong expressive quality which is intimately related to what we pay attention to. For example, as you pay attention to pictures your language will express this preference in that you will use picture words to say the content "in your mind". (The preferred modalities as described in NLP.)
The third reality we dance in is the reality of meaning. These are the higher levels of our mind where we roam conceptually as we interpret, understand, belief, prioritize. The ability to think about our experience by asking questions about any and all components of our experience, this ability to "self-reflect" (the domain of Neuro-Semantics) is where are words have the double function of saying as well as organizing. This is where words are vessels for truth; where they reveal, define, explain, and shape; words that interpret.
Words allow us at the level of meaning, at the meta-levels of our mind, to be aware how any content in our mind has more than one layer of meaning. Every question you ask about your experienced reality has an answer at one layer, the next question about that answer moves to the next higher level, etc. Higher levels of understanding, and learning, are the ways through which we "in-form" our minds with more distinctions and even more sophisticated comparisons at a conceptual level. We understand better, or differently or totally new as we explore experiences from different levels of the mind through the medium of our language with our ability to self-reflect.
It is not unknown that the more one argues with a person about their convictions the more one entrenches it. One of the reasons is that the more they get to think about it, the more arguments they come up with, the more they language/conceptualize central and peripheral content about their convictions, the more they solidify it with more concepts. Talking about an experiential content by "moving through" (up or down) the different levels of distinctions one makes about it, has exactly the same effect of solidifying the structure and content of the experience. Another way of saying this solidification is "having a conviction about a conviction, or believing a belief." Your highest beliefs determine what you actually believe; high level beliefs can outweigh things which you would like to believe simply because they would be at a lower level of the mind, subservient to the highest "real" belief. To change that "real" belief you would have to go even higher, explore and discover what is even more true than the existing highest belief3 and by languaging enough truths about that belief will give it the place of honor as the truth. This is how one can know about God, but live as if the world is more real, and more compelling. God as information is not known yet as the One who is the Alpha and the Omega. God is not the highest frame for understanding or believing yet4, is not solidified in the highest level of our mind.
Words can stagnate from two things the mind does: one, in the process of languaging experienced realities, some of the information of experience gets lost. This loss is due to the deletions, distortions and generalizations that goes with translating "experience" into the medium of "language" (the stuff and principle of the meta-model). In an everyday conversation one says a portion of the lived experience depending on audience and outcome of communication, one "cuts out the detail of the map of the experience". The more you tell it the higher the risk that the mind takes more "short cuts", and the words become more removed from the actual experience. The word now stands for the meaning of the experience and the experience in the "mind of the beholder" becomes the word.
Two, when we use metaphors or comparative expressions to language an experience, there is a time when we forget that it was a comparison, and the original experience becomes the content with which it has been compared. For example, comparing certain mental-emotional states with the disease model ("like a disease") has now become "it is a disease". The word now gives the new meaning to the experience and the experience in the "mind of the beholder" becomes the word.
The result of this "de-experiencing" of words leads to words being used as answers, rather than as pointers to answers or processes. This typically happens because the words have importance. We can get carried away by how joy, happiness, honesty, openness, etc. becomes the answer to life, or to marriage, or how to be a post-modern person, etc. they become "it". These words not only are de-experienced, they have been nominalized (a process has been "thingified" and made into a fixed, static thing)5 and tuned into universal quantifiers (as if they are always true, with sayings like always, every time, etc.). Now it is easy for them to be turned into the next step: standards for judgments or comparisons where they really take on a life of their own. Now they are not only the answer, but they also become the prerequisite for the right way of talking about the topic.
I hear this amongst my fellow believers when they use words as the gospel, rather than as pointers to the Gospel. It is when the truth which will set one free has been reduced to the right words of wisdom (and wisdom has been nominalized, contrary to James 3:13-17) and conceptually locked in. We are forgetting that our words are rooted/referenced to the experience from which they come. Jesus is not a religion, He is a person; Christianity is not a conceptual map of the world, it is a life style aimed at a future; living in grace is a verb, like faith being a verb.
Apart from the fact that the users of these de-experienced words not only go a bit trancy when they use it, they also spread the thought-virus that you either have it or you don't; you are in or out.
Therapists or counselors have language as the main medium through which we influence and invite to change. Having discovered the answer in certain states or mindsets, it is very seductive to to carry that over without thinking or doing sufficient ecology checks. Well, why should we bother to do an ecology check since we have the answer and the words says it all! Because: words mean different things to different people; words refer to maps they are not the maps. How do you do a string of words, like, being joyfully optimistic and enervated? No wonder they trance the listener out. I wonder if this is why the quote from Milton Ericson, who is claimed to have said that "we are more in trance than out of trance. The challenge is not so much to put people into trance as catching them out of one".
It is about words taking on a life of their own. It me not remembering that
"First, our words belong to the Lord. He is the Great Speaker. The wonder, the significance, the glory of human communication has its roots in his glory and in his decision to talk with us and allow us to talk with him and others. God has unlocked the doors of truth to us, using words as his key. The only reason we understand anything is that he has spoken. Words belong to God, but he has lent them to us so that we might know him and be used by him. This means that words do not belong to us. Every word we speak must be up to God's standard and according to his design. They should echo the Great Speaker and reflect his glory. When we lose sight of this, our words lose their only shelter from difficulty. Talk was created by God for his purpose. Our words belong to him." (Tripp, p. 15).
1. Tripp, Paul David (2000) War of Words. P&R Publications, Phillipsburg, New Jersey
2. Kruger, Armand (1999) "Denominalising the Emotions, Part 2." Anchor Point, April 1999, p.45ff; at www.anchorpoint.com
3. Hall, Michael (2000) "Belief Change Pattern" at www.neurosemantics.com.
4. Kruger and Bodenhamer (2000): "Biblical Frames: Key to Spirituality" at www.neurosemantics.com.
5. Any handbook on NLP which explains the meta-model: Joseph O'Connor(2001) NLP Workbook. Thorsons, or the exquisite complete book by Michael Hall (2001) Communication Magic by Crown Publications.
Contact information for Armand Kruger:
South Africa's Institute of Neuro -
PO Box 494
South Africa, 1960
©2002 Armand Kruger All rights reserved.