Strong Words

You are who and what you are. But what about the rest of reality?
More Happy Rock Way observations about how people work life and vice versa.

Alfred Korzybski began/founded the discipline called General Semantics in the 1920’s. As I first read it there is a founding statement and everything else spins out from that.

“The map is not the territory.”

People have a construct of the world in their heads, a map, if you will, that they use to guide them through life. This map, any map, really, is not the actual world. A map is just a set of symbols that helps us navigate. How well the map works has to do with how well the map predicts what we will find when we use it. That seems simple enough. I accidentally discovered General Semantics when I read a science fiction book called “The World of Null A” by A. E. Van Vogt. It is an OK book.. Good reading if you really, really like science fiction. In my humble opinion it does not approach any kind of literary ideal. But it led me, an always curious person, to investigate further into “Null A” which led me to General Semantics, which is really not classical semantics at all, and the work of writers like S. I. Hayakawa.

Now, I am not sure you needed to know all of that to get the rest of this post, but I like for people to know where I am coming from. This idea of a cognitive map can be very useful to us in understanding our lives and in dealing with other people. It can some times help us help others. In my humble opinion, many good therapists actually help people re-draw their inner map into one that helps them function in the world. When Dr. Phil asks, “How’s that working out for you?” he is, to my way of thinking, pointing out that things aren’t working out. And perhaps they are not working out because the person needs a new map.

I have been intentionally working on my map ever since. Anyone that knew me when I was growing up knows that my map needed a lot of work. A whole lot.

Which finally brings me closer to the point of this post. Sometimes a person’s choice of profession or field of study has a lot to do with how they view the world. To an economist, for instance, everything is economics. The character Perchik, in Fiddler on the Roof, was an economist, most likely a Marxist. When he proposes marriage, he phrases it in economic terms. To a lawyer, everything is law. To a jazz musician, it is always good to be ready to improvise. Politicians view thing as politics. Shakespeare said, “All the world” was a stage. And to an actor or playright, it is.

In my post, “The Roller Coaster Life Club” I reference the idea that people tend to represent life (make their map) using pictures, sounds, and feelings. And how they use these things influences how they live. I think this is largely hard wired, but it can be tweaked with some intelligent effort. Another way that we make our map has to do with how we use language. According to Null A (General Semantics),  we can be led astray by logical generalities that work fairly well in things like plane geometry.  Generalities don’t always work in real life.  Generalities spring from words that require an all or nothing approach.

I usually do not explain, or perhaps attempt to explain all of this. I just talk about the danger of “strong words.” The danger of strong words is that they are almost always incorrect. I say “almost always” because “always” is a strong word. Once a strong word enters the verbal equation the ability for a person to engage in quality thinking is seriously curtailed.  But perhaps if you understand this post you will be more likely to use this information in a positive manner instead of reading it and moving on unchallenged and unchanged.  That’s why I am writing.    You can take it from here.

Here is a list of Strong Words. You may find other words or phrases that function in the same manner. Be on the lookout!

No one

There are others that can occur in strong phrases, phrases that have the same impact as strong words. Here are two examples:

I can’t do anything right. – Substitutes for “Nothing I do is right.”  It is anything plus a negative.

I failed as usual.  Substitutes for “I fail every time.”

If you come up with more feel free to comment.

Strong words must be used with care. Since they are so strong, they seem to be easily grasped by the human mind and integrated into the cognitive map. Part of our minds likes simple either/or evaluations.  Strong words associated with core beliefs can be very limiting. People talk about the awesome potential of the human mind. Incorrect use of the strong words or similar strong language can limit the potential of the mind.  If you are an atheist, then you realize that it is problematic when you work against yourself. If you believe your mind is a gift from God, then you know it is not good to treat your gifts poorly.  Regardless of your theology or philosophy ther are good  reasons to be wary of strong words that are used to limit your potential.

To see how easy it is to fall into this linguistic trap see if your mind easily completes any of these phrases for you.

All cheerleaders are______________
All jocks are ________________
When I play/sing/act/speak in front of people I always___________

My husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend always____________
All Democrats____________
All Republicans are____________
No one ever________________

NEVER USE STRONG WORDS! (Oh.. wait… hmmm)

There is also the implied use of a strong word.   For instance, remove the word “all” from  any of the statements above.  The “all” is still implied and still can lead to faulty thinking.

Just in case you haven’t made the connection on your own, a lot of human prejudice is based on generalizing language.  Please consider how this works.

It is possible that these words are correct at times. But you can make significant improvement in your ability to deal with the challenges the world brings you if you will examine what you are saying when you use these words and make an effort to eliminate false and misleading generalities..

I could probably write a book about the issue of limiting language, and I may have more to say later. I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.


Revised to include implied words and the paragraph on human prejudice.

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