They say that words are the most powerful weapon in the world.
I decided to see what would happen for an entire day if I was as careful and selective with my words as I should be. My task was simple – pick 100 words out of the dictionary and communicate using only those words. Sounds simple enough, right?
I started out my day by writing out words that I thought would be absolute necessities. Words such as “yes” and “no,” or “hello” and “goodbye.” Words that were simple and common that I used in my everyday life. When I was done with this list, I had about 50 words written down.
To make the most of my experiment, I decided to go run a few errands and test out using only these words before going to my evening class. The first place I went was the grocery store.
While my actual shopping didn’t take much time or words at all, checking out was a struggle. I was conflicted between wanting to respond to the woman who was helping me and not look like I was being rude and not wanting to have to add more words to my list that were going to be unnecessary for the rest of my day.
One thing I learned from this particular interaction is that people respond very well to the simplest of gestures. While I might not have expanded on telling her how my day was past saying “fine,” my smile and reassuring nod told her that I was in a good mood, that I was listening to what she had to say. We didn’t have to talk about me; I wanted to hear about her day. She didn’t need to worry if I was pleased with her service or not.
Next, I went to get a drink from my workplace, Starbucks. Yes, I know, I know. I wasted six of my precious words on a drink order. Iced. Venti. No. Water. Black. Tea. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
Again, I struggled with not wanting to be rude to the people I worked with who were asking about my day, and my family and the grade I got on my test, but it was a challenge trying to find the right words to say when I had barely any at all.
I was able to get through this challenge by just acting natural. Though I was responding in almost robotic phrases – “My day has been fine. How has yours been?” – my tone of voice and head nods combined with my facial expression was able to distract the person I was working with from my actual words and bring the attention back to the original intent of the words. It encouraged them to keep talking, even if I wasn’t.
Finally, it was time for my class. In this class, Nutrition, we were having a debate. That was hard, let me tell you. The class was a blur, but I think what was hardest for me was sitting back and letting others do the talking. I am usually pretty vocal in my classes, so I think the teacher and my fellow students may have been a bit surprised to see me not stepping up and challenging them.
All in all, this day showed me the power of words that I hadn’t realized before. Throughout the entire day, I wasn’t focused on talking about myself. I asked the lady at the grocery store how her day was going and listened to her talk about her son’s baseball game. I asked my coworkers how work was, and listened to them vent about the stress of customer service, instead of complaining to them myself. I was able to hear opinions in my class that I would’ve brushed aside on a normal day.
Being able to listen, to process and consider what others are saying, is something that not many of us experience in our everyday lives. We would probably ask the cashier how her day was, and then zone her out, myself included.
Listening to others instead of talking yourself can provide so much more knowledge about the world around you. It can raise feelings of compassion, empathy or finding joy in other’s accomplishments that may have been buried too deep.
Stephen R. Covey once said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
I think this could be said about me. I go about my days, with my opinions, my answers. I never realized how much value was in other’s words until I had no choice but to listen. And I think that’s made me a better person because of it.
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