Warning: naughty language ahead!
That’s the word I hate.
A nice sounding, pretty neutral word it might be—but it really makes me mad—which is weird because there are so many other words that I regularly use which are considered much worse.
Like should, for example.
People often tell me I shouldn’t say the word should (pretty hypocritical of them, isn’t it?).
A friend and I even once had a should “swear jar” to try to wean should from our speech. But it didn’t work. The should word still regularly appears when I’m speaking. But I don’t mind. Because the word should doesn’t make me mad, it actually makes me laugh.
Hate is another example of a word that people often give me dirty looks for.
But I love the word hate. I love it so much I’ve already used it in this article four times. To be honest I really don’t know why people don’t like it when I say the word hate. Maybe it’s too strong or too mean. Who knows? But even though I should stop using the word should (yes, I know, it’s pretty ridiculous), the word hate can stay a part of my vocabulary as far as I’m concerned.
I’m also often given the ol’ stink eye for my unabashed use of the words fuck and shit, especially for using them in front of my children. But I consider these words neutral, much more so than better. They are such a part of my normal speech that I don’t even notice them. And even though my children hear them all the time, they never seem to use them. Not that I would care if they did.
But the word better, I hate.
Not for how it sounds or anything. Not like how people hate the word moist, cringing as if fingernails were being scratched against a blackboard when they hear it. No, I don’t like the word better for what it implies.
Because what are we saying when we say something is better? What we’re saying is that something else is worse.
And the thing that is worse is often me.
When I was studying early childhood development, the greatest thing I learned about was carefully choosing the language we use with children (I’m not talking about swear words, obviously).
I learned not to state something as a question when it’s really an instruction. For instance, “Please wash your hands, now,” versus, “Would you like to wash your hands?”
And looking for positive ways to ask a child to change their behavior. For instance instead of saying “Don’t run,” say “Please walk.”
These were important skills to learn and I still use them to this day. But there was one communication skill I learned that not only changed the way I work with children but also changed the way I work with myself. I was taught to avoid using the terms good girl or good boy.
And why is this so important?
It’s simple. When you say good girl or good boy you’re implying that the whole person is good and if the whole person can be good then the whole person can also be the opposite of good, which is the whole person being bad. Just like if something is better, then another thing has to be worse.
When people say to children that you’re a good girl or good boy what they’re actually telling the child is that it is possible to be bad. And each of us has to ask ourselves if this is something they really believe—do we think that people can be innately good or innately bad?
I mean it can seem so obvious that some people are good, like in the case of Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela and some people are bad like in the case of Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Cut and dry, some people would say.
But if you were to ask me, I would say it’s not true.
Each individual person is neither good nor bad, and I wonder if each of us is just a person full of light and love. We do different behaviors at different moments based on our temperament and our environment. Some of these behaviors are liked and some are not liked; similarly, nothing can make us a “good” person and nothing can make us a “bad” person.
I guess I believe we just are.
You see there is another word, one I don’t use often enough, that I really like. That word is unconditional. Unconditional fills me with a sense of peace, especially when it’s placed next to the word love.
When I first began a journey of investigating self-love, I clung onto the word unconditional for dear life because every time I thought about loving myself, I could only think about loving myself when I accomplished something. I had to throw unconditional in there next to self-love just to keep myself on the straight and narrow path of finding a way to just love myself. Not become better. Not accomplish more. Just love myself.
And the journey continues.
When I woke up this morning, I thought about my day. The things I would do and the people I would meet up with. Then I thought: that’s a pretty good day, except it would be better if I was doing a meditation practice, going to a yoga class and eating healthier food.
And then I remembered that I hate the word better, for just this reason—it puts a damper on what is.
Suddenly, this nice day I had planned for myself was worse than the day I could be having if I was doing these “better” things.
So, I am parting ways with the word better, for better or for worse. No more feeling better, getting better or looking better.
And how will this simple change of language bring change to my life? Well, it will be hard to tell you because I won’t be able to use the word better to compare my experiences.
And that is exactly the point.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Mark W/Flickr