Significance Behind Power of Words

There have been many studies and experiments done on the power of words. Each one yields interesting results that are worth searching out. If our words truly wield such potential, then how we use them matters a great deal. It could affect our lives and the lives of those around us. And if our words affect those around us, then their words affect those around them; your speech could start a chain reaction that affects the entire world.

What Does It Mean to Say That Words Have Power?

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The power of words can mean a lot of different things to different people. Here are some ideas about what the power of words is all about.

Emotional Response

The way we use our words undoubtedly affects the way others react to us. Encouraging sentiments and commendations may very well bring a smile while rude phrases invoke frowns and backlash. Hurtful thoughts verbalized could bring a person down and send them spiraling into depression, but a well-told joke could produce a laugh.

Perhaps we can see this more acutely by examining the stories we tell. Almost everyone loves watching movies or reading books, and that's mostly because we like the way they make us feel. A well-told narrative has the power to entertain, uplift, and put you in awe. Even the silent movies of yesteryear started with a screenplay or a director who used his words to convey how the movie was supposed to go. Ever met a director who couldn't speak or write?

Of course, to some, books, stories, and even movies hold more academic interest than anything else. But even then the power of words comes into play; they can transfer knowledge and educate. Sure, the old adage about showing instead of telling still holds true, but there's a reason that so many colleges and universities rely so heavily on the lecture system. You almost always need words to educate effectively and train knowledge seekers.

This may be a rather simplistic way of demonstrating that words have power, and it should be obvious. However, this is the fundamental base of the idea that words have power.

Subconscious Changes

The word “subconscious” literally means below (sub) awareness (conscious). So when we're talking about subconscious changes, we're dealing with changes that happen when you're unaware.

Some believe that your words bring about changes in the subconscious. Without even realizing it, what you say or what you hear others say can make you think differently and behave differently (this is called “priming” by those in scientific circles). Those who subscribe to this theory believe that verbalized negativity and positivity can alter your worldview, your self-esteem, and even the way you act. In this way, the might of words uses a more subtle method.

Do Words Have Power?

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When it comes to the idea that words have power, almost everybody would agree that they can and do elicit emotional responses and educate. Sure, some might argue that it isn't necessary for words to do that and that you can train yourself to deny the effect words have on you or ignore the instruction offered by educators. But even then you're admitting that you have to resist something that holds a massive amount of sway over you; you're essentially proving the point.

Given this truth, the question will mostly be applied to subconscious changes. Is it really true that the way we speak can affect the way we think and act without us ever being aware of it?

The Dictator Game

There have been several studies and experiments done to conclude whether words really can change the way you think and act without you realizing it. Some of them show promise while the results of others cast doubt on the premise.

For instance, a study by psychologists Azim Shariff and Ara Norenzayan suggests that subjecting individuals to scrambled religious words (such as God, divine, and sacred) makes them act more altruistically. They came to this conclusion by making their subjects play a “dictator game” in which they were given money and a choice to share some of it with an unknown stranger.

Many of the subjects took all the money for themselves; however, after being shown the scrambled words, more individuals shared the cash. Shariff and Norenzayan concluded that coming into contact with these words gave participants the subconscious push to behave in a more moral manner. This study has been cited widely and is often used as a prime example of the extreme power of words.

However, others have cast doubt on the study. They've found holes in Shariff and Norenzayan's methods and conducted similar studies with better processes to get a more accurate take. For instance, Cristina Gomes and Michael McCullough from the University of Miami were much more careful about how they obtained their data. The results of their study suggest coming into contact with religious terminology may not have quite the effect on a person's subconscious mind as previously thought.

Whatever you come to believe about the conclusions drawn by the dictator game, there is plenty of other evidence that words have outstanding power.

Cooperation

An article in the New York Times entitled “Minding the Mind” makes reference to a study with interesting consequences. With just a glimpse of words like “dependable” and “support,” subjects became more cooperative. This proves the words people see and hear can have a real effect on how they act, all without them ever being aware of what has influenced them to behave in such a way.

Infectious Positivity

Though this is perhaps anecdotal and more hypothetical than hard science, many people are convinced of not only the power of words but also the power of positivity. How we frame things in conversation is important. For instance, saying “that car isn't as fast as it could be” doesn't carry the same connotations as “that car moves at quite a reasonable speed,” even though they could mean the same thing. One is slightly negative and encourages more criticism not only of oneself but also of others; the other is optimistic and promotes the exact opposite.

Play Language

According to Joseph Capmbell's book Myths to Live By, some people in Japan like to use what is known as “play language,” or in their native tongue, “asobase kotoba.” It's considered a very polite way of speaking, and perhaps even aristocratic. The way it works is that, instead of saying something like “I see you're job-seeking,” they might say, “I see you're playing at finding a job.”

The idea isn't that you're not taking the job search seriously; it's that you're in control and going through the process in an easy and free manner, as if you were playing a game. By choosing to speak in such a way, you affect the way you approach life and the tasks at hand. Having such an outlook on life could very well change the way you live it.

Native Americans and Animals

Native Americans view animal life much differently than modern Americans do. While we might see them as pets, livestock, pests, or what have you, many Native Americans have traditionally seen them as sacred beings with just as much importance as that ascribed to humanity. Whether you think that way or not, it's interesting to see how their language relates to their views.

For example, in some Native American myths and folktales, the term “thou” is applied to different animals (granted, some or all are also gods or godlike beings even they go by their animal names such as Beaver, Otter, etc.). Still, applying this could drastically change the way you view animals. It might be something to try out; next time you see a dog, call it “thou dog” instead of simply “it.”

The Significance of the Power of Words

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It's evident that words do have power. They can educate, evoke emotions, and even prime a subconscious to push you to think and act in certain ways. This has some very sobering repercussions, and it urges us to be more careful with how we use our words.

The Importance of Staying Positive

If it's true that using positive language makes you engage in more positive thinking, then being an optimist in your verbalizations could make you an optimist at heart, too. That's a life-changing thing! To wake up in the morning with a genuine excitement for what the day holds is something that money can't buy; a good life is largely measured by contentment and joy. So if positive words encourage you to have a positive mindset, it's undoubtedly true that your quality of life will go up.

In much the same way, your positivity could help others be more positive. That means that just as positivity has the potential to change your life, it also has the potential to help others change their lives as well. Your words could very well be a force for good in this world that starts a chain reaction that brings about a better universe.

It's important to stay positive and to frame our words in the most encouraging way possible!

Cueing the Subconscious

Given that studies have shown the effects of seeing different words on behavior, it could very well be a good idea to surround yourself with words that could cue your subconscious to productivity, kindness, mindfulness, and other desirable traits. This again leads to positivity; the more you surround yourself with good language, the better you're bound to act.

However, if this holds true, then the inverse likely does, too. Negativity and pessimistic ways of framing words could lead to more drudgery, dullness, and discontentment. Self-deprecation or deprecation of others could lead to an unfulfilling life in the long run. Don't let pessimism invade your space; it could lead to not only being a pessimist but also having a less successful life.

Influencing the World

We use words to educate; therefore they're the greatest tools in the progression of science, art, and society. But spreading lies and falsehood can lead to the opposite and end up dragging mankind backward. Likewise, the stories we tell can inspire, bring hope, entertain, and teach empathy. On the other side, they can also encourage chaos, prompt depression, and provoke anger and hate.

The significance of the power of words cannot be understated. Words hold total sway over mankind, and the way they work on the human mind is not only fascinating but also sobering. Words can change your thinking, your life, and your world.

Conclusion

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One ancient piece of scripture, Proverbs 25:11, talks about a "word fitly spoken" being like "apples of gold in a picture of silver." Whatever meaning you take away from that, it only goes to show that even our ancestors realized that words have real power. They not only provoke emotional responses but also educate and can even prime the subconscious, thereby prompting us to think and behave in certain ways. There have been several studies done that show just how extensive the power of words is on the human mind, and the consequences of how that affects our thinking, our lives, and the world around are greater than you'd ever believe.

So next time you're tempted to say something discouraging, tear yourself down, or speak negatively about your situation, think twice; the way you speak influences the way you live, and the way you live influences others. The lives of your loved ones, neighbors, or even complete strangers are all subject to the way you use your words. Your tongue can be an incredible force for good in this difficult world we live in, or it can be a terrible detriment. The power of words is weighty and impressive, and each one of us gets to wield it. Let's use it as wisely as possible.

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