They’re Just Words Aren’t They?

I have been procrastinating about writing this.  Mostly because I don’t think anyone will read it.  Also because, well, it’s sort of common sense.  But I decided today to take a deep breath and do it because maybe, just maybe, it might not be so common.  Or if I’m really lucky, I might learn from others.

You see as much as I have always loved the written word, or the spoken word for that matter, I’ve never considered the full effect or weight of words.  I’ve never really stopped to consider how the words I use may impact others.  And most importantly I’ve failed to consider the words I use when I think about myself or speaker to myself.

I have told students they have failed he assignment, failing myself to recognize that, most people stop listening after the word fail is said.  I have also failed to consider the emotions behind that word and how a person can internalize that one word and attribute it to his/her perception of self.

Now that I’m on the brink of submitting my own assignment, non-academic at that, I understand for the first time that fruitless feeling some people get.  That sense of overwhelming doubt and fear.  Fear that it won’t be good enough.  Fear of being a failure.  When the reality is I may fail at the assignment, but that does not equate to me being a failure.

Perhaps it is because this assignment is for something non-academic that I feel so uncertain about my work.  Perhaps it is because we have been asked to base this on experiences, which is so much harder to do than research and provide the correct answer.

As I was sharing my doubts and insecurities with a fellow professor she laughed.  It wasn’t in a mean way, but I suppose if I wanted to internalize it that way I could have.  She found my reaction so at odds with the person who walks the lecture halls.  She found my self-doubt to be more humanizing than compassion and empathy.  As she put it, “you are always so confident and sure of things, it’s nice to see you struggle as well”.

And this has me thinking about all those different words we have for things such as failed can be turned into not-yet successful; non-positive results and so on.  Sure these “turns of a phrase” may seem soft to some, but depending upon our personal experiences, we may need these words.  Because whether it’s grades on assignments, performance reviews at work, or comments about us, some of us will internalize these words and use them in self talk.

For a brief moment, as I was preparing this assignments, I could feel my own doubt kick into myself talk.  Things such as, “those who can’t do, teach” and “proof right here that academics can’t cut it in the real world” started to crop up in how I talked to myself.  I was able to recognize that these words were seated in fear.  Fear that I wouldn’t be good enough in this type of work.  Fear that the only place I’d ever be comfortable is an academic setting,

At the same time I reminded myself that no matter what the feedback was on the assignment, the real value was in my own learning.  And you can’t really put a price on this type of learning.  It also has me questioning what I may have said to a student that could have been taken in a way other than what I thought I was saying.

So now I’m combing for other ways to let students know when they haven’t been successful with an assignment or an exam.  Not that I have a lot of students who don’t meet the marks required.  But still.  Because you just never know the full impact of your words or what happens to them in that person’s “world”.

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