Words are kind of like rope. Completely useless alone, yet powerful tools. I love words. But I love tools too. So maybe that’s just how I see things?
Here’s how it works… Words just point your brain from one thing to another. Like hopping from one stone to the next when you’re trying to cross the creek. The stones show your brain which direction to leap to get to the other side, all the while the world goes on around your head, and the creek passes by under your feet. It’s a path that ties where you’ve been to where you’re going. See? You just envisioned yourself (probably in your youth) hopping from one stone to the next across a creek, hoping not to fall in, even if you never actually did that as a kid. Your brain tied together other images and experiences to paint that picture for you. Like rope. The critical part is this: If your brain doesn’t know what a stone or a creek is, my words failed you. It was only tying together things you already knew.
I’ve never been sailing but I have a vivid picture in my head of what it’s like. I’ve never been in space but I can imagine it. No matter what thing or situation you’re trying to imagine or learn about, the words are the rope that ties together the pictures you see while you read the words that explain them. Sometimes the words are spoken. The actors in the movie, or the narrator of the film… all tying together the things that will best paint the picture inside your mind. But the words are the tools, and the things you already know are the resources.
When you tell someone you love them, you’re pointing their heart and mind to things inside them that make them know they’re loved. Memories and feelings. When you try to explain what shade of blue something was, their mind goes to visions of things they’ve seen in the past that sound like similar colors. In any case, your words are just tying together existing resources to paint a picture of something new. A new thing, a new place, a new experience. Even an old sentence is new each time you use it. “I packed you the same lunch again today, Buddy.” Isn’t a new experience or vision, but it’s tying together the same old same old with the new part of the sentence: That it’s happening again today.
Ok buckle up because here’s where it gets bumpy, and I know some people may read me the riot act in disagreement, but this is why I believe that the old saying “Do as I say, not as I do” is not only ineffective, but counterproductive. Wait wait wait don’t light the torch or pick up the pitchfork just yet!
When you say this to a child, it leaves a paradox inside their head. Their brain tries to tie together previous experiences, images, and feelings to guide them to… not do the thing you do? The words are useless without resources to tie together to paint the image you’re trying to paint. If you say, “I did that and it was really really bad, like the time you burned yourself on that pot, it felt like that, so I don’t want you to do it either,” then the image and experience is painted in the child’s head in a way that they understand why you don’t want them to get burned. But if you’re holding a boiling pot and you say, “Don’t hold a boiling pot because it will burn you,” that doesn’t compute. Your words don’t match anything that the brain can tie together to make sense of it. They’re going to grab a boiling pot at some point in an effort to understand, to create an experience they can use to make sense of it. You’re practically ensuring they will do the thing you don’t want them to. Or at least, that’s how it works with my kids. And maybe it just works that way for them because they have my brain and heart, so we all think alike, and it may not apply to anyone but us. I really don’t know.
I look for it in adult relationships as well. It’s difficult to trust a person whose words don’t match their actions, even if it’s in regard to something minor. And on the flip side, I take great comfort in talking to people whose actions do match their words. And in any case, I know that when I show my kids what I’m trying to tell them, it sinks in twice as deep and twice as fast. The words are the rope and the actions become the stones beneath their feet that give them the footing they need to understand. Then once they’ve crossed enough swirling creeks with your guidance, it becomes that much easier for them to do it themselves. You won’t be here forever.
Cheers from the ThreeFiveZero Words