Only if you say so Print E-mail
News - Final Word
Thursday, 16 October 2008 01:58
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As a child I was convinced that words had ownership. Certain words belonged to certain people and, as if by a kind of magic, they created things by pronouncing their words. No, I’m not talking about ‘Abracadabra’, but perfectly ordinary words. The word ‘Laudium’ belonged to my aunt. Today, long after her death, I can still smell her perfume whenever anybody says ‘Laudium’. My aunt stayed in Duiwelskloof and came to Pretoria to buy fabric at Laudium – reams of it with an enchanting new-fabric smell.

It was only when I was much older that I realised ‘Laudium’ wasn’t her word. It belonged to anyone who cared to use it. Even I was allowed to use it. And neither did the word ‘lovey’ belong to my grandmother. It wasn’t irrevocably tied to the taste of mulberry juice. It had nothing to do with the passage-long display case where my baby picture sat.

Today, probably due to over-use, it’s hard to remember the magical ring certain words had, the very taste of them in your mouth, the way you wanted to keep repeating them because you could almost see their echoes in the air around you.

But what if words actually do have a kind of magical power we don’t know about? What if, just by changing the tense we’re talking in, we can change reality? Authors Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander wrote a book called ‘The art of possibility’ which explores this theory. Just before you think that this is a book of magical spells, I’ll have to disillusion you. Benjamin is a teacher and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and Rosamund is a psychotherapist.

As a university lecturer, Benjamin sets his students a strange task on the first day they walk into his lecture hall. He asks them to write an essay entitled ‘Why I got an A for XYZ course’.

Could you better your chances of making something come true just by writing about it in the past tense? Most life couches tell you that if you want something now, you should talk about it as if it is a year from now, and you’re looking back on the way you got it. Come to think of it, even the Bible tells you so. It goes something like this: Pray for something as if you’ve already received it.

Maybe, just like I imagined as a child, words are magical things, whether you say them out loud or write them down. According to the often-quoted study conducted at Yale University in 1953, words work even better when written down.

Graduates were asked to write down their goals. These students were tracked down 20 years later in a follow-up study, which revealed that the three percent of students who had written down their goals, earned a combined income three times greater than the combined income of the 97% who had no goals written down.

Not that I think income is all, but at the lack of a similar kind of yardstick, it would probably do. Do you think that this three percent tapped into the magical power of words? Or did they just have more potential than the rest?

As a child I was badly terrorised by the word ‘potential’. The fumes of phrases surrounding this word would hang over me like a toxic cloud in bed at night. And then I’d drift off to dream of missing the school bus.

I’m a big girl now and I’ve realised that there is, indeed, something worse than not living up to your potential. Writer, director and producer Jane Wagner says it best. “A sobering thought: what if, at this very moment, I am living up to my full potential?”

What if this is it? All there is ever to be of me? No, girlfriend, we know there’ll always be more. All you have to do is use the right words to ask for it. Then watch yourself grow gracefully into your gifts.

 

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