We are the Scriptwriters
You might not know it but we all have a job that is thrust upon us once we start interacting with each other. It comes with an enormous amount of power. It can bring joy or sadness. It can lead to light or darkness.
We are the script writers.
No other animal has this power. The power to take thoughts, transfer them into words and with beautiful precision deliver them from one human vessel to another. Yuval Noah Harari described the game changer that is storytelling in his book Sapiens. He talks of how the human web existed long before the internet and information travelled great distances thanks to our ability to turn thoughts into language. From the earliest times humans moved from settlement to settlement spreading our stories; some true and some not.
These stories became part of who we were and shaped out societal outlook. From the Persian Kings carving great victories and prejudices into stone for all to see, to how Europe tore itself apart in the 20th century, whole civilisations have done incredible and terrible things based on stories….. just words. Words that defined history.
So what has that got to do with you?
The power that caused wars is in you too. And we have the power every day, in every word. Every day we write lines in the script of one another's lives. Every thought transformed into language and cast out into the space between us has the power to heal or damage; enhance or destroy. Can you imagine if you were wearing a wire (think undercover cops) and every sentence you uttered for a week was recorded and transcribed onto paper. Would you want to read it?
Would you be happy to utter every word again? Would you edit anything? Would you strike some lines straight out with a big red pen?
Some conversations really test our patience so it can be hard being a careful scriptwriter in some situations. But now that we are aware, what can we do to make sure the lines we write are good ones?
Step one: pause
I know I have had plenty of moments where it felt like my mouth was moving significantly faster than my brain. Had I paused, just for a few seconds, I would have chosen my words more carefully. I would have viewed the situation with more compassion and, well, intelligence. It doesn't take a lot to buy yourself some time. Just a few seconds of space between the stimulus and response can make all the difference.
Step two: question
One phrase that has started to save me from myself recently is, "That's an interesting point of view. Tell me more about what you mean by that?". This is the linguistic version of returning the serve in tennis. While the ball is in the other persons court you can think for a while. Feel free to keep asking questions too; the consequence is that the other person will feel listened to and might just start to question their own point of view internally.
Step three: proceed or disengage
If you feel that you can write some positive lines in the other persons script then fire on. They can be constructively critical and still be positive. However, you can't stay in a holding pattern for ever. If you still aren’t happy that the line you have to say back is a good one then disengage. "You've given me a lot to think about. I'll have to come back to you once I've thought on it further", is a perfectly reasonable response and is better than causing a war with your words.
I hope this helps gives you pause for thought on the power of your words and what they can do. So the next time you are about to embark on a 'war of words', pause, question, proceed or disengage. It could be the difference in you being seen as a brilliant independent scriptwriter or a terrible soap-opera hack. The choice is yours.
Write your words carefully.