Define Yourself By What You Are

Language reflects the culture. We make up words, we abandon them. And there are fads in the language–awesome used to be an important word, indicating deep emotion. Now it’s a filler word, like “ummm” or “OK.”

We’ve also begun to use negatives to frame our possibilities. We say, “I don’t 7747no sign - jobhouseunderstand,” instead of “Could you explain it again?” Or, “We close at 5 p.m.” instead of “We are open till 5 p.m.” The other day someone agreed with me by saying “You aren’t wrong.”

The other day, I found myself reciting a list of what I cannot eat to a befuddled waiter. Had I listed what I can eat, which is a much shorter list, he would have been able to know what was in the kitchen and find a match. Instead, hearing only what I could not eat, he stared at me blankly.

YES_sign1It’s easy to let the negative creep into how we think of ourselves. And then we begin to define ourselves by what we don’t like, won’t accept, reject outright, or want to distance ourselves from. “I don’t like country music,” doesn’t define your musical taste–it tells someone what you won’t put up with.

It’s far more exciting and clarifying to define yourself through positives–what you like, what you want to do, what your plans are. Defend what you like and what you want to protect and project. It clears your head and your heart. Being clear on what you want, who you are is such a more positive way to face the world.

—Quinn McDonald is fascinated by language and how it defines us.




10 thoughts on “Define Yourself By What You Are

  1. I never realized this until after reading your post. On a whole we do speak in the negative form as opposed to the positive. I’m going to work on changing that in my home so that my granddaughter learns to speak of herself in the positive instead of the negative. For example, “I can’t play the piano” can become, “I play the flute.”

    • That’s exactly what I mean–and that negative definition is fear-based and I trace it back to 9/11—as the time we began to choose fear and protection and living smaller, scared lives. Let your daughter’s definition of her skills expand!

  2. I learned much the same thing when I discovered the change methodology of Appreciative Inquiry, which sort of forces you to state what you WANT. It was an eye-opener for me. Great post!

  3. You’re not wrong is very common here and considered very affirmative . . . a sort of conspiritorial ‘we’re in this together and you just hit the nail on the head’ agreement. We have a lot of ‘yeah, right’ which means ‘definitely not’ as in, “Texan voters like Democrats, yeah right!” This is not to be confused with ‘yeah, nah’ which means, yes I understand what you mean but no, it’s not a good idea/what I meant/what’s going to happen etc.

    But yes, positive language, does say a lot about our underlying attitude and while starting with what you don’t like or want is sometimes easier, the shift to what you do want is a release into a much better place.

  4. You are so right ! Thank you to have bring to the fore how I speak as usual
    I must speak with more positivism! I try to be less negative in my live, I’m working with that, thank you to help me 😉
    ( sorry for English, I’m French and don’t speak very well)

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