This I Believe

Bob - Pleasanton, Texas
Entered on March 19, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: science

After teaching and writing poetry for decades, I know words are pure emotion, even the ones we use in casual conversation. An offhand remark can affect a life, and that life another life, and so on and so on. I have no cold scientific proof of this conclusion, but first hand knowledge does give it evidence:

I taught a beautiful little girl about 10 years ago who used the word hate in almost every sentence: “I hate this book,” “I hate it when my boyfriend does that,” “I hate that girl,” “I hate my life.” I knew she really did not hate everything she said she did, and that she was using the word conversationally, but I could also tell that she was not a happy person and probably had never been around anyone who was really happy.

One day after one of her hate tirades I told her that she needed to think about being happy. She seemed shocked at first that I assumed she was unhappy, but then she asked me why I had said that to her. I told her that even though she had a good sense of humor, that everything else about her, including the language she used, indicated that she was basically unhappy.

The next week she came by after class and said I was right, she was unhappy. She asked if I thought she needed to see a counselor about it. I did not know what to say. I’m no counselor but I could tell she needed help. But then for some reason I told her to try this: Consciously stop using the word hate. She said that would really be tough, but she would give it a try.

I kept a close eye on her for the next few weeks, and she indeed stopped using the word hate. However, she must have bought a thesaurus, because she tried many substitutes, like “I despise” and “I detest” and “I loathe,” but she did not use hate in any conversation.

I really did not notice an immediate improvement in her attitude towards life, but she survived her senior year and moved on.

The next year I got an email from her. She was in college up North and she wrote that that one suggestion had changed her life, that she was much happier. She wrote that she still had a way to go, but she looked at life in a much more positive way.

That email got me thinking: What word could I cut from my vocabulary to improve my life? I tried the basic curse words, but I was just too weak for the experiment. I concluded that you just cannot scientifically experiment on yourself.

So here is the problem. I need some one practiced in the scientific method to set up an experiment. Here is the hypothesis: Subtracting one word from a person’s vocabulary can change that person’s life. I believe it can, but I would like scientific proof.