Experiencing Life through Language

A friend brought me a blown-glass fish dish from Nova Scotia, Canada. The very next day, I was working downstairs while Mary was cleaning the house. I heard a crash. I knew instinctively it was the dish. Between clients I went upstairs. Mary asked if it was expensive; I said it was a gift. Mary moved on with her day. At the time I was amazed that she had no guilt, no remorse over her actions. Then I re-watched this TED Talk on how language shapes the way we think.

In English, I was fuming. “Mary broke the dish.” The rest of my English moved into Mary is to blame and Mary needs to right her actions. I was focused on the subject, Mary, breaking the object, the dish. In Mary’s Spanish-language mind the conversation was different. The subject in her sentence was the dish. “The dish broke.” She was not involved. It was a fact of life. Looking through my eyes, my perception of always apologizing for my actions – even when it was a no-fault mistake – I was in awe of her ability to remain strong and confident. I was astounded by her cool demeanor. Not one part of her showed shame or guilt over what happened. This wasn’t because she has stronger self-confidence than I do. It is because her language shapes the way she thinks differently than my language shapes me.


I recommend that you listen to the TED Talk and hear first-hand just how our 7,000 different languages shape 7,000 cognitive universes. No wonder we have a hard time understanding each other sometimes. We are not only speaking different languages, we are also seeing the world differently because of those languages. Our language tells us what is important. It helps us learn and become more perceptive of the things we deem important. The language shapes how we see and describe things. How we speak reflects how we see ourselves in the world. Over the last few years I have been exploring this concept through how we express ourselves, how time is perceived, and how new concepts are born in how we speak.

What does your language say about you? 

One of my friends is constantly apologizing. She apologizes for mistakes and is also frequently apologizing for things beyond her control; sometimes she apologizes for just being herself.

Another friend speaks of everyone and everything in how it relates to him. People or things do not exist to him if he does not connect them to himself or his actions.

When I worked for a Taiwanese company, I learned quickly that their language stayed away from confrontation. Many times, we would miss deadlines because my Taiwanese counterparts could not honestly tell me they were behind. It was easier for things to not happen than to be shamed for admitting they were behind schedule.

Living in a different culture has taught me that sarcasm does not translate. I grew up where a sharp tongue was expected and revered. It was the way we bonded and communicated. I now live among individuals who take every word as fact. My sarcasm is not only not-funny, but it is not comprehended. My quick wit causes a lot more confusion than joy.

How do you use language? What assumptions do you make about yourself and the world by the words that you choose and the way you format the sentence? Are you being believed and accepted through your words, or is the way you are expressing yourself turning others away?  Take time this week to watch your words. What do they say about you and how you view the world?

About Time

The Secret Formula of Life

About TimeI learned from a sweet little movie called About Time a very powerful message about to find happiness in our lives. The story is about a family with the ability to travel back in time. On the son’s 21st birthday, he is told about the power and how to use it. For the first half of the movie, this young man uses his ability to have do-overs. Can you remember your teens and early twenties? Are there words you wish you hadn’t said? Are there sentiments you wish you had? Did you have an awkward moment you wish to erase? Were their opportunities you would have seized? Were there choices you would have changed? Where their conflicts you would have handled differently? Every imaginable situation occurs as the lead character tries to perfect every moment of his life. Then the movie turns from romantic comedy to something deeper. It teaches us two important points about life: the necessity of living with the bad to get the good and the secret formula for happiness, living deliberately.

Living With the Bad for the Good

In the movie, we learn that if the time traveler goes back in time before his child is conceived that the baby will turn out differently. A hard choice has to be made between allowing a beloved child to be born or rescuing a dear family member from injury. If he goes back to fix a bad situation, he loses his good situation, his child. The lesson is that sometimes we have to accept the bad in life to get our ultimate joy. In the long run, sometimes the bad that happens is a wakeup call for a difficult lesson or a turning point which will become our purpose to teach and help others grow. Acceptance of some of the less than enjoyable situations may actually be allowing us to receive the good in our lives.

Living Deliberately

Toward the end of the movie, his father who has lived fully due to his time travel ability shares the secret formula of life. Unlike the first part of the movie, where the ability is used to try to make each encounter perfect, the father recommends living the day like everyone else. Experiencing all of the worries, stress, and issues which “keep us from noticing how sweet the world can be.” Then secret is then going back and reliving the same day, but noticing the joy, love, beauty, and miracle during each moment of that day – without changing it. Eventually the lead character learns that he doesn’t have to relive his day to see the sweetness of life, but that he simply needs to live each and every day deliberately to find the wonder.

Try it today. Instead of focusing on your worries and fears, look around you. What is beautiful? How can you find the humor in the moment? How can you gift another? How can you maximize each and every moment? I can not show you how to time travel, but through acceptance and awareness, you can surround yourself with an amazing life.