Finding the Right Words

By Louis R. Avallone

It’s important to avoid “stinking thinking”, as motivational speaker Zig Ziglar often said, which is when we allow ourselves to be gripped by negative thoughts and emotions, making us feel defeated, discouraged, and depressed. And “stinking thinking” can do that, indeed. Have you ever heard of the adage, “We are…what we think about?”

In fact, how we speak to ourselves can be self-motivating and encouraging, or self-defeating and pitying. This is generally when folks remind us that it’s not what happens to us that matters – it’s how we choose to respond. Of course, the Bible tells us this also, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7).

Now, of course, we’ve all asked a friend on the phone, or just about anyone in passing, “How are you?” Maybe it’s the clerk at the grocery store, or the server at a restaurant.

Some folks will say, “Not too bad, thanks.” You know right away that these are the proverbial “glass is half-empty” type of folks – and you know it by the words they use. “Not too bad” implies that there is always something to worry about, in their mind, or nothing is ever quite right.

Well, what if they said, “I’m fantastic, thanks,” instead? Likewise, you’d know this was the “glass is half-full” type of person – again, simply by the words they chose – whether they really were really doing fantastic, or not. And by responding, “I’m fantastic,” it suggests this is someone who has a positive attitude and tends to look for the silver lining, even in difficult circumstances.

So as we begin 2017, and a new administration in Washington begins to take its place, our national mood, and the words we use to describe ourselves, as a country, will necessarily change, as well.

President-elect Trump’s “self-talk” is very different from President Obama’s. Trump uses positive words like “great”, “terrific”, “fortune”, “thriving”, and “huge.” He also says America will starting “winning again” and it will be “beyond anybody’s expectations” and, “we are going to win so much, you will get tired of winning!”

He compliments those who are successful as “truly great leaders”, he talks about the “tremendous potential” of our country. The day after he was elected, he reminded us all that “America will no longer settle for anything less than the best.”

He’s seems to always characterize whatever he is doing, thinking, or working on as the “finest”, “smartest”, and  “greatest”.  He talks about how we need the “smartest negotiators”, or how he has built the “best hotels”, or why he celebrates those who are excellent and “most highly sought after”, and why we need to build “the strongest military that we’ve ever had.”

By contrast, though, President Obama’s favorite phrases over the past eight years seem to be those phrases that include the words “can’t” and “don’t,” and in particular, the word “frustrating.” He talked about how there is real anger and “frustration” in our country. And he often says how “frustrating” it is because he hasn’t achieved everything in his administration, exactly the way he had planned. He’s been “frustrated” with Republicans, with the Tea Party, as well as anyone in small towns who clings to “guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

Instead of “thriving” in your job, President Obama believes “at a certain point, you’ve made enough money.” If you started a small business in your home, and grew it into a terrific company, he surprised you by saying, “You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Instead of growing the private sector of our economy beyond anybody’s expectations, President Obama was satisfied with it being just “fine”, surrendering to the belief that factory jobs moving to Mexico (like Carrier’s), are “jobs of the past” and “are just not going to come back.”

Instead of talking about the tremendous potential of our country and taking responsibility as a leader, he still blames “the previous administration” for the economy, and for “less than loving Christians” who do not care enough for others. He appealed to the worst within us, saying his unpopularity is because “there’s some folks who just really don’t like the idea of a black President,” and that America has provoked terrorism because we’ve “meddled” in other countries. Instead of cheerleading for America as the “best”, he apologizes for us, instead.

The truth is that how we talk to ourselves as a country is the loudest and most influential voice that we will hear. It can work for us, or against us, depending on the messages we allow. It can inspire us, or depress us, and the words we use make all the difference.

Sure, we all can be guilty of “stinking thinking” at times, and that’s why, from time to time, we all need a “check-up from the neck-up,” in the words of Zig Ziglar.

And one thing’s for sure: the election last November was our nation’s appointment for a “check-up from the neck-up” and America made a choice between two (2) visions: “winning” (optimism) or continued “frustration” (pessimism). As Winston Churchill put it, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

May this new year be filled with opportunities for you and your family in which the difficulties might not seem all that difficult – and may you always find the “words” to say so.

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