“I am not very happy. I am going to put on my Boxing Gloves and have a fight with you”.
Those were the words that greeted me, when I walked into the office the other week.
Dread filled my heart. “Oh what next” I thought. “What trouble has happened? What is it now, and what has upset that person? People! Who wants to work with people!”.
One nanosecond earlier I had strolled into the office cheerful and looking forward to another day.
Those few words had transformed the outlook of my day.
Our words can be powerful things. They define to our own ears how we perceive the world. They are the medium of transfer of our emotions, hope and ideals.
They are the stuff of poetry, hatred, love and life.
They start wars and bring peace. They inspire, depress, encourage and give hope to the hopeless.
They are powerful swords. What comes out of our mouths is a torch that shows the attitudes and aspirations of our inner heart.
They define how we view the world, and more importantly, they define how the world perceives us and we perceive ourselves.
Those ‘boxing’ words really did affect me.
They made my job unhappy. Unpleasant. Full of dread. They de-motivated me. I was affected by the words of another person.
How much do words really affect us, and define how we view the world?
Cricket and Stress.
A child’s world is filled with play. Not Stress or pressure. I have never met a 3 year old coming back from a ‘hard day’ in the sand pit complaining of the pressure of the ‘mound’.
Kids have joy not stress. They have the right focus. Few of us carry that joy into the world of adulthood. Children never complain about play or sport or games. Only Adults do.
The media and the world want to push our feelings and thoughts to the extreme.
They exaggerate and magnify. They interview people made recently unemployed and talk about disaster and worse things that could happen to people. They, wanting to fill air time or space in a column, try to make mundane normal things more stressful and exciting.
Life, in their view is one exciting thing after another, when we in the real world can see mostly life is a daily mystery gently revealing itself , sprinkled with the occasional exciting bit. They try to make entertainment, sport and work as exciting life fulfilling events, even though they aren’t.
Keith Miller was a famous Australian cricketer and WWII fighter pilot – and was arguably perhaps second only to Donald Bradman in cricketing esteem.
He had a yardstick in his life about stress, pressure and his life that I try to model myself on.
As a pilot of the fast wooden and highly flammable night reconnaissance and path-finding aeroplane, the British mosquito – which was effectively a large fuel tank and engines mounted on a wooden chassis, Miller knew about the absolutes in life.
After WWII, as a very successful sportsman, Miller was asked how he dealt with the ‘pressure’ of the sport of cricket by a journalist. His famous reply was.“Pressure,” he said. “I’ll tell you what pressure is. Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not.” Keith Miller
(Note: A Messerschmitt was a deadly German WWII fighter plane, with a version specifically designed to shoot down and kill the Mosquito.)
Miller had a useful life experience to measure his life against. He didn’t judge his circumstances as defined by others but used his own maxims of life to deal with the trivialities that the world wanted to turn into ‘tragedies’.
He didn’t let other’s molehills turn into his mountains
His life experiences allowed his compass not to stray from true north when it met the interferences of mediocrity and immediacy.
Uncle Reg and Camouflage.
I loved my Uncle Reginald ‘Reg’. He was the only son of my Mother’s Father and inherited the family property ‘Ridgedale’. I spent many happy holidays running around the family farm, riding motorbikes and chasing cattle, sheep and running through wheat and sorghum fields. A dream childhood.
One thing about Reg that was memorable upon first occurrence of his presence, was that his language was as colourful, as you later found out, his heart was big.
Even when mildly annoyed, I swear literally every other word that came out of his mouth was a swear.
F-ing this and F-ing that. F-ing Everything. It started as F-ing early as F-ing breakfast. I can’t remember any F-ing time where by any F-ing minor Bl-dy annoyance brought a F-ing verbal F-ing barrage. (I think you get the idea).
However, after a while, you just seemed to ignore the verbal onslaught and started to love that man. He was kind and patient and loving. However, after that initial experience, it would be difficult to develop an immediate affection and closeness. The language masked the kind man underneath.
I was thinking about Reg and the ‘boxing’ incident. One thing about Reg, was that the casual observer didn’t really know when he was really annoyed. You couldn’t tell easily. His standard volume was ‘high’. When he was really annoyed, perhaps you could judge by volume, but only after a long and arduous exposure to his standard volume of verbiage.
His language colour rather than becoming a highlight of his canvas of emotions was an effective camouflage of his feelings and personality. The real man was hidden in his outbursts.
Mind your Words:
Later in the morning, those ‘boxing’ words proved harmless after all. My trepidation and fear, were brought about by a minor error in a payslip, and were soon fixed. The ‘boxing’ comment, really was a call for ‘Help me. I need your help’.
Someone else’s burr under their saddle had become a big issue in my mind needlessly.
I remembered Keith Miller’s fortitude of mind, and realised that on that morning I wasn’t as robust as he was, and that I too was affected by the attitudes and confessions around me.
My Uncle Reg had manifested himself in my member of staff and I took it at face value.
Upon reflection, I made a couple of observations.
(1) Choose verbal Maximum’s carefully. Don’t’ Stress others.
We should be careful in our usage of absolutes or maximums. If we attribute the maximum volume to minor crises then other people around us will become stressed and have difficult reading our intentions. We should carefully meter our comments. Choose the right adjectives. Don’t let expletives, rule your descriptives.
Don’t cry wolf with other words. Is it a ‘disaster’, or merely an inconvenience?
Remember your words have a powerful and unknown affect on others.
Without metering, and calibration, others have difficulty reading your words and intentions.
Develop a skill of selecting the right word for the right occasions.
We should encourage verbal calibration, in ourselves, our partners, our family and our colleagues.
My favourite overused word is ‘hate’. When my kids say ‘I hate these vegetables’, I try to remember to say, “‘hate’ is a very strong word, are you sure you meant that? What did those vegetables do to you to make you hate them?”
(2) Don’t let other’s words foster trouble for you.
If you are in a position of leadership at home or at work. Try to recalibrate your reaction to the words that surround us.
Look at the intention rather than the word’s meaning.
Look for intention rather than behaviour.
Don’t rely on e-mail as a carriage of emotions. It can’t carry the emotional nuances of the verbal and non-verbal. Neither can text messages, tweats, or facebook posts. Don’t expect them to be. Don’t over read emotion into emails.
When others strong words come over and start to affect you. Visualise yourself in the mosquito aeroplane fighting off for life and death. Is anyone going to die if this happens? What is the worst thing that can happen?
Is there really a Messerschmitt up my arse, or merely a burr under someone else’s saddle?