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Posts Tagged ‘influence’

Thank goodness for Jonathan Carroll and his Facebook page, because whenever my brain is feeling slow, I take a look at what he has posted recently to get my thoughts flowing again. Recently he shared this quotation:

People will kill you over time, and how they’ll kill you is with tiny, harmless phrases, like “be realistic.” – Dylan Moran

This makes me think about how subtle an influence a person can have on us. So subtle, in fact, that often no one in the room is conscious of what’s happening. A comment here, a snort there, and a little body language thrown in for good measure, and our thoughts and emotions can be deeply affected:

“I’m not good enough.”

“Maybe I’m being stupid.”

“My career/life goals aren’t important/valid/valuable.”

It’s so easy to diminish, to de-motivate, to plant the seeds of doubt, to make someone feel lesser. It’s so easy to neglect to listen to what other people have to say in favor of listening to ourselves. It’s so easy to sting someone without even thinking about what we are saying.

As a writer, I believe that words matter, perhaps more than most. The written word matters, and the spoken word matters. Body language, tone of voice, and mannerisms matter, all contributing to the overall message that someone is communicating.

Because I think words matter, I pay a lot of attention. I listen. I think about what people say to me. I think not only about the words used, but about the manner of their delivery, the context, and other circumstances that are relevant.

For many years, I internally chided myself for my “sensitivity.” But now I recognize what a gift it can be. Because if I’m paying attention, then I can notice more of those small messages, many of them negative, that I receive from other people. And then I can work to counter them and lessen their impact.

Words matter. (Photo Credit: felipe_gabaldon via Compfight cc)

That’s why choosing carefully the people with whom we spend a lot of time is so important. Not only will they be affecting the activities we participate in, the subjects we talk about, and even the amount of food we eat, but they will be sending subtle unconscious messages that have a real impact (potentially either positive or negative) on our moods, our world views, our self esteem, and what we think is possible for ourselves. The more we notice, the more we can make deliberate decisions about whether to spend time with people who make us feel awesome, energized, and supported for being who we are, or whether to spend time with people who make us feel tired, drained, ignored, and not enough. The choice is clear, but only if we are able to track what’s going on.

Words matter. Our environment matters. The choice to be kind matters.

What tiny, harmless phrase have you taken to heart lately? What would you rather hear?

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Accidental Influence

Today is a frazzled sort of day. I’m leaving tomorrow (perhaps even as you’re reading this) to attend SCBWI’s summer conference, and the day before travel, even relatively easy travel, generally features me heatedly checking off to do lists and worrying that I won’t have time to complete everything. I have more travel coming up as well, so if I seem a bit less substantive or even (gasp!) miss a Tuesday or Thursday during the next few weeks, that is why. I am having trouble cohering because I keep getting distracted by the fact that my new “I have mutant teeth” sensitive toothpaste is too big to pass through security, or that I have to remember to pack my battered copy of The Phantom Tollbooth.

In between these logistical reminders to myself, I’ve been thinking a lot about influence–specifically on the influence we have over other people. Some influence we take for granted; if I were to tell you that my husband and I are huge influences on each other, I doubt you would be surprised. But when I think back over my life so far, I can come up with a list of names of people who have had a strong impact on me. Not all of them are related to me. Not all of them did I ever get to know well. Not all of them am I still in touch with today.

Some of these people have no idea of the role they played in my life. They may not even remember me. They are like stealth actors who dropped in to teach me something I really needed to know or show me another way of living before moving on. Some of them even died before I was born.

This is useful to remember when contemplating creating a life that allows us to teach, influence, change the world, increase awareness. We never know who we might reach. We never know when we might say the exactly right thing that gives another person an “aha!” moment. Sometimes we won’t learn of our own impact until years after the fact, or perhaps not even then. Many times we’ll have accidental influence–we’ll have no idea that someone will have taken our casually spoken words to heart. We won’t realize that by hearing about our lives, someone else will decide to do things differently. We just can’t always know. But the not knowing doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

We all yield influence, whether we’re aware of it or not. So the question becomes not if, but rather what we want our contribution to be. And since we can’t always be aware of it when it’s happening, an even bigger question is this: how do we live our own lives in such a way that we can maximize our positive influence? I don’t know if I have a complete answer to that question yet, but it’s something I plan to think about in the upcoming weeks.

In the meantime, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the people on my list, both because of what they taught me and because they’ve helped me realize how important every individual can be.

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