If you want to bring about change in any system – from your inner world to a whole organisation – one skill you can work on is naming.
When we have a name for something – table, chair, thought, mood, conversation, relationship, inner critic – we give ourselves a way of pointing to it, observing it, and talking about it in the world we share with others. We bring it into the light so that it can be seen, greatly increasing our capacity to observe, make choices, and act.
What’s important to see here is that our patterns of conversation tend to repeatedly draw attention to some things while leaving others unobserved. We keep this going by insisting on speaking in the same way, with the same language, and with the same people over and over. In this way our speaking becomes habitual, and loses its much of its power to reveal things to us. And what’s unobserved remains in the background, where whatever effect it is having remains silent and invisible.
We mostly have hardly a clue how much of human life is in the background at any moment, how much it is shaping us, and how little attention we’re paying to it.
So skilful naming has power. It’s no wonder that in ancient mythology names are understood to give great influence over people and situations and that the simple act of naming daemons, the silent shadowy forces of the underworld, immediately robs them of much of their potency.
And this is why you can open many possibilities by paying attention to patterns in your private, inner conversation and in your conversation with others, and by introducing names for what is currently unnamed. The more precise the naming, and the more you use it to bring forward those aspects of the background that are shaping things, the more powerful the possibilities.
And if you’re interested, you can do much to learn new words – distinctions – that you don’t yet have in order to do this. Study books, talks, people, poems, songs, movies. Attend courses.
And instead of staying in your own familiar world with its patterns and habits of language, spend time with people who live and work in very different situations to you. The distinctions that are central in their world, and that are right on the margins of your own, can be among the most powerful ones to discover.