How Language and Words Affects Our Behavior
What and how we say things can have an effect on us as well as others. It all depends on the content and context. Language has enabled humans to survive and to thrive. We have been able to communicate to others solely based on the words used. Yet those same words can create tension as well as love.
Though the words may have meaning, it’s only the meaning each person gives it. Change the words around in a sentence and they can have a completely different meaning. One word can move someone to action and another word can stop a person in their tracks. Even the words you’re reading in this article may have meaning to you – it all depends on how I write it and what you take from it.
Single words can be given additional meaning by using other words. Eventually they form a sentence. How they are structured within the sentence gives it meaning one way or another.
Now here’s the kicker regarding words and language. Many people tend to say a word as the thing they are referring to. For example, saying the words “Statue of Liberty” as it is the Statue of Liberty. The words are only words and not the thing. It’s the same with a map. The map is not the territory. It may be a representation, but not the area it represents.
Yet, people will get emotional when a certain word is mentioned as if the word was real. This can affect how we behave. Many advertisers will use words (and language) to affect our behavior so we will buy what they offer. Politicians will use words to have an effect on how we vote. Poets have long used words to connect with us emotionally, so have storytellers. This happens in every language.
Making the words we say to ourselves can help us or hinder us. What if I tell you to “try to do something” does that make you want to take action? But what if I say “you will do something, now” is that more powerful? It’s the structure of how the words are used that can have an influence on your behavior.
Now if I say the word “dog” to you, what meaning does it have to you? You may think of a pleasant memory of a family dog you had as a child. Another person may have a fearful memory of being mauled by a dog. It’s the same word with different meanings to different people. Think about these words and what meaning would you give them: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, Green Party, and Socialist Party? How about California, Alabama, New York, Kansas, Montana, Texas, and Washington D.C.?
What if I changed a sentence and said, “Dog bites man.” What meaning does that express to you? How about if I say “Man bites dog?” Does change things even though the same words were used?
As you can see, each one will have a different meaning from different people. Each one may even bring about a behavioral change in each person. Yet, they are only words, aren’t they? The only meaning they have is what each one of us gives them. Additionally, the how the sentence is structured will give the words a different meaning.
Look at the words you use in your own life. What meaning are you giving them? What emotions do they bring out in you? Do they create some behavior in you? If you were to think rationally about this, then you’ll know the words for what they are for, only words. You are the meaning and the behavior resulting from the words, not the words themselves. Language and words can have a profound effect on our behavior as long as we don’t know the reality behind them.