Intentional Wording

Think about these two statements:

You are so smart.

You prepared intently.

What does each statement imply to you?

A recent conversation with the middle school learning specialist at my school provided a revelation about these two statements.

These statements may seem innocuous at first glance, but they have hugely different implications. The first statement – You are are so smart. – sounds like a statement of fact. The person is smart. It implies that their intelligence is fixed, indeed, that everyone’s intelligence is fixed. Additionally, it does not provide useful feedback. Why is this person smart? How is this person smart. In what area is this person smart? It is really a generic statement with a huge implication, and at some point students and adults start to see through generic statements because they hear them said to everyone.

The second statement – You prepared intently. – also sounds like a statement of fact. The person invested themselves in the action of preparing. It implies that the person can control their learning by preparing, indeed, that everyone can control their learning by their actions. And it provides concrete feedback by mentioning the act of preparation, and a description of perceived extent of that preparation.

Given that research has shown our brain’s have plasticity, which means our brains can adapt and learn, the second statement is a more accurate reflection of the capabilities of our brains. The first statement ignores our brain’s natural ability to reorganize its neural connections based upon experience.

In the rush of a day we may not always think twice about our choice of words when making comments or conversation, but word choice can and does make a difference. What implication do you want to make with your comments?

In their synopsis of their rather long article, We Are Not Prisoners of Our Brains, shared in Sao Paulo, Brazil, at the 2001 International Congress on Universal Values and the Future of Society, authors Dan Levine, Riane Eisler and Sam Levin point out that

human nature is neither “good” nor “evil” but that genetics offers us a range of possible behavior patterns that social arrangements can either enhance or suppress. Organizing society to shift the balance in our brains toward caring is a matter of choice.


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