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Responsible Language

According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, the etymological root of ‘responsible’ is the Latin respondere, to respond. As a verb, ‘to respond’ means to reply or answer, and to react positively or favorably. Surprisingly, I found that respond is also a noun, an architectural term that means “an engaged pillar supporting an arch or closing a colonnade or arcade.”

Engaged. Supporting. Being able to respond while being present in the moment supports the structure of our everyday lives. It gives our interactions and our selves integrity and strength, which then ripples out into the world, for experience is one of the most powerful ways we all learn and transform. It’s important to remember as we practice responding that we can’t know the freedom and peace of response if we haven’t been in the heat of a reactive moment. I wouldn’t know what equanimity, gratitude, flexibility, and compassion felt like if I hadn’t experienced the opposites.

How we interact with others and ourselves in this way takes lots of practice. I’ve been with family the past ten days, and believe me, this practicing of response takes energy, patience, focus, and time. It can be painfully frustrating and downright exhausting. Yet this practice’s essential essence is invaluable, because it can lead to a lessening of anger, resentment, miscommunication, and those crazy-making, spiraling thoughts like, “When will I ever learn? Why can’t so-and-so be different?” that follow reactive emotions.

I’m writing about this now because it’s the start of the holiday season, with family gatherings and work get-togethers, and the accompanying stress that comes with this time of year. To paraphrase a long-ago quote, if you think you’re enlightened, just go visit your family. It’s said that Ram Dass came home after years of spiritual practice in India, and on hearing his new name, his father called him “Rum Dum.” In the middle of the recent visit with my mother, I called her “mommy” (let’s see, was I eight or nine when I last called her that)?

These next few weeks, picture yourself as a pillar—strong, engaged, and grounded— supporting all that you honor, have experienced, and love about life. Remember to breathe. Our words are only 7% (!) of what the other person picks up in a conversation; be mindful of body language (55%) and tone of voice (38%) while communicating. Pause before reacting, and let that moment of stillness transform reaction into a response. Practice residing in the moment. Be lavish with self-care. Spend time in nature. Do your best.

I will be taking the month of December off from writing the blog. May you and yours be blessed. I’ll see you in January.


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