November 17, 2008


tough assignment

A close family friend over the past 20+ years is in the business of changing lives through personal coaching, transformative group programs and inspirational seminars. One of the most powerful things she does is the "one word" exercise. She does this in two different ways. When she reaches a crossroads with her group, she will gather everyone together for a moment of introspection in which each person is asked to share with the others "one word" that describes how they personally feel in that moment. This process is incredibly insightful and enlightening as the full gamut of emotion and feeling is usually expressed, thus demonstrating how people react differently to the same set of circumstances. More importantly, the participants have to reach down deep inside themselves and discover the overriding feeling that seems to be in control of their thoughts at that precise moment. Words like fear, anger, love, heaviness, lightness, joy and trust are very common. Obviously, there is no right and wrong as each person reveals themselves but the process is incredibly life affirming as each person participates and listens to their fellow travellers.

The other occasion when she uses the "one word" technique occurs when one of the group participants is experiencing an overwhelming sense of emotion, usually negative and self deprecating and often the result of facing up to some perceived sense of failure in their lives. It is so much harder to see the truth for ourselves, but normally we are all able to see the truth for others and this is put to good use when the other group participants look directly at the subject who is in pain and with the power of "one word" offer strength, support, love and empowerment as they describe the truth about the person in front of them. The person on the receiving end of this very emotional exercise is often transformed in front of the group's eyes as participant after participant, word after word, builds, each on the other, into an incredible, life altering experience of pure joy and love. The pressure on each person in the group is minimal as they search for that right "one word" in the knowing that the words that they don't speak, will be offered by someone else. They are only responsible for finding, in their heart, the "one word" that they see at this particular moment and there is no pressure or fear of missing a better descriptive or a more insightful comment. The group dynamic gives each participant the confidence and safety of knowing that the subject of this exercise will feel the overwhelming totality of every one's words rather than analysing each one individually to search for meaning or for what wasn't said.

The other day I received a request from a friend, via email, that is similar in intent to the exercise described above but without the group dynamic, since it is sent to a number of individuals who will presumably, reply singly and without hearing the input of anyone else. This is a tough request as rarely does anyone get described in "one word." They are always a combination of skills, traits, tendencies, qualities, weaknesses, strengths and habits along with a bewildering array of conflicting adjectives, nouns and verbs that eventually add up to the whole person. On the receiving end of this blizzard of verbiage, I hope that the person will get a true picture of their entire wonderful self and read words like intelligent, humourous, beautiful, spiritual, caring, loving, loyal, insightful, graceful, hardworking, interesting, well spoken, articulate, creative, inspirational, charitable, forgiving and courageous. For the senders, to offer but "one word" in isolation, opens them to being entirely too one-dimensional and to a degree of criticism and analysis, along with the probability of second-guessing about what they didn't say, that might detract from their wanting to fill a page with words of encouragement and carefully considered awe of the subject. Anyway, I'm not very often at a loss for words but, in this case, I'm at a loss for one word that could adequately communicate the essence of being for an individual of infinite and impeccable spirit.

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