Words create worlds

Sometimes people boil Wittgenstein’s core theory about language and the creation of meaning down to the phrase ‘words create worlds.’ Stories are how we create meaning and find our place in the world. We tell stories about ourselves all the time, some of them helpful (“I’m good at that,” or “I bet I can learn how to do it”) and some of them less helpful (“I’ll never be able to do it,” “That person always gets in the way”).

We also tell stories about others. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted talk about her experiences going to college in America and confronting American stereotypes about Africa is all about the limitations of only seeing another culture through the lens of a single narrative rather than a rich tapestry. Fortunately, we have the power to identify gaps in our stories about ourselves and others in order to build more fulfilling relationships and create new possibilities.

How do you recognize when you’re telling a story about yourself, or about someone else? Often it involves opinions that are stated as though they are facts, or superlative statements: “I am…” “They always…” “She never…” These might be true, but if we question the assumption we often find that there might be alternative narratives to explore there. Once we recognize the story, we can choose to tell it differently.

How do you want someone to react to the story you’re telling? If you were telling it to someone else, would you tell the story differently? How might looking at the story differently open up new possibilities? What might transform for you through seeing the story in a different way?

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