Fascinating research from Keith Chen regarding language and economics. As a notoriously bad saver, it’s comforting to know that my native language is at least partially to blame! However, what is more fascinating to me is the idea that the way we speak about things – the syntax that we use – has such a strong effect on how we think about things.
The Bible, of course, speaks to the power of the tongue and some have taken this idea of “speaking things into existence” to an extreme level. But while some believe they can speak things into reality through the cosmos, what we are learning scientifically is that we can at least speak things into existence in our own minds.
The basic underpinnings of ideas like self-esteem and personal motivation rely on this idea that the things we speak to ourselves and the way that we see ourselves can have a dramatic effect on how we live our lives. What if it’s even more complex than we would like to imagine? What if Chen’s findings carry over into every part of our lives? What if, beyond that, the words we speak and the way we speak them combine with our perception of those words to have an even more powerful influence over our lives than we can fathom?
I have long pondered these ideas as they relate to identity. If I’m going to give myself a label and I have certain perceptions of what that label is, do I then adjust myself to fit that label? In other words, if I believe that the label “suburban” carries with it a list of associations – minivans, coaching soccer, 3 kids and a dog – once I move to the suburbs and decide that I am now “suburban”, do I begin to make alterations to myself to adjust to that label?
Perhaps it’s simpler than that. Maybe it can be attributed to other factors like wanting to have a sense of belonging. But Chen’s research makes me wonder. I wonder how the way we speak and think affects our actions. I wonder if our mental “software” – acquired throughout our lives – has us programmed in certain directions.
This talk truly fascinates me. To be honest, I would love to just hang around with this guy and let him talk for a while. I’m certain I would discover much about myself in the process.