The right words

07-07-2021

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A good communicator should never miss the right words. About 2.5 thousand years ago, Confucius indicated the rectification of names as the main goal of politics

“What I mean is…”: find the right words to express an idea or a feeling isn’t always an easy task, whether it is a personal conversation, a business talk or a political speech. Lots of misunderstanding come from the difficult matching of nomen (Latin for “name”) and res (Latin for “thing”), and it is frequently requested to intervene after the fact to solve a disagreement, amend a statement, blow out the fire that might have inflamed social media in the meantime.

Why can’t we translate our thoughts into appropriate words? According to Confucius, three main mistakes can be made when talking. In his book I quattro maestri, the philosopher Vito Mancuso reports the first one is haste, if we say something in the wrong moment or without an adequate knowledge. Then we have omission, when we don’t talk but we should do so. Finally, there is blindness, that is the inability to adjust our wording according to the scenario and the audience (or the inability to harmonize with our target, just to use some marketing jargon).

The difficulty of finding the right words can complicate personal relations, but consequences might also be serious in the office, at school, in a public debate, on TV or social media. As the tongue is mightier than the sword, communication should always be handled with care and responsibility, carefully evaluating the impact of what is said, when, where and how.

In Passeggeri notturni, Gianrico Carofiglio writes: “The words we use can have a powerful impact on our personal lives, as well as on collective ones. Words create reality, make – and destroy – things; they are facts whose consequences should be foreseen and prepared to face, both privately and publicly.”

A good communicator should always name things in the right way. Confucius meant this as a fundamental skill of any politician. In the Analects, where his learning is witnessed, there is an episode – again reported by Mancuso – when Confucius was asked what he would do if he was a governor. He didn’t hesitate and answered he would rectify the names: “If names do not correspond to their meaning, conversations do not correspond to reality. If conversations do not correspond to reality, what you achieve cannot be a real attainment.”

At the end of the day, you are what you communicate.