Mum's the word
What do you say when you can't say what you usually say?
Imagine that one word, phrase, or other bit of “jargon” is permanently banned from discussions of your problem. How might banning that jargon change people’s thinking and behavior?
I love seeing how people respond to this question — it can sort of feel like Alice in Wonderland.
Since I’m more of a wandering teacher than a specialist in any field, I often don’t know the technical jargon of the people I’m working with. I may have only recently learned the specific way their field uses a word like “sustainability” or an abbreviation like “NFT.”
Yet if you take these terms away from people, they often act as if they have lost their ability to accurately describe reality. “If I can’t say NFT, how will anyone know what I’m talking about?” And I think, people — you just explained it to me this morning!
What this feeling of disorientation tells us is that our pet phrases and jargon are powerful symbols of the groups to which we belong (or just as often, hope to belong). When you change the way you talk, you change the unwritten rules of those groups.
But I’m not here to be anyone’s copy editor. The point of this exercise isn’t to actually discard jargon, but to question the assumptions built into it. When you can’t say “non-fungible token” do you say “art” or “software” or “crypto stuff”? When you can’t say “sustainability” do you just end up saying “recycling” — and was that actually what you meant the whole time?
Getting under the surface of these terms can make us all much more honest about the problems we’re trying to solve.
This question is an example of how to explore behavior around a social problem using the configuration dynamic. It’s one of six innovation dynamics I use to help people improve their critical thinking and build strategies for social change. Reply to this e-mail with your answer to the question and we can get to work. Or learn more by visiting http://www.teachingsocialchange.com.