Mindful of Words

Words and thoughts are what you will use to change your beliefs and behaviors.

Tina Bragdon wrote:
More and more I am beginning to understand what you say about the power of our words, the semantics of them, and what they reveal about our thoughts deep down. I used to think long ago this was a bit nitpicky, but really can see what you mean when I really stop and think about it.

I think that awareness (for me anyway) is easier to come by with some of our loaded words like "lazy", "she-he always/never.." and such, but most of us weren't homeschooled let alone unschooled and as such don't realize the impact of being graded, sorted, and categorized from the age of 2-3 or so (ie-being regarded as "toddler", preschooler" and so on). The more I take the word "teach" out of my volcabulary and am conscious of it the better it is for me and the easier it is to see my children's lives as one seamless whole and not divided by subjects.

School in my Head

SandraDodd.com/mindfulofwords (this page, linked before I brought this here)

I still remember one of the times this really hit me. My dd (now almost 14, but maybe only 9 at the time) and her brother and I were at our local Mennonite heritage museum. They had their picture taken in the old fashioned school house posing with a "teacher". The reporter asked my daughter what her favorite "subject" in school was. Without batting an eye, she turned to me and asked, "Mom, what's a subject"? The reporter looked a bit taken aback! I still remember then the impact on me of realizing how different my children's lives are developing from mine, with life as just "life", and not measured by bells, the start of September, punctuated by Xmas and spring break and "is this on the test"! The impact of that is reinforced to me and them as they get older and I and they see their peers disenchanted by school.

—Tina Bragdon
January 2014

Here a link to an argument for letting kids go as long as possible
without knowing about school → "subjects"

Alex Polikowsky, June 5, 2015 (slightly edited):
If I were to name the biggest most important things I have learned discussing unschooling in groups like [Always Learning], I would put at the top :

-Being thoughtful and mindful- stopping to think instead of reacting.

It all started by being thoughtful and mindful of the words I was choosing to write here. That immediately not only spilled out to my whole life but I had to really stop and think.

I thought I was a mindful person but I was not. I thought I was clear and having gone to law school I did learn a lot about how words can make a huge difference. But it was here, when Sandra and others picked apart what I was writing, that I learned.

It has changed my life in so many ways that and it has led me to being more clear, honest, mindful, thoughtful, positive, respectful and peaceful.

I am not perfect but I have come a long way. My marriage had improved tremendously because of it too! My husband is a lot happier and I don't rag on him like I used to.

When I stopped to think which words to use, I also changed how I saw things and became so much more thoughtful.

Alex Polikowsky

"Evidently this is a place to chose ones words extremely carefully."

This was someone's whole post, in a discussion [in 2014]. Seeing it again has made me smile very much:
"Evidently this is a place to chose ones words extremely carefully"

Yes, it is.
This group is a place to choose one's words carefully.

One wonderful thing about that is that if one practices that here, and sees the value in it, maybe she will begin to choose her words more carefully when speaking to her children, or her partner. Her other friends and relatives probably wouldn't mind if she chose her words carefully when speaking to them.

And in other groups, too—a humor group, or Korean drama group, Viking crafts group, puppy-training group—wouldn't it be best to choose one's words carefully?

"Evidently this is a place to chose ones words extremely carefully" was not meant as a compliment or a reminder. It was intended to be insulting, snarky, to intimidate me.

This is in the intro to the group:

POST CLEARLY. Proof-read.
Hundreds of people will read what you write, so make it worth their time.
I do appreciate those who help us keep this group solid and useful. Thanks!
Sandra to someone using words in harsh and loose ways:
Clarity can begin with being careful with the words you use. Thinking about what you write will help you think about what you think!!
original in context, 2011

A mom once wrote:

"Not at all! I wasn't thinking that way at all." That was in response to my having said it involved deprivation to have written that someone might have felt gypped out of a meal.

I haven't had a thought anything LIKE feeling "gypped out of a meal" for at least 18 years, as long as my oldest has been eating anything. That's why I saw it as a deprivational and negative statement.

If food isn't measured and timed, then how could someone really miss a meal, let alone be cheated out of one?

Sometimes what's revealed by a person's writing is not only more than she intended to reveal, but more than she was conscious of having thought. Yet there the words are.

Last week someone wrote me a long letter, part of which was this:

"It took me awhile to realize that your perspective as an outsider gave you a look at things I posted about myself and my family that was better than I could see as I was living it."

Not only do you not need to defend yourself when someone notices what you might have written, but in many ways you can't! You did choose the phrase "gypped out of a meal." It must mean something. And it's not a horrible bad thing, it's just an indication that you're looking for the bad things in the situation. What will be wrong about it? I have that skill/curse too, that I see the worst scenarios. But you can practice being accepting of whatever cool things come along, and providing more opportunities for coolness to unfold.


Someone wrote:
"Still working on choosing the best words to use to express my thoughts."
In the same week, two other things (all different authors) were pulled out and examined .

I/Sandra wrote:

Don't apologize for wording. Accept the spotlight shone on what was written.
-=-Sorry - bad wording! I meant 'shown' rather than taught -=-
-=- "I had to ask her to..." What I meant was: I asked her to...-=-

Words put down by a person came from inside them. They came from thoughts. Words won't be written down that the person did NOT think (not counting typos or glitches).

So don't apologize to the discussion or say "I didn't mean to say that." It's GOOD to know where one is still using ideas that should be abandoned. It's GOOD to see the rough places that can keep unschooling from flowing smoothly.

Joyce Fetteroll wrote
And often when people say "That's not what I meant," it might be true, but those words were vaguely floating about in their heads standing in for the idea. And those words influence how the idea is thought about. "Rug rat" can be said affectionately but it also creates a "Me" and "Alien Creature" idea. If "teaching" is used when "learning" is meant it brings with it a cloud of teacherly ideas that hover around it.

As Sandra said it's good to see ideas reflected back. The clearer our words are, the clearer our thinking can be.

Below is a Sandra Dodd response to someone who had contradicted herself, in a discussion about why her child is lying. It is brought here, though, for the use of the word "semantics":

You are right- for the purposes of being absolutely clear and not having you waste your time by pointing out the semantics of what I said...

Pointing out the words people use is never a waste of time.

Showing people that they have expressed their thoughts in writing in words of their own choosing and posted them is often THE BEST, the most effective way, of moving them from the plateau of *thinking* they get it, because they can recite back the answers, and really, truly, honestly getting it in a way that creates a better environment for learning and being.

The word "semantics" is used like "KING'S X" by people who don't want to really think about what they're writing and thinking.

(later note from Sandra: It turns out that "King's X" is regional, Texas, thing that little kids say when playing tag. You cross your fingers, hold them up and say "King's X" for a personal time out. When you're done with whatever you needed to do, you can just start playing again, or say "I'm in." I didn't know it wasn't universal English-language kidspeak.)

for the purposes of being absolutely clear and not having you waste your time

I chose to spend time on that, no one "had me" do it. That's an important distinction.
It's not a waste of time.

On getting it:


On words:

If people can come to understand why it matters whether they use "teach" or "learn," they can start to get other subtleties and REALLY start thinking their own thoughts, consciously and mindfully.

Saying what one means rather than using phrases without thinking is very, very important.

Hearing what I say as a mom is crucial to mindfulness.

If I don't notice what I say, if I don't even hear myself, how can I expect my kids to hear me?
If I say things without having carefully chosen each word, am I really communicating?


Just Semantics

Once in a while someone says "just semantics." Here's the follow-up to one of those times. Green is Sandra. Black is other moms quoted.

Yes..... but email conversation is a matter of communicating and often that means back and forth, dialogue. Not all back and forth is backpedaling. It's seeing where you left someone behind and trying to clarify retroactively.
This list is more than just an e-mail conversation, though. If two people are trading e-mail back and forth, that's a conversation. This is a discussion with an archive that new readers use to catch up on the topics.

That's not just semantics.

Context plays a part in it, and so do presuppositions, of course. ... With the best will in the world, sometimes misunderstandings and disagreements crop up that are more semantic than real. It makes it interesting and challenging, but sometimes frustrating at the same time.
Here are some quotes from moms. I just grabbed a little chunk of the "if i let" list ( SandraDodd.com/ifilet )

Read them and see whether you think "just semantics."

"My boys are lazy and it seems like if left to their own devices they'd just watch TV and play with toys or computer games all day."

"If I let them they would sit in front of the TV ALL day."

"I have one that would sit in front of the TV all day everyday."

"If left to his own devices, my son would eat sugar all day."

Did the first one not indicate that she believes her boys are lazy?
Did the fourth one not tell hundreds of strangers in public that her son (who is not left to his own devices) would eat sugar all day, if he had the chance?

When someone states something clearly, we don't need to ask for clarification.
Almost always, someone will mention what it seems she wrote and ask whether she might not do better to change her beliefs or practices, but the original statement stands as a matter of public record—recorded, in public, written by someone who chose to write, who knew she was posting in public.


From the AlwaysLearning list, June 18, 2007:
Those who think discussion of terminology is stupid should really be on another list, I think. "Just semantics" isn't a phrase that leads to clarity; it's a shield used by those who have no real interest in words (or probably more likely by those without what Howard Gardner calls linguistic intelligence).

the rest of that is here

And one day on UnschoolingDiscussion:
Some of this is about the anarchy thread, but it's not, really. It's about how these discussions change people's lives.
-=-I didn't really intend to get bogged down in a discussion about the meanings of words.-=-(wrote someone who gets to be anonymous now)
It's not a bog, it's a bouquet!
Words are all we have here, and each poster gets to choose words. **
-=-Rather than saying "dawdle isn't a nice word, you shouldn't use it" I think it is more sensible to say "OK, she dawdled, but is that necessarily bad?"-=-
If you know how we should all post, you don't need the list then.
If more experienced unschoolers believe that it would help you to look at the terminology you've chosen, you might want to consider that they had a reason to take their own time and energy to point it out to you. No one's trying to harm you; people are trying to help you.

2. Expect your beliefs to be challenged. Welcome this as an opportunity to critically examine your own ideas.
4. If you have a belief or practice that you don't want held up to public examination, don't post it to the list.

Those are two of the posting policies. Others are here:

How the Unschooling Discussion can Help You
SandraDodd.com/lists/help (something very nice that Joyce wrote a few years ago)

Things other people have written:


"I have been reading the list and really appreciate that participants give a heartfelt response and not something wishy washy.....There are few places in my world that welcome this."
"Thanks for your wise words and advice.... I'm amazed...
This list...inspire[s] me to be a better mother every day.... Thank you, LIST!"
"...things that you have said to me at times have really been helpful to me—although not always seeming to be so in the first place..."
"... it has really expanded my world in such a good way."
"I find myself googling things more and wanting to know more about EVERYTHING!"
"...I realize that you are "REAL' and tell it like it is and you get a person to really think!"
I have really found this list to be eye-opening and inspiring.




Mindful Parenting

Parenting Peacefully

Phrases to hear and avoid

Words and Thoughts

What is "Just Semantics"?