Words are Branches, Thoughts are Roots

My face has always been pretty easy to read. Indeed, my wife occasionally tells me that she doesn’t like how I’ve reacted to something, to which I’ll reply, “but I didn’t even say anything!”

“Ah, but you were thinking it.”


We all have versions of this, the non-verbal cues that we communicate irrespective of what we do or don’t say.

The question then arises: when we discover that we’re not showing up how we’d like to the people around us, when we learn that their experience of our non-verbal, energetic responses to them aren’t what we thought they were, what do we do?

Maybe, we think, we should change the words that we say.

Do we feel timid? We can say something confident.

Are we often quick to contradict? We can stay quiet for longer.

Have we been finding a colleague frustrating? We can complement him.

Do we secretly know that we’re not up to this new stretch assignment? We can talk the talk.

All of that is a start, certainly. In fact, often it works to behave our way into new attitudes, not the other way around.

But we can also fall into a root/branch trap here, and never claw our way out. When this happens, we let ourselves off the hook of digging into the underlying thoughts that are what’s really going on.

Where that fear comes from.

That judgement.

The avoidance of a courageous conversation with that colleague.

The skills you believe you don’t have that you so desperately need.

To create real and lasting change in how others experience us, we must begin by observing, with intent and curiosity, where our root thoughts come from. We must bravely drag them out into daylight and see them for what they are.

Then, slowly, slowly, we start chopping away at the roots of our habitual responses.

Without doing this work, we end up hand-waving in defense of the words we said (or the micro-expression that flashed across our face), instead of acknowledging the work we still have to do on the underlying thoughts racing through our minds.

Speaking of which, we’re turning the page to yet another low point in American politics. It seems like soon we will all be discussing whether the President of the United States said the n-word, and then surely, if he did, watching smokescreen discussions of why “it’s just a word” and how we are all overreacting.

Let’s not forget that the real conversation isn’t about the word, it’s about the thoughts that lead to it.

The real conversation is the unspoken truth of the ugly, hateful, dehumanizing root thoughts that give rise to those words, roots that are indefensible and immoral.


One thought on “Words are Branches, Thoughts are Roots

  1. Sasha,

    This is a timely post and one that needs immediate attention. Even before you mentioned “politics” toward the end, I was thinking about that issue the entire time.

    Branches and Roots . . . quite a vivid description for our current “national” conversation where issues no longer matter and personal character is attacked . . . daily.

    I had a nice conversation today with a closer family member where I brought-up the fact that President Regan (Republican President) and Tip O’Neil (Democratic Speaker of the House) would debate “issues” with verbose intensity and then adjourn to the bar for a couple of stiff drinks together. Those days are sorely missed aand today we have no clue what the real issues are as we are only concerned with moral character . . . i.e. valid birth certificates or soundbites catching a leader using a disparaging phrase or word. We’ve totally lost the point and in the process, forfeited the game.

    Truth be told, the SPIN DOCTORS have baited us all to a point where my side hates your side and vice versa and we’ve all swallowed the bait, “hook, line and sinker”. Come on people, we’re better than this pre-Civil War rhetoric, aren’t we?

    To quote Ronald Regan one more time . . . “if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species, from another planet, outside in the universe, we’d forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries, and we would find out once and for all that we really are all human beings here on this Earth together”.

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