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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I


June 3rd, 2019

A virtue of language is that there are many ways to say the same thing.  Though these different ways might in essence communicate the same thing, each way imparts a different flavor that can greatly alter the way a message lands.


Doctors are phenomenal in this regard.  When talking about test results, doctors don’t say “You’re healthy,” they say “Your test results were negative.”  Imagine for a moment a teacher in high school saying this to a student. . .


An area where this strange flip-flop nature of language’s flavor can benefit us is failure.


How shall we say it?


I failed?


How can ‘I failed’ be rephrased with a different, better flavor without losing the meaning of the message.


Perhaps we can say:


I did not succeed.



This means the exact same thing as I failed and yet it imparts a wholly different flavor.


One leaves it more open-ended, the other is a conclusion.  This later way that frames failure in terms of success is also phrasing the situation with a positive word.  We hear the word ‘success’, which is inherently positive. To help us wonder what sort of effect this flavor has, we can test it immediately in this way:










don’t think of a pink elephant. 






What do you think of? 


A true absence is impossible to think of, so even though there was no success, there is a ghost of the idea, and more importantly there is an absence of a far more negative way of phrasing the same exact thing: we do not hear the word ‘failed’.


Any effort to achieve something positive is inherently a success over inaction, so even if our efforts do not produce our imagined result, there is still something tiny to celebrate – the fact that we tried.  This tiny positive kernel can perhaps be very important during a time when we have to reorganize our idea of how things work, since our efforts didn’t work out the way we imagined.


Language is full of small subtle hacks like this.  Another one is explored in Episode 100 regarding the word ‘yet’.


Such small flavors might seem innocuous or too small to be concerned about, but we need only think of actual flavor, of foods, and how often the smallest subtle addition can suddenly bring a meal to life.  That secret ingredient as the mythical meal always has.  


We must also remember the phenomenon of compounding interest.  Small changes, repeated over and over, add up in ways that go far beyond our intuition.


Who can tell just how much radical good might bloom from phrasing our language in more virtuous ways.



This episode references Episode 100: Yet, a Way Out of the Box

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 414: Not Successful

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