Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Nine Powerful Words for Preventing Relationship Wars

via Flickr user Moisuer J. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jblndl/283365812/in/photolist-r3jMs-5sRGHP-njCh3-eSUGjE-eKBfkL-9smjfA-8SMsiN-pRN6Bw-9UJ6Gp-7XNfeC-9RVMBg-8QSCVZ-fu57be-9UMcSy-9ULPDW-eDmWUC-9UJ6qZ-7T2DaQ-9ULYm5-pVfPwB-tYaGp-7LVXb1-qSc5uH-dsY76X-4hxSUV-7sX1tC-9ULL8u-8a6MDw-8SJot4-4XMkHt-e4yzyQ-6RfEbc-cZdHk1-8SJo4n-dEk6VG-9QvyW5-9UM94S-fKkBA3-8QgxKx-9ULY79-hKs6LB-9UMd6Q-9ULNxS-7keA6j-9UHZVB-bbud8c-9UHWfX-e7TneH-9UJaga-7enP1m

A couple recently asked me a question about fighting: “We’ve been together for almost 2 years and have not had a fight. What do you think about this?” My response was two-fold. First, what is your definition of a fight? Some of us think of a fight as yelling, screaming, throwing things, etc. A fight for others might be stonewalling, silent punishment, or ignoring the other person. The second part of my answer is that someone, most likely both of them, is lying. Maybe not overtly lying about something, but not fully telling the truth about where they’ve been hurt in the relationship. You can’t be in relationships for any extended period of time without hurting them, or without being hurt.

We can’t avoid hurting people, but we can prevent these hurts from turning into harms, and relationship wars. Want to know how to avoid war? Say these 9 words to the people that matter the most to you:

“I was wrong. How can I make this right?”

That’s it.

Don’t text it. Say it out loud. (As a side note, don’t text anything of substance — texting is too easy, impersonal, and non-vulnerable to say something important)

Don’t try to substitute those 9 words with the generic phrase: “I’m sorry” (which is usually not an apology, but a request for the offended party to be quiet. The word “sorry” means to be “sorrowful.” When we say “I’m sorry,” if it’s true, it needs to mean that “I am full of sorrow for my actions.”). Sorry is a watered down word that rarely means much in intimate relationships.

Don’t judge or shame the offended party’s hurt by telling them what you did wasn’t that big of a deal, or that they shouldn’t feel hurt.

Don’t defend your actions. Let me say that again with emphasis: DO NOT DEFEND. The moment you enter into a defense about why what you said/did wasn’t intended to hurt/be interpreted/etc, you begin the process of declaring war on the other party. The war becomes about figuring out who’s right, and who’s wrong. Defending is the quickest way to escalate a potentially peaceable situation into an all out battle.

Sometimes we people do things that are so hurtful, or harmful, that there isn’t anything we can do to make it right. Those are the situations that need patience, time, grace, and many many conversations. For example, an affair in a marriage cannot be made right in any short amount of time. But over an extended period of time, forgiveness can occur and then reconciliation happens. It is never the offender’s prerogative to dictate the amount of time forgiveness takes.

As with anything in life, if our intention (known or unknown) is control, manipulation, or self-protection, we can abuse the goodness of a phrase like “I was wrong, how can I make it right” and turn it into a way to get something we want.

Admitting you’re wrong is humbling, but it is endearing to the person your have wronged. Asking how you can, if possible, make right the wrong makes you an ally of the person you’ve hurt, not an enemy.

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Sunsets and People


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“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”
Carl R. Rogers

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On Being Needy

I think most people would agree that no one wants to be a needy person. We usually distance ourselves from those who have little to no ability (as adults) to help themselves. The problem is, that we are all people of need, and this is a very uncomfortable position. If I admit to needing something (which is different than wanting), this means I don’t have the ability to self-produce everything for my life.

My inability to self-produce all that I need for my life is evident at every moment of the day. I need oxygen to survive and there is no way for my body to get oxygen without breathing … which is an involuntary action. I can only tell my body to stop breathing for so long, and then it takes over and starts breathing again. I am not in complete control over my body, nor anything else in life.

Our needing help from others is like breathing. If you stop breathing as much, you will become a burden to others. This is the same with our relational and emotional needs—if you stop needing relationship with others, you’ll become a burden. No one wants to be in a relationship with an overly needy or needless person. Sure, we often complain about how needy others are around us, but the reality is some of these needs are exactly what draws us to people. (It used to be that we needed others to tell us what our faces looked like because we had no ability to see ourselves — technology has removed that need, among other things)

I feel useful, which is a sense of self-worth, when I am able to give something that I can do to someone who doesn’t have that ability. Certainly we can get caught up in becoming addicted to helping others (codependency), but at the heart we all need to give away that which is a natural resource within us. Our resources are there not to keep to ourselves, but to share with others. When I’m able to share my natural abilities with others, it’s a gift from them.

I don’t feel all that useful when I’m asking for help. It’s hard and vulnerable to ask for help, but it’s also a gift. If I don’t ask for help, I’m preventing someone else from the ability to share their resources with me. Not asking for help is incredibly prideful and selfish. Relationships won’t last long if you withhold needs.

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Listen twice

There’s a invaluable rule in construction: Measure twice, cut once. If you’ve ever made the mistake of not following this advice, you understand how important it is. One mis cut piece of material can vastly alter the overall structure and finished product.

It takes a little extra time, focus, and energy to do the same thing repeatedly, but when dealing with a $300 piece of wood, it’s well worth the time.

This idea is true for relationships as well … with a little adaptation: Listen twice, respond once. Our response is like taking a saw out and making a cut. It’s putting action to what is being heard and communicated. Yes, it will take some extra time and energy to listen twice, but this will surely save you unnecessary heartache.

Most of us only listen once, biding our time until we can get a word in edgewise. Listening twice might include asking open-ended questions out of a genuine place of curiosity, not to lead the witness. If you don’t feel this genuineness, take a step back until you can be. The great thing is the universality of this concept. It works in all relationships. Try it at work, with friends, or your kids. You might hear someone’s truth instead of responding based on your assumptions.

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The Power of Words

We all remember those times in middle school, around the age of 13, when friends could become enemies in an instant. There was one such time for me in eighth grade. As a shy, do-gooder, and socially conservative kid, I was rarely seen by my friends as a threat or a bother. However, one of my supposed good friends accused me of back-stabbing him by ratting him out to another friend. I had done no such thing, and was quite taken aback when this friend shoved me into a trash can and called me a rat.

I was devastated. It was the first fight I’d gotten in (and it wasn’t much of a fight), and the first time and I’d been accused of being someone I wasn’t. Eighth grade is a cruel time of life, and this was my wakeup call. To this day, I can still remember the feeling of being shoved, called a name, and laughed at by those surrounding me. It’s not painful today, but it is still etched in my memory.

Kids are especially susceptible to taking on the influence of name-calling as they are still in the formative years of their development, both physically and emotionally. The reality is that even though adults are out of their formational years, name-calling is still just as painful.

I’ve never understood the saying “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” When I said it as a kid, it always felt hollow despite the promise of immunity from an older friend. The truth is that sticks and stones AND words will hurt me.

Words can be as sharp as a two-edged sword, as pointed as a dagger; they are as deadly to the soul as any weapon. The great news is that just as words can be used to cause harm, so too can they be used to heal.

For instance, name-calling is one way that we can inflict harm upon someone else. Saying that someone is stupid, an idiot, or other names that I won’t mention here, is in effect an act of violence. Sometimes being hurt by someone is so painful that we resort to name-calling. In effect, we use derogative names to get the other person to feel as hurt as we do.

Harmful words from someone who professes love to us is like a friend offering poisoned water to a thirsty person. It’s a violation of trust, love, and respect. It’s also immature. Children call each other names; not adults.

In the same way that names can be harmful, they can also be healing. We have all been called names by those from our past. Some of us even refer to those names as the gold-standard in our lives. We’re a living library catalogue of words and names people have given us. Some of these names deeply affect our present lives.Trusted friends or a partner can help us to rename ourselves.

Some questions to ask yourself, and a loved one, as you consider this topic.

  • In what ways have I been named, helpfully and/or harmfully?
  • In what ways have I named others, helpfully and/or harmfully? Do I need to make amends for this?
  • What needs do I have from those closest to me in this area?
  • What needs do those closest to me have for me?

One final thought. When the fall happened to Adam and Eve many years ago, nothing was left unaffected. Words are some of the most precious gifts we have in life because it is how we explain and tell others who we are and what we need. One day the brokenness of words, and specifically of names, will also be redeemed. This is the day that we look forward to as a beacon for how to be present today. Be mindful of this and the impact on your choice of words.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Two Words That Don’t Belong in Marriage

On average, women speak around 25,000 words per day. Men clock in at around 10,000 words per day on average. This is pretty fascinating in and of itself, and is great knowledge to have as you and yours navigate communication. Regardless if this is true of you and yours or not, of the thousands of words used on a daily basis, there are two that do not belong in marriage: Happy and Divorce.

These two words will erode the faith and trust that you will work so hard to establish in each other. I have worked with couples who use the word divorce like it was a trusted friend. It permeates their conversations and serves as a road block for them to ever get to the core of their marital problems.

The reason, among others, this word does not belong in relationships is that divorce is an act of destruction. There is no way to candy-coat the reality that is presented with a divorce. If you’ve ever built something and then torn it down or apart, you know that it takes a fraction of the time to tear down than it does to build. The same is true of marriage. It takes years and years of effort and energy to build a foundation of trust, love, and service but only a few moments of ill-timed action to destroy that which was built.

Don’t use “divorce.“ Too often I hear the word divorce used to manipulate and coerce. One of the couples I referenced above was so immune to the effects of this word that even the manipulation had worn off. My first advice to them: Eliminate the word divorce from their vocabulary. You cannot build something when the foundation or end result is in question.

Divorce may seem like an impossibility, but one look at the divorce rate will be sobering. As part of your marriage covenant and commitment, commit to never use the word divorce unless you are willing to follow through with what that means. By follow through, I mean to say that if you do use it you will act accordingly, and be accountable to your use. Do not use it as a threat. If you are hurt, lonely, angry, or sad, then speak to these emotions. Don’t hide behind a culturally acceptable way to escape from the pain and difficulty of life.

The other word that doesn’t belong in marriage is happy. Unlike the word divorce, happy is a word to describe a feeling and is usually not destructive in it’s use. The problem with the feeling of happy is that it’s unsustainable. There are moments and seasons of feeling happy, but it is not an attainable state of being. From a Christian standpoint, nowhere in the Bible are followers of God and Christ told that happiness is a result of faith. We are promised persecution, suffering, and sanctification, but not happiness.

Happiness is a symbol of mainstream culture and is often an idol. It’s an impaired state of joy. Happy is like being entertained and comes from consuming someone or something, whereas joy comes from the acceptance of our humanity and limitedness. Marriage is so heavily influenced by our culture that many get married with the belief, sometimes unconscious, that marriage will bring happiness.

“I’m not happy anymore” is the most common phrase I hear when couples separate and split up. It’s an epidemic. When people get married for happiness, they usually end up miserable or divorced. Disappointment on our own terms is much easier to deal with alone than with another person who was supposed to bring happiness.

Like setting a boundary for the word divorce, I encourage the same with the word happy. Instead of happy, use words like content, glad, joy, alive, desire, aroused, and passion. These all describe emotions that reflect a sense of being alive and awake to what’s stirring inside of us. The fulfilled life is not found through or in any man or woman today.

If it’s happiness you seek, do not get married. You will be disappointed. If it’s real joy, redemption, healing, and sanctification you seek, then marriage might be God’s place for you.

(This article was originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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The 15-Minute Date

(Authors note: This article was originally published in September 2012 at StartMarriageRight.com)

Most couples that I see for counseling have not consistently dated in years. It’s an odd phenomenon that usually happens after the wedding; couples stop dating. The most common reasons I hear and see have to do with the physical proximity of living together, having a difficult time transitioning past the “I got what I wanted, so why pursue” mentality, and lastly the change in priorities after marriage. Regardless of the reason, stopping activities that built the relationship will result in a loss of relationship.

In Western culture, couples don’t end up on the marriage alter without having spent some amount of time getting to know each other. There is usually a progression of attraction, pursuit and acceptance that leads to couples spending time together playing, eating, laughing and living life. These are the experiences that lead to connection which develops into trust and intimacy.

It comes as no surprise to hear a couple in distress mention they haven’t been on a date in many months, perhaps even years. It’s not that distress will be avoided by dating after marriage but the likelihood is reduced.

Some of the most fulfilled marriages I know today are where they are because the couple has made spending intentional time together (dating) a top priority.”

These couples spend time together, away from the normalcy of life, to rest, play and connect.

I’ve seen plenty of couples who’ve lived on both sides of the dating-after-marriage fence. In my own story, once we married I felt like every night was a date, as it was just the two of us at home alone. Why go on dates when we’re essentially doing the same thing at home? The other justification, or excuse, I used was that I had no idea how to be her husband. It was a bit of a personal crisis. I knew what the books and experts said about being a husband, but early on living into that role felt impossible. Prior to marriage, our entire relationship had been about spending as much time with each other as possible. Then we planned a wedding. We hadn’t really spent much time engaging and mapping out what we wanted life to look like after we’d married.

So much planning and work goes into the wedding celebration and honeymoon that couples often return home to the surprise of newly formed roles. They’re no longer living in a “me” or “my” world, but rather in a “us” and “our” world. This is a shock to our natural “me first” belief system.

When couples explain to me that they don’t date, part of their marriage therapy (therapy is rehabilitating something strained, broken or misaligned) is re-learning the process of dating. One of the first tools I use to help them re-learn dating is The 15-Minute Date. It’s a simple yet difficult task where each person gets the opportunity to speak and listen, in alternating roles.

There are two things to note here. First, on average, men typically speak about 10,000 words per day whereas women speak around 25,000. That’s a significant difference. Secondly, and this is more behavioral than gender focused, what I’ve found with most couples is a tendency for one person to be more pursuant than the other. This isn’t always the one who talks more, rather it’s the one who pursues connections in the relationship. The 15-minute date helps to eliminate the spoken-word gap that exists in the gender differences. It also brings equality to the pursuer/pursued dynamic.

How does the 15-minute date work?
Each evening of the work-week, I ask couples to set aside 15 minutes for a date. This needs to be done in a setting that is uninterrupted, especially for those couples with kids. The couple is to choose one person who will speak first, and this is rotated the following evening (allowing both equal opportunities to speak first).

The first person is to speak for 7 and a half minutes about whatever it is they would like to speak about. The other person is to remain silent for the entire time, practicing active listening. The speaker must use first person language (I, me, my), to avoid attacking or jabs at the spouse, and they must do their best to use the entire time to speak

Once the 7 and a half minutes are up, the roles reverse to complete the 15 minutes. The second person is allowed to respond to the first person if he/she wishes, but must use first person language. For example, if the first talker says something to the effect of, “I felt hurt this morning after breakfast because I had to do the dishes on my own.” The second speaker could respond to this, but only with “I” statements (try not to use you, your, or 2nd person language). Using second person language will be felt as an attack to the other person, regardless of intent. These 15 minutes are not for stirring up fights, but to give each person equal time to talk and listen to the other person.

The goal of this date is two fold.
Firstly, it promotes initiative for the speaker and active listening for the listener. These are both vital components of relationships that do not normally develop without intention. It’s amazing how difficult it is to be an active participant in a conversation when the conversation isn’t about you and your thoughts. This is why active listening is a learned concept; it doesn’t come naturally to us.

Active listening means that we suspend our judgements, counter-arguments, attacks, defenses and active thought responses so as to hear, to listen to what the other person is saying.”

Listening means that we don’t assume or “hear what we want to hear” but that we listen to the whole of the other.

Secondly, the 15-minute date promotes honesty and forthright communication. This is by far the most disruptive missing ingredient to relationships in distress. When truth is not being spoken (by truth I am referring to beliefs, opinions, thoughts, insights about me, feelings or actions), there is no grounds for connection or vulnerabilities. In taking 7 1/2 minutes, the speaker is having time to illuminate ideas, thoughts, feelings or anything else that has happened during the day or week they want to talk about. It’s an incredibly selfish act to only talk about me if there is no room for the other person to do the same, which is why taking turns and limiting it to equal time prevents this from focusing on one person.

This activity is simple in it’s concept but takes a lot of time and hard work to master. After the wedding day, it becomes an easy pattern to assume things about the other person. These 15 minutes a day could very well be the difference between a love-filled lifetime relationship and one that ends much like the majority of marriages.

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Q&A About Marriage

Last week I participated as a virtual panelist on a Facebook page for an organization where I’m a contributing writer. This discussion was posted as a Question (below) and then was commented on by myself and the “fans” of the Facebook page. It was a really good discussion, and I wanted to share my responses (which were separate comments, so they don’t necessarily read as a article would) to the questions asked of me. Here they are in no particular order. Chime in if you have additions to these questions.

 

What does it mean to be “one flesh” in marriage?

– For one, it means to put aside living life for oneself for the sake of the other. You cannot thrive in your marriage if you are in it for you. It just won’t work. Becoming one flesh is a lifelong process that will cost you your life, which is why not many marriages make it “till death.” The death of the relationship is far easier than the death of oneself.

– Another way is that it means that together, we create new life. A relationship is the first child of a marriage. It’s birthed the day you meet, and takes the same care and attention that a baby would need. Becoming one flesh means that I bring all of myself and combine it with all of you, creating a wholly new life, a relationship.

– A word of caution about this idea of “one flesh.” When we marry, it’s very easy to “lose oneself” in the context of an intimate relationship. It’s somewhat of a paradox, but it takes two people being fully who God created them to be for a marriage to thrive. By becoming one flesh, we are doing away with selfish ideas, and replacing them with “soul-fish” ideas. Our soul is the place God resides, and that place needs to be protected and offered to the marriage as a gift.

– Sex, the sexual embrace, is far more encompassing than just the physical act. The act of being “one flesh” is celebrated, not created, by the sexual union.

 

What if I get annoyed with my spouse and don’t want to be around him/her?

– There are a couple of ways to look at this. One, to be annoyed could mean that you wouldn’t do “x” the way your spouse does “x”. This might mean that you’re not annoyed, rather you don’t like being out of control or that someone does something different than you. Another way to look at it is that your spouse’s behavior is a coverup for you feeling cramped, trapped, or “shut in.”

– What does the word “annoyed” mean to you? Does it stir up a stronger emotion? My wife has many “isms” about her that have been annoying to me in the past. Most of the time though, I’m not annoyed, I’m feeling something else: Resentment, anger, hurt, lonely, etc. Annoyed, frustrated, disappointed, and some other commonly used words are often vague cover-ups for what’s really going on inside us.

– Also, It’s not uncommon to feel trapped early in marriage, and if we’re not being honest about this, we will find ways to express this trapped feeling. Enter things that annoy us about the other person. It’s not really that they annoy us, but that they are in our space and we don’t know how to live in that space with them.

– If the way you address the annoyance is with an angry or spiteful, sarcastic, or critical spirit, more than likely you were feeling anger and not annoyed.

 

What do we do if family and friends don’t agree with our engagement? 

– Assuming that your family and friends are looking out for your best interest (they love you) then I’d encourage you to give serious consideration to what they have to say. Ask them questions and explore why they don’t agree with your engagement. Is it a moral issue, an opinion, a “sixth sense”? Again, assuming that they love you, ask them to let you know if there are red flags, or just yellow ones. Some other questions to consider: Do they see something in him/her they don’t like, is it a matter of how you’re being treated by your fiance, and what is their solution to their concerns?

– I agree that prayer is a much needed part of this process. And, I would say that the insight your friends and family have to you is unique and needs to be considered. Obviously this is a difficult thing to do when you’re clearly wanting to marry someone, and your family/friends are opposed.

– There are plenty of family systems that do not want their children to “fly the coop.” If this is your family, kindly thank them for their concern and advice, and move along.

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Being Honest with our Kids

A few weeks ago my friend Laurie, who has 4 kids under 6 years old, messaged me with question about using the word disappointed in response to a kids action. “Is it okay to tell your child that you’re disappointed in them?” It’s a question that I’ve considered quite a bit since she asked. On one hand I want my kids to know that what they do and say in life will have an impact on others, myself included, but on the other hand I don’t want them to have to interpret my choice of words to determine how displeased I am with them. Disappointed is a word that I hear quite a bit and even comes from my mouth at times. Since my friend asked me this question, I’ve struggled to understand what the word really means.

Does the feeling of disappointment mean that you’re sad or angry? Ashamed or frustrated? Hurt or resentful? Or perhaps it means annoyed, irritated, or some other somewhat vague expression? These are just some of the words that come to mind when I consider what disappointed might mean. It might be different for you, but I think the response of a parent is the same regardless of the meaning of the word.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to help our kids name and express things about themselves that might be otherwise difficult to access. For example. When one of my kids gets angry at their sister or brother, they often express that anger in very passive aggressive ways. They’ll growl, slyly bump into the other as they walk past, take the object of contention (this morning it was a blue plate), or roll their eyes. All these actions do nothing in terms of naming the emotion that they feel. The other person probably has a good idea that things aren’t well, but it’s guesswork.

Those few examples of passive-aggressive behavior is why I think it’s important for parents to express their own sense of emotional responses towards their kids in a way that is as specific as possible. Telling a child (and by child, I mean someone under 12) that you’re disappointed in their behavior might be truthful to what you’re experiencing, but I don’t think it’s completely honest to what you’re feeling. Try to name the emotion in terms of where the disappointment is coming from — try to identify the core emotion of Hurt, Sad, Anger, Shame, Fear, or Lonely. More often than not, your disappointment comes from wanting/desiring something more for your child and them choosing not to pursue that same desire. Most often disappointment is veiled anger, sadness, and hurt.

One caveat to this is that as kids mature and become more capable to understanding more complexities of life, the use of words like disappointment, annoyed, frustrated, or irritated might be appropriate fodder for conversations. But even then, I’d encourage the exploration and expression of core emotions to support and explain why those are being felt.

 

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Kids, Language, and Wisdom

A few weeks ago I was cooking dinner and noticed that my oldest was reading the dictionary. Curious, I asked him what he was learning. He told me that he’d gotten the dictionary at school and he was just “looking around” and continued to flip pages. I noticed that he had stopped in the “S” section. I had a hunch what he was looking for.

“What words are you looking up,” I asked. “Oh nothing really,” he said with a sheepish and somewhat embarrassed look on his face.

We bantered back and forth a bit until he told me that one of the kids at school had spelled “shit” during lunch and everyone giggled. I asked him what that word meant, and he shrugged saying that’s the word he was looking up in the dictionary.

As we continued talking, it was clear to me that he and his friends were learning new words that had already, at age 8, been deemed “bad” words. Bad and Good aren’t very helpful categories in life, especially when dealing with the immaterial, and thus I wanted to help him understand that words are neither good or bad. I explained that words are like trees — they just are what they are. How we choose to use these words determines if it’s helpful or not. We can use trees to make houses, paper, furniture and a host of other things that can have helpful uses. In the same light, some people could use wood for harmful uses such as arrows, a battering ram, or as a bat/club to hurt someone.

As parents, its our responsibility to help our kids learn how to engage with the world that they live in: Not necessarily to protect them from it. It might have been a lot easier to take the dictionary away from my son, or to tell him not to look up those words for fear of how he might misuse them. But this reaction would only reinforce his curiosity about these words as taboo topics.

Parents need to help their kids deconstruct cultural meanings ascribed to certain words and help them fashion a wisdom-oriented approach to using language. Not everyone who knows the definition of “shit” can be wise enough to know when and how to use it. Sometimes, there are appropriate uses of words that have otherwise been labeled as “bad”, just as there are times where the use of that word can be damaging and harmful to others: It takes wisdom to know the difference.