One Word Reframing Exercise

One way to explore the Sleight of Mouth pattern of redefining is by making "one-word reframes" of other words. This is done by taking a word expressing a particular idea or concept and finding another word for that idea or concept that puts either a more positive or negative slant on the initial term. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell humorously pointed out, "I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pigheaded fool." Borrowing Russell's formula, try generating some other examples, such as:

I am righteously indignant; you are annoyed; he is making a fuss about nothing. I have reconsidered it; you have changed your mind; he has gone back on his word. I made a genuine mistake; you twisted the facts; he is a damned liar.

I am compassionate, you are soft, he is a "pushover."

Each of these statements takes a particular concept or experience and places it in several different perspectives by "re-framing" it with different words. Consider the word "money," for example. "Wealth," "success," "tool," "responsibility," "corruption," "green energy," etc., are all words or phrases that put different "frames" around the notion of "money," bringing out different potential perspectives.

Make a list of words and practice forming some of your own one-word reframes.

e.g., responsible (stable, rigid) stable (comfortable, boring) playful (flexible, insincere) frugal (wise, stingy) friendly (nice, naive)

assertive (confident, nasty) respectful (considerate, compromising) global (expansive, unwieldy)

Once you become comfortable with one-word reframes, you can try applying them to limiting statements that you encounter in yourself or others. For example, maybe you blame yourself for being "stupid" or "irresponsible" sometimes. See if you can find redefinitions that put a more positive slant on these words. "Stupid" could be redefined as "naive," "innocent" or "distracted," for instance. "Irresponsible" could be redefined as "free spirited," "flexible," or "unaware," and so on.

You might also consider using one-word reframes to rephrase comments that you make to other people. Perhaps you can soften some of your own criticisms of others by redefining certain words that you use when talking to your spouse, children, co-workers or friends. Instead of accusing a child of "lying," for instance, one could say that he or she has "a big imagination," or is "telling fairy tales." Redefinitions can often "get the point across," and at the same time exclude unnecessary (and often unhelpful) negative implications or accusations.

This type of redefining is the essential process behind the notion of "political correctness" in language. The purpose of this type of relanguaging is to reduce the negative judgments and stigmas that often accompany the labels used to describe others that are different in some way. As opposed to being labeled "hyperactive," for instance, a child with a lot of physical energy, who has difficulty following directions, can be called "spirited." Instead of being called "deaf," a person who is hard of hearing is referred to as "hearing impaired." Rather than being called "crippled" a handicapped person can be described as "physically challenged." A person that used to be called a "janitor" might be referred to as a "maintenance technician." "Garbage collection" may be talked about as "waste management."

The intention of such relabeling is to help people view others from a broader and less judgmental perspective (although it can also be viewed as patronizing and insincere by some). When effective, such renaming also helps to shift from viewing and defining roles from a "problem frame" to an "outcome frame."

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