Sunday, December 4, 2011

From Victim to Victor

[This article appears in the December issue of The Life Skills Magazine.]

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
–A Course in Miracles

I once watched a nervous young lawyer make his case in an appellate courtroom before a panel of three judges. The lawyer clearly had the superior legal position and the judges kept interrupting him to assure him that they understood his argument. What they really meant was, “It’s almost lunchtime and we’re hungry. You’ve already won, so just stop.” But the lawyer was inexperienced and did not get the hints. So when he inadvertently made a misstep, the now grumpy judges pounced. They began to challenge him until he painted himself into a corner. Finally, one judge took pity and said, “Counselor, don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Words. Our words are powerful and send out energy that calls back to us matching energy. Like an echo. A tragic example are the horrific deaths of Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, who were killed in Alaska while studying bears. An audio recorder that was left running revealed that one morning a bear attacked Timothy and killed him as Amie screamed and continued screaming even after the bear left. Soon after, the bear returned and killed her, too.

Experts speculated that Amie’s high pitched squeals were eerily like predator calls, devices used by hunters to lure predators out into the open. The predator calls mimic the sounds of an injured animal.

Of course, no one knows for sure whether she actually “called” the bear back to her, but we do know that our voice is an awesome gift, to be used for good or ill. We are all familiar with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. While we might not be calling man-eating predators out of the shadows, we sometimes use our words, intentionally or carelessly, to send out harmful energy, which will then be reflected back to us.

You might immediately think about manipulative lies or malicious gossip or angry attacks. But what about veiled criticism or insensitive remarks? We don’t always hear ourselves or realize how our words sound to others. Sometimes my daughter will just blurt out whatever pops into her head, including things that hurt. When I react, she defends herself with, “But that’s not what I meant,” or, “I wasn’t thinking.” Too late.

We are even less likely to recognize the harm in voicing negative thoughts about ourselves, especially if we see the comments as funny or self-deprecating. There was a thankfully short-lived teen response to making a mistake – “Oh, I’m stupid.” When any of my kids would flippantly say this, I would cringe.

We often think of words like that as harmless, or even desirable. At a women’s retreat I led in October, I was struck by how difficult it was for some women to use positive words to describe themselves. When asked to describe themselves the way they would be described by the person who loved them more than anything in the universe (this could be a parent, dearest friend, God, their dog, anyone), there was a palpable discomfort in the room. Describing themselves in glowing terms seemed not only unfamiliar, but even wrong, smacking of pride and arrogance. Much better, they thought, to minimize their gifts, to deny their talents, to put themselves down.

But false modesty is just that – false. Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee was once asked if he was really “that good.” He replied, “If I say yes, you will think I am arrogant. But if I say no, you will know I’m lying.”

The Bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Far from feeling arrogant or prideful, I am brought to my knees in humility and gratitude when contemplating this precious gift of human life, a gift that is not mine alone, but is generously bestowed on each of us, binding us together in our shared magnificence. I want my thoughts and words to reflect that light of glory. The energy that we send out with shining words is indeed powerful beyond measure.

Okay, but what about the times when we really do feel stupid, incompetent, ineffective, unattractive, unsuccessful, unlovable, or unloving? We all have thoughts like that sometimes. But we don’t have to give those thoughts power by voicing them. On the contrary, we can voice the opposite. We can speak the thoughts that will express and therefore attract what we want for ourselves.

As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “Fake it till you make it.” When I suggested this in a workshop, someone objected to the concept, saying that it wasn’t authentic or honest. Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says that’s true only if we are deceiving ourselves. Rather, even “though we know exactly what we feel, we make the aspirations in order to move beyond what now seems possible.”

We can choose with our words to be a victim or a victor. We can speak our greatest destiny. We can shine like stars.

Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. ... And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
–Marianne Williamson


  1. Thank you for the inspiration. I really need this today!

  2. Good Morning Galen, wanted to share with you an award that was given to me, I now give to you: Thank you for always being so kind and encouraging when you stop by my blog: Your blog is always so beautiful and interesting: Thanks for all the wonderful experiences I find in your blog: Happy Monday: To obtain this award, just go to my "today" posting and copy and paste: Thank you so much for your happy tracks across the pages of my blog:

  3. I needed this today as well after a horrible weekend dealing with my daughter. Her words cut through me every time because I let them. I took down all her photos and felt better.

  4. "Your playing small does not serve the world" is a tremendously important sentence from Ms. Williamson. Men tend to be unable to talk about their shortcomings, while women are often just the opposite. I assume that inability to accurately talk about ourselves in an open and honest way is a cultural thing.

    As you note so well, such an approach doesn't help anyone.

  5. Artists often speak of their "ability" as being separate to themselves. As though what they do comes not so much from themselves as from a higher source. Recognising our God given talents and acknowledging them as a gift [and something apart from the ego] allows us to really shine our light on the world.

    Beautifully written Galen... so much to ponder here :-)

  6. I remember well at a Nonviolent Communications training session a respondent was trying to figure our a conflict with her child and the leader stopped her and said, "tell me exactly what is going on in your head right now - what are you telling yourself?"

    The woman rattled off quite a litany but we were all comfortable with it, because we would have being doing the same in our heads...
    The leader told us that to do NVC well, one would need to stop talking to ourselves that way, even if we did not voice it. It was a great lesson for me.

    My hair is falling out again and my body is very swollen with inflammation - I do not look like myself. So I have started every time I pass a mirror saying to myself - "Hello beautiful, I see your kindness shining through"
    I felt very comfortable going to a meeting this morning with a cute new hat and it enabled the true me to shine has taken several weeks of practice, but what a good practice
    Thank you for you kind words and story telling

  7. Great post Galen - I have written similar blogs on the "Power of the Word" - amazingly powerful how we speak and statements we put out there.

    I just read today a cute story about the ECHO - the sound reflection comes back to us in the same verbage when we hear an ECHO - I AM LIGHT, I AM HAPPY, I AM BLESSED, I AM JOY, I AM LOVED...


  8. Thank you for the reminder to fully live and be who we are created to be...playing small does not give glory to our Creator.

  9. Good day Galen....I loved the last quote "" Shine as children do" know that is so true if a child is nurtured and raised with love he or she will think they are simply spectacular......too bad as adults we often loose that ability. As usual....your post is another eye opener!



  10. Bonnie--So glad it was timely. Thanks for your comment.

    Ronda--Thank you so very much for the kind words and for the award. I'll be right over!

    Roberta--I'm so sorry to hear about your challenges with your daughter. That is painful indeed. I hope for healing and peace for each of you individually and together. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Bob--That is an interesting observation about men and women. And an insightful one. Maybe there is something to that Mars/Venus theory! I'm joking but only partly. You've given me something to think about more deeply. Thanks for your comment.

    Jean--That is so interesting! I'm going to ask my sister the artist about that. I wonder what her view is. It does seem like when we are shining forth with our talents, we are in an "ego free zone." Thanks for commenting.

    Patricia--I am going to find out more about NVC. Thanks for alerting me to it. And thank you for sharing the story about the training and your own story as well. I appreciate your comment.

    Nancy--I have read some of your excellent writing on this topic. Great comment about ECHO. Thanks for commenting.

    Alida--I completely agree. Thanks for your comment.

    Jo--Our minister gave a sermon once with the theme "shine like stars." I loved the phrase and his enthusiasm when he said it. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Oh gee do I even believe this! Sometimes even when we think that we're just having a nice conversation with a friend, and perhaps use a comment that we've grown up hearing, and don't even think anything of it, then the friend we're talking to is hurt by our comment...I did this once, and will forever remember how she made the remark that I had hurt anytime I attempt to say that again, I'm stopped by her words.....I used an old expression you hear often, (we were discussing yard sales) but no more! Words do matter in so many ways!

  12. I have experienced the power of words in my own self-talk...Once I changed from negative to positive..I saw the change in myself. Always inspiring, Galen Pearl..thank you. Am sharing this!

  13. Karen--I know, I've done it, too. We all have. So trying to be mindful is the best we can do. I saw this question once -- Is what I'm about to say an improvement on silence?! Thanks for your comment.

    Corinne--Great! The more people who start listening to themselves, the more powerful we'll all be! Thanks for your comment.

  14. Great post, Galen. I don't know about the bears but I like the "victor over victim." And it's soooo much easier. I played victim once, but I learned fast. :)

  15. Ahhh, yes---words of wisdom that I need to ponder. Thank you!

  16. Hello Galen

    How are you?

    Thank you so much for contributing to this month’s edition the life skills magazine. It's an honour and I really appreciate it.

    I enjoyed the article and pondered a bit on the tragic story in the beginning but the fact is words play an important role in how our lives are shaped.

    I’m not a fan of false modesty but again where do you draw the line?

    I think one should always imbibe the concept of being slow to speak i.e. being considerate in the use of words rather than just blurting out anything that comes to mind.

    It’s definitely an attribute one should desire and work on.

    Once again thanks for taking time out to write the article for the magazine.

    Take care and enjoy the rest of the day.

  17. Manzanita--Yeah, that bear story was too strange. I saw a documentary about it. Thanks for commenting.

    Clint--You're welcome. Thanks for your comment.

    Ayo--Thanks so much for inviting me to write an article for your magazine. I have been enjoying reading the other articles. What a great thing you are doing! And thanks for your comment.

  18. If we could only hear our own voices echoed back at us I think we would be really shocked.

  19. Hi Galen,
    Congrats on being in Ayo's magazine.

    Lol on the Lawyer and the Judges story,I could see it now. Hurry up already, were starving!

    Everything in the world at it's deepest level even beyond energy is sound. So, that would mean that words really can cause harm to another.

  20. Another well-written post! It is true. I have found that those with a tendency to tell debilitating stories having a hard time trying to say any positive descriptions about themselves. Still, it can feel rather inauthentic saying what we do not truly feel. The best way forward is to apply some emotional release techniques to gain some level of peace first. Then, repeating positive affirmations do not seem too far of a stretch.

  21. Nicole--Good point. Like hearing our recorded voice that doesn't even sound like us! Thanks for your comment.

    Justin--Thank you! Yeah, I felt sorry for that poor lawyer. He won anyway, though! What an interesting perspective about everything being sound. Can you tell me more about that? Thanks for commenting.

    Evelyn--I agree that there is a murky area between fact and fiction, but I like Pema Chodron's take on it in terms of acknowledging how we feel while at the same time voicing our aspiration about how we want to feel. The bottom line, though, is to be honest with yourself. Thanks for commenting.

  22. Just what I needed today - Thank you!

  23. Hi Galen. Our words are powerful because they magnify what is already in our thoughts. If we think something enough, we can't contain it. We eventually speak it. It just reenforces our mindset in a given situation and our perception of the world responds accordingly. Great post.

  24. You've no idea how much I needed to hear this today. Thank you. :-)


  25. Excellent Words for me this morning Galen! Excellent! Bravo Bravo ....and again Bravo!

  26. Rochelle--You're welcome! Thanks for your comment.

    Bryan--Your description of the power of words is so clear. Thanks for commenting.

    Pearl--You're welcome. Glad it was timely. (Love your name!)

    Rhonda--Thanks for the kind words!

  27. I love this, has made me smile and realise I need to be more positive about myself. Thank you x


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