Hello, Good afternoon, morning, evening – wherever you are in the world right now, listening,
My name is Rivca Rubin, I created Upwording in 2016, and further developed the practice with various fellow thinkers and practitioners. I like to particular thank my collaborator Charles Lauder for his ongoing support and engagement, and Simone Forti whose purely descriptive approach to giving feedback was a seminal experience for me back in the early 90’s, deeply informing my life.
This is the 1st of a series of podcasts to follow, it’s in 3 parts and subsections, about 45 minutes and true pandemic style – home recorded, on my mobile telephone, complete with technical imperfections, additional sounds :-)).
Part 1: A brief Introduction to Upwording
Part 2: The Practice. I will ask some Questions and invite you to make Notes of your responses
Part 3: Insights, Intentions & Invitations
Part 1: Introduction
Words create worlds and Words Change Worlds
“…it’s people and the oppressive systems they uphold that creates social division”Charlene A Carruthers
We are living through a moment of unprecedented change, which holds the potential to abolish systems of superiority and oppression. The systems within which we have been living are neither inert nor inevitable. We can acknowledge our active part in co-creating and maintaining the worlds within which we would like to live.
“We cannot solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it”Albert Einstein
I instigated Upwording, foregrounding focus on words and phrases habitual in our everyday communications, when I kept noticing how much we continue contradict ourselves, without even realising it.
Now I‘m telling you, don’t let anyone tell you what to do!
You Should never say should
Even in ‘Liberate yourself’ style books and podcasts:
To truly be in charge of your life, and stop doing what others tell you too, you must follow this seven-step program.
To liberate yourself from stress, you need to start doing abc, and you have to let go of xyz.
Why you should stop giving advice.
The way we think is shaped by our language and our language by the way we think.
Words and phrases are manifestations of learned, inherited concepts and beliefs milling about in our subconscious terrain and conscious minds. We may not have reviewed these for a long time to check if they actually align with our current ethos and intentions.
As much of the way we speak is habitual, it goes largely unnoticed that through our current use of language, we are inadvertently upholding systems many of us are seeking to dismantle. The practice of upwording starts with raising awareness of the underpinning concepts, intentions, and positions taken, implied in habitual words and phrases, and from here make active language choices to align our language with our intentions. This is crucial if our desire is for fresh thinking to create and support lasting change.
Part 2: The Practice
I will invite you to pause the audio by saying PAUSE.
Please take as much time as you like to respond, reflect and make notes before returning to play.
Let’s take a look at our daily communication with ourselves and each other.
Starting with this question:
How do you not like, want, or enjoy being spoken to?
I wonder if some of the following are among your list
Being ORDERED, PATRONISED, MANIPULATED, JUDGED, BLAMED, ACCUSED, THREATENED, IGNORED or not taken seriously. As if Stupid Wrong or Incapable.
How motivated into action, or to enter into conversation do you feel in response?
Not really? Not at all? You do it because you have to?
What are the actual words and phrases you hear when you feel:
ORDERED, PATRONISED, MANIPULATED, JUDGED, BLAMED, ACCUSED, THREATENED, IGNORED or not taken seriously.
Let’s unpack some of these and look at the terminology used.
In this first session, I will focus on examples of three of these themes:
Orders, Judgement, Blame
First Theme: ORDERS
Orders are Commands and Demands and include phrases such as:
YOU MUST …
YOU NEED TO …
YOU HAVE TO …
Do as you are told!
I invite you write down some of the things you have heard people tell you, you must, have to, or need to do.
And notice how you react.
Yes, it does somewhat depend on the context – with whom and where … I invite you to notice if you tend to veer to one of the following four more readily or frequently.
Do you tend to
This can be a quickfire reaction. You may have wanted to do the task or wanted to engage, though now it’s definitely a NO! When ‘rebelling’ you may think, or even say out loud: Don’t tell me what to do!! Don’t speak to me like that!! Who are you to…? Excuse me?!
Or Do you tend to
When resisting, you’ll do what is being asked, though slower, later, with less energy and zest…possibly with less care, quality, or accuracy.
You engage in the conversation and action, semi-willingly. You feel coerced to and it’s not worth the energy to address it otherwise.
And at some point, in the future, your pent-up frustration may build up into an outburst.
Or do you tend to
When resigning, you give in.
You may be too afraid to say something, or feel it is your duty. You may feel you have no right or power to question or challenge; the consequences could be too high. Your response may be to cower.
Or do you REFUSE to engage?
You walk away
What drives these reactions. What’s going on?
Being or feeling ordered threatens some of our basic human needs, in particular
FREEDOM (in which case we REBEL)
EQUALITY (so we RESIST)
SAFETY (and we RESIGN)
WELL-BEING (we Walk Away)
Having explored your level of motivation and your responses to being ordered to do something,
Do you ever talk to yourself like this?
I must, I need to, I have to …?
How does it feel? What’s the Impact?
Do you find yourself Rebelling, Resisting or Resigning… (in response to yourself?
And Is there anything you, or we, actually have to do?
Let’s explore this
Do we have to get out of bed to go to work, or do we decide to get out of bed to go to work in order to bring in an income?
Do we need to or do we decide and choose to: exercise, eat, work, pay bills, apply for funding, file a report, do homework, rob a bank, walk the dog, meet friends, have a conversation, send emails, pick up the phone, turn up, get drunk, take a break, and so on and so forth.
When we tell ourselves it has to be done, according to whom does it have to be done? Who am I hearing in my head.Whose missives, orders or rules am I following?
You may have noticed how pressure and stress are fuelled, even induced, by an increase in musts, have to’s and should’s, especially when deadlines are looming, or something unforeseen happens. We currently live in a culture where ‘productivity’ is such a strong driver, and stress equates with productivity. Stress is almost celebrated. Yet, we know working under stress has high costs, affecting health and quality of life. Decisions are made hastily, almost everything becomes a ‘have to’. It can feel like living outside of ourselves.
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”Lena Horne
And we may really find ourselves in situations where we have little to no control over what happens to us. In this case, quoting Victor Frankl,
“The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s response in any given circumstance.”
Archie Williams, falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit for 27 year, released in 2019, asked ‘how did you get through’?
“Freedom is of the mind. I went to prison, but I never let my mind go to prison.”
And, do you ever talk to others in this way?
Do you ever unconsciously, or intentionally, coerce, try to force someone, by telling them: You must…, you need to… you have to do it now!
How effective is it?
And if you succeed, and you’ve ‘made them’ do it, is there a cost?
To you both?
So, on one hand, when it comes to ourselves we are quite clear about ‘Don’t tell me what to do!’
When it comes to others it seems quite easy to slip into versions of ‘Do as your told’, ‘Do as I tell you’.
And then there are the subtle versions of hierarchical positioning; I let you speak, allow them, we empower people, enable them, give them space …
And what about that hypothetical demand?
‘What you should do is…’, or ‘You should have done it like that’ or ‘It’s obvious, what should be done’
How do these land on you?
It can seem that the person delivering a should is taking a moralistic high ground; they know what is right, good or better for you and bestow their wisdom upon you. ‘Shoulds’ run a high risk of being heard as implications of stupidity, or wrongness when referring to something in the past. Especially when dispensing advice is un-invited.
and, do you ever ‘Should’ yourself?
And Is this internal moralistic voice effective?
Do you do as you tell yourself you should do? Willingly or Begrudgingly?
Or you just don’t seem to get around to doing it. And then do you feel guilty for not doing it, not keeping it up, doing it half-heartedly?
MORALISTIC ‘Shoulds’ and ‘should have dones’ beget resistance and can really breed guilt. And guilt festers.
How can we upword should’s, musts, have and need to’s?
To start with let’s ask:
Do I actually WANT to do this?
Am I / are we prepared to?
Would you be willing to… ?
And I may decide, No I don’t want to, I’m not willing to, actually I like to do it … differently.
A conscious YES choice sounds like:
We really want to do x,y,z
I will do it
I would love to…
I choose to go work because I love our holidays.
I am prepared to exercise regularly because I like feeling flexible and toned.
We want to complete the application because we like to launch the projects, and receive funding to do that.
I want to turn up to the meeting, I want to contribute and hear updates.
I pick up the telephone.
How does that sound and sit?
Instead of pressure and stress, there is a calm.
A friend once said:
“When I live out of having to, or need to, I externalise and give up control and responsibility. When I choose to, I take control of the task, and responsibility for the impact.“
We stand in choice
An exception around Musts, have tos, need tos, and Shoulds:
If your intention is to get someone to do something, to make them listen, tell them, force them, you are taking an authoritarian position
If instead you are inviting them to join you in something that you find really exciting or important, that is very different, and sounds more like: We must come together on this, we should not long to return, you really need to visit this place, hear this song, see that film. Those are impassioned, rallying invitations.
Here telling turns into inviting. We can really hear and feel the difference.
2nd Theme: JUDGEMENT
Judgments are Evaluations of a Person’s Identity, or Behaviour, Action or Event.
We might call them Labels, verdicts, even diagnosis.
The judgement is in the Dots that follow
YOU ARE… You are a …
IT IS… or That was …
You are the type of person who …
Question: What are some of the negative judgements you have heard people say to you that start with ‘You are…’? You are the type of person who …
And What are some of the negative judgements you have heard people say about the things you do, say, create, produce, like, believe, starting with: ‘It is…’ ‘The way you did that was…’ ! That’s just …. !
And How have you tended to respond when you’ve heard these?
Rebel ? Don’t tell me who I am, what I like, what i think … don’t squeeze me into a box. Did I ask you for your opinion?
Resist ? Well that’s only because …. , they give me all all the info, I think you didn’t see the whole thing, … that was an exception I’m not usually ….
Resign? You believe it, increasingly don’t trust your own sense of what you do. Your confidence in your abilities erodes.
Refuse to engage. You give no response, ignore the comment.
Do you ever judge or label yourself?
“I am a ….. I am a such a …. , I am not the kind of person who can … ” I’m rubbish at ….” I’ll never be a good …
What impact do these self-evaluations have on you?
I’d like to share a quote from Marshall Rosenberg:
“The most violent thing we can do to ourselves is to think about who or what we are.
The second most violent thing we can do to ourselves Is to think about what others think about who or what we are.
The third most violent thing we can do to ourselves is to feel guilty about thinking about what others think about who or what we are.”
And, Do you ever label and judge others?
“You are a …”
“You are this or that type of person”
As a …… you would think that, believe that
“They are … ”
They are not like us!
This is the basis of othering, and it’s divisive.
“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”Mae Jemison
And let us not limit ourselves by job or vocational titles and role labels.
Judgements, labels, evaluations are assumptive, definitive and even predictive. These verdicts limit and divide us. If we believe them they can turn into self-fulling prophecies, and be crippling / debilitating.
“There is no view from nowhere.”Honi Fern Haber
When Personal beliefs, preferences and opinions are presented as facts, or universal truths.
If I deliver my opinion as universal truth, I (consciously or unconsciously) I assume a hierarchical position as an expert, knowing what is great, terrible, the best, the worst, good or bad, right or wrong, normal or not normal. Notice how easy it is to be drawn into agreeing or disagreeing, be drawn into thinking of this or thatoption. Polarisations are often at play in this thinking, erasing variety and multiplicity. This can easily create static back and forth dialogues; That was a great event! No, it wasn’t, it was awful. And then we go into convincing: It was great because … . Well I thoughtit was awful because … . , back and forth and may end in, well … You’re are wrong, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Sharing Upwording in many countries around the world, with people of differing ages, backgrounds, jobs, cultures, religions and political views …
I’ve not yet met anyone who says: “I know what I think and what I say is wrong.”
Each one of us believes in what we believe at that moment.
And what about Complimentary Positive Evaluations?
Even complimentary judgements can have a huge damaging impact. Hearing what a genius you are, or how amazing you are at something, can create massive pressure; pressure to perform, live up to, achieve, maintain. It becomes harder to accept anything less than perfect, and a fear of failure can seep in.
Positive judgements can also create dependency or addiction to external affirmation. What happens when there is an absence of; that’s a great question. Well done. You are amazing. The gold star.
Reward and Punishment strongly rely on these identity and behavioural evaluations.
You are bad and need to be reprimanded. If you do well, according to me, I will reward you.
Again to note: If my intention is just to express how much I enjoyed the film, rather than presenting my evaluation of it’s greatness as the truth, then this is likely to be heard as an expression of my enjoyment, regardless of the words I use.
How could we upword judgemental language?
First, I take OWNERSHIP of my PERSPECTIVE
quite simply by just describing what I see or saw, heard or noticed, liked or didn’t.
I saw ….
I heard …
I Experienced ….
I really enjoyed
I didn’t appreciate…
I noticed that for me…
I felt joy when I saw your painting, I really like it.
We could also add context and say:
‘From my view ….’ ‘I currently believe…. , and prefer…’
This is much more likely to facilitate an exploratory conversation where I hear your view, you hear mine, and we may even adapt our original takes. We remain open to listening, seeking to discover multiple views, perspectives and experiences.
3rd Theme: BLAME
YOU MAKE ME FEEL xyz
THEY MADE ME DO …
It makes me ….
You give me no choice but to …
When someone says you made them feel or do x,y, or z, who are they holding responsible for their feelings, or actions? YOU! You therefore can and MUST change in order for them to feel or do differently. You most probably feel blamed for their feelings or actions.
How do you tend to react when feeling blamed or accused?
If you Rebel – your reaction may be quite retaliatory: How do you think you made me feel for the last year?!?!?
You may become defensive, begin to justify, explain, or deny your involvement, part or actions. It’s your problem, your fault, your mess! No I didn’t. It wasn’t me. Not my generation. That was decades ago.
You apologise – believing it must be your fault. You may even apologise knowing it is not, simply to keep the peace.
In my experience, RESIGNING is the most erosive to our sense of self; it scrapes away at the confidence in your own actions and decisions.
You Refuse to engage altogether?
Can I really make you feel a particular feeling? Can I guarantee a particular feeling response?
Sure, we can aim to incite a response by what we say or do, the question here is: does everyone respond with the same feeling? Or do we each have different responses to the same stimulus: one person feels angry, another may be shocked, yet another sad or scared, and another may just shrug it off.
When I apportion blame for my feelings and responsibility for my actions to others, I render myself powerless, and disenfranchised to affect change. My feelings and actions are not in my control, they are created by others. It is your doing, it’s their fault. ‘They’ are to blame. When the power is over there, it is not here, “there is nothing we can do about it, they have to sort it out for us“.
This Cause – Effect thinking is the route of the blame seeking, and finger pointing, we have become so accustomed to in society. It can be quite inflammatory resulting in a battle, denial, and counter blames. We can see this in politics, social media, homelife.
The ‘cause’ is ‘my interpretation’ of your actions or words,
the ‘effect’ is how then ‘i choose to react’ to my interpretation of your action or words.
This is hugely informed by my particular layers of life experience.
Let’s hear that again in slightly different words:
My interpretation of your actions and words
informs what I feel and how I react
based on my personal life experiences.
“You don’t make progress when you stand on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining, you make progress by implementing ideas.”Shirley Chisholm
Even when complimentary – ‘You made me feel really happy’ – I am placing the responsibility for my happiness outside myself.
This can incite pressure for you to maintain my happy feelings, and result in feeling responsible when I’m not feeling happy
We may also begin to believe that we can’t be happy without the other person, or their particular words or actions.
HOW DO WE UPWORD THIS?
Firstly, I check my intention when I want to share my feelings about something related to you with you:
Do i want to blame, accuse, shame, educate, reprimand or punish you?
In which case I will present my emotional state in a cause-effect statement, which will most likely result in your denial, justification, or counter blame…rather than conversation.
Or do I seek a conversation for us to find a different way to do this, a different approach in the future?
If so, I take the blame out of it, and shift the concept of
CAUSE & EFFECT to one of
RESPONSE to STIMULUS
I describe my response to the observation I made (not my interpretation).
Instead of ‘you made me feel…’ I say, ‘I noticed I felt… when I heard you say or saw you do … . Here i use the words I actually heard you say or describe what I saw you do. For instance, when I heard you say ‘go away’, or saw you leave the room while I was speaking with you, or noticed the report was not with me on Friday as we had agreed.
And then I ask what went on for you ?
I take interest in what took place for you. I become curious, rather than furious.
When heard, we tend to feel acknowledged and respected, and much more likely to engage in a conversation that can pave the way to co- explore an alternative, a way forward that suits us both, that can work for all involved. It may be immediate, It may take quite some time and negotiation, yet the very act of co-seeking solutions, moves us, together, co-choreographing potential scenarios and co-creating the future.
Part 3: Insights, Intentions, Invitations
I’ve not yet met anybody who feels motivated being ordered what do do (unless agreed to being ordered)
likes being judged negatively as to who or what kind of person they are, what they think, like and don’t like, feels supported when told how they should have done it, responds well to being blamed, engages constructively in conversation in response to being accused.
I’ve met many who say they accept being told what to do by a boss or parent, especially if it makes sense to them or if it is part of their job. And Still, they report a reduction in their motivation, when ‘being told’ rather than being asked.
I have met few who remain in the conversation with openness and curiosity, when accused or blamed. It takes a lot of deep breathing, mindfulness, emergency self-empathy, calmness and a super dose of ‘curious’ to remain grounded and take the opportunity to explore. That’s practice. That’s Upwording practice. Peeling off the delivery, to engage with the heart of the content. Courageous conversations.
So, coming to a close
To establish and maintain control, authoritarian systems require obedience, and the terminology to enforce it. Ultimately, the examples and themes we’ve covered in this session are verbal manifestation of these systems. Upwording addresses this terminology and suggests shifts that assist us in building more Egalitarian Systems and nurture Distributive power.
Let’s take the hierarchical rug out from under our feet
I invite you to Imagine
what could happen if we…Ceased promoting obedience,
And trust we can make conscious responsible choices mindful of others.
What could happen if we chose to leave behind the dualistic binary polarisations of right or wrong, good or bad, ideas of ‘normal’, positing our subjective preferences as the objective truth?
and make room for variety, multiplicity, shades, and become more comfortable with ambiguity, new to me, and not knowing yet ?
What could happen if… no one would blame anyone for anything?
If we took responsibility for our actions, decisions and feelings, responding instead of reacting.
And approached conversations with curiosity and the intention to co-create mutually agreeable solutions.
When upwording, curiosity and the want to explore are fundamental when communicating with others. Keeping these intentions alive in the face of criticism and challenges is crucial in the practice of Upwording. This means practising responding rather than reacting, inviting instead of telling, and describing replacing interpreting. From what I have learned and experienced when observing and mediating conflicts, the yield to adapt thinking and change behaviours, comes about when the person feels heard, respected and accepted because someone really listens with kind ears and an open heart. Then realisations and epiphanes land or arise.
Changing habits requires conscious effort and motivation. UPWORDING IS the practice to do this…
Through upwording we can Raise our Awareness and curiously question our Position, Attitude and Approach, Concepts, Words and Phrases
Moving ‘From Power Over to Power With’ Mary Parker Follett
Upwording is a radical liberatory practice, rooted in Non-Violent Communication and informed by many approaches, and thinkers to whom I remain grateful for their contributions.
I leave you with this quote by Sonya Renee Taylor
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, My friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
We can solve these problems with different thinking to the one that created them.
Upwording can lift our thinking quickly, facilitating a collective re-imagining of what else could be possible, to action towards more satisfied, invigorated and sustainable interactions; relationships; family lives; workplaces; societies; cultures; a desirable global world for all.
Words change Worlds
mine – yours – ours
if you would like to join upwording practice sessions, please visit upwording.com or
email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
They are weekly, co-led, and launch Friday July 3rd 16.00 CET, 15.00 GMT. And they are free :-)).
Thank you so much for listening and engaging.
43.46 mins plus pauses