“For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change. Their articulation represents a complete, lived experience.” – Ingrid Bengis

When it comes right down to it, I really love words…and what’s more is our incredible access and ability to create with them in a manner beyond any other time in history. We can use them as a gift to influence another or a multitude…to create a mood, to evoke happiness, motivate us to great levels of achievement…or to close us off and shut down those very same channels of communication. We each have the power to determine how we will use our words…which very often begins with the an awareness of how we use our words and how they affect us and those around us on a daily basis. Words are powerful…

Often, the simplest of words create the most force. Take the word ‘or‘. In Rick DuFour’s seminal work, Professional Learning Communities at Work, there is a reference to the “Tyranny of Or” which he goes on to say is “the rational view that cannot easily accept paradox, that cannot live with two seemingly contradictory forces at the same time. We must be A or B but not both.” In the same book he also refers to the power of ‘and‘. The “Genius of And” is the “ability to reject the Tyranny of Or and embrace paradox. Embracing the Genius of And allows an individual to avoid the choice between A or B and to choose both A and B at the same time. A commitment to simultaneous loose and tight leadership serves as an example of the Genius of And.” Or and And, two very innocuous, yet powerful words.

And yet, I would like to add one more word to that list of simple, innocent and extremely influential words that often affect and hold power over us in subtle and mysterious ways. A common, everyday word that we often fail to acknowledge and/or take into account for its power over our daily decisions and progress. I would like to present…“if”. Or we might refer to as, “If, the Great Qualifier“.

If allows us not to be all in…it is an incredibly safe word. It is the antithesis of risk. If is a safety net. And we use it constantly at our places of work, with our families, and it even weaves its way into our prayers. It makes everything we do safe and risk-free.

If, the Great Qualifier” is the controller of the disrupters and the maintainer of the status quo. How so, you say…

In their book, “Simplifying Response to Intervention: Four Essential Guiding Principles” Buffum, Mattos and Weber attend to the power of if…”but then some educators will start to qualify their responses with ifs: “yes, all kids can learn…if the students want to learn…if the parents are supportive…if our school had more resources…if the district, state, and national policymakers would stop hampering our efforts.” Too often, the “ifs” are all conditions beyond the school’s control, conditions that ultimately release the educators from responsibility for their students’ learning.”

If is a warrior for complacency which we will have to continually subdue and fight against if we want those we lead to embrace new and innovative ideas. Otherwise, if will continue to make us risk averse – both as individuals and within our organizational cultures.

If kills creativity and innovation.

If keeps us in the box.

2 thoughts on “If…

  1. Wonderful exploration of the power of words. I work with educators as well as business people and “if” is indeed “a warrior for complacency” – it is a “back door” people use to escape from personal responsibilty. You have left me pondering whether “if” is more prevalent or perhaps more tolerated in education vs. business. Curious re your view on this.

    Just as you point out “and” as the antidote so to speak if or, what do you think is the antidote to if?

  2. Pingback: What If? « Shelley Burgess

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