Simple Words

simple words on stonesI love words – their meanings, associations, and symbolism. Finding the right word, the best, juiciest word to communicate and express an idea or feeling is very satisfying. I enjoy looking up the meanings and etymology of words, and always feel illuminated in my understanding of whatever word I’ve explored.

Sometimes the words that intrigue me are sophisticated, esoteric. But lately, I’ve been thinking about simple words, short, pedestrian, everyday words. Common words that are used all the time that might not catch the ear, but which still have the capacity to inspire and inform.

The first simple word is good. Think for a moment about your own definition of this word, of your associations with it. I have to admit a certain initial lackluster feeling around this word. It reminds me of B’s in school. They meant good – which seemed, at the time, to be a pretty big drop from the A grade’s designation of excellent. We were taught to always aim for excellence, so good didn’t seem very inspiring in comparison.

But, good’s definition makes it more appealing to me: being positive or desirable in nature. Good outcome, good enough, good effort, good recipe, good book – these sound pretty good to me! Good may not be stellar, but when steeped in positivity and desirability, good hits a mark that is satisfying.

Not everything has to be excellent, top-drawer, outstanding. Realistically, it isn’t going to be anyhow. Making friends with good might save us from some of the exhausting, depleting messages we generate in ourselves that are critical, that say we’re not enough, have fallen short of the mark.

In the final episode of West Wing, the TV series centered around fictional President Bartlet and his administration, there is a scene shortly before the President leaves for the inauguration of the next president. His wife, Abby, walks in on him as he stares pensively out the window in the residence part of the White House. We sense he is thinking over the last eight years and what he achieved – and didn’t achieve. Abby says, “You did a lot of good, Jed, a lot of good.” She is sincere, and this assessment seems right. Good describes a real contribution and rings true, whereas some other words might over-state and be less believable.

Similarly, the word kind might not help us win an essay contest for cleverness, but kind has its merits. It’s almost an old-fashioned term in today’s vernacular. Kind, kindly – they seem a little tepid. But kind means of a friendly, generous, or warm-hearted nature. These are qualities most of us would be pleased to have attributed to us.

Kindness might seem easy to achieve, but find me on a grumpy day, and I assure you I won’t be particularly friendly, generous, or warm! Most of the time, however, I can reach for a kind response. I certainly recognize it when it comes my way from someone else. Being allowed into traffic by another driver, an unexpected supportive comment – these are acts of kindness that can lift my day. If I’ve been in a grumpy place, moments like these can inspire me to then respond “in kind.”

Help is the third simple word. “I’d like to be of help.” “Let’s hope it helps.” “Maybe we can help the situation.” Help means to give assistance, to aid. Helping improves the situation, the encounter, the interaction. It raises the vibration a little bit – maybe not in a huge way, but in a way that shifts and moves things in a better direction. It’s a level of change we can achieve, which can happen quickly. To aspire to help, to be of help, to be helpful, takes us a step outside of the neutral zone where nothing is changing. In any moment, we can offer to give assistance or aid, and it will help.

Simple words, unremarkable qualities. But being good, kind, and of help is attainable. Instead of unrelentingly demanding excellence, extraordinary love and compassion, and actions that save the day, we can fairly easily do good, be kind, help things a little bit. We can maintain this level on a continuous basis. It isn’t lowering the bar, or compromising our standards; it is simply setting an achievable goal. Establish this standard, and the extraordinary will come along, too. But for a starting place, a base line – being good, kind, and helpful –are certainly enough.

These words are also short, each one made up of only four letters. Interestingly, we use the term “four-letter-word” to refer to curse words. There are other words made up of four letters that are pretty negative – hate, hurt, mean. But, there are also a lot of four-letter words with positive, lovely qualities – love, play, nice, hope, pray, live, goal, idea, life. Let’s make these our new four-letter words.

There can be a lot of power contained in a small, unassuming package! Let’s not be fooled by the ordinary, the pedestrian. If we keep an eye out for the extraordinary in the simple, we just might be surprised and delighted by a glimpse of the Divine.

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