When words catch the winds of change
by Paul Gilbert LBC Wise Counsel January 2021
When words catch the winds of change, we do not just hear them, but we feel them too.
It has been a more comfortable week for rhetoric. Bombast, aggression, unkindness and self-immolating ignominy have flown the scene (for a while at least). In their place has come something dignified and more recognisably human. At President Biden’s inauguration the words he used were very different from his predecessor, but the tone was so very different too.
Almost as soon as they were uttered the new President’s words were being analysed around the world as if layers of meaning would be revealed as soon as the surface could be scratched away. I will leave others to search for meaning because I would like to search for feeling; and in doing so I will rest my thoughts on the tone of voice I heard.
For the most part I think it is rare for any listener to recall the actual words a speaker uses, the odd phrase perhaps, but what we mostly remember is how those words made us feel. That feeling can live with us forever.
For such a small word “tone” feels a little lightweight for all the work it carries on its one-syllable, four-letter shoulders, but the new President’s tone was perhaps the most important part of his speech. It was measured, thoughtful, unassuming, determined, sensible and encouraging. It was not flourishing or theatrical, but on the gentler side of rather grave and with a restrained steeliness that suggested the long haul more than the short-term. It made me feel a little more secure and a little less exposed.
We also heard the soaring poetry of Amanda Gorman which she gave to us with kindness and with an amazing grace. Again, I reflect that while her words were mesmerising and haunting, it was how she made me feel that will stay with me for so much longer. For here was the embodiment of hope; a hope that was calm and youthful, but challenging, ambitious and inspiring.
It felt safe to let her words into my heart. It felt like she was giving us permission to put our trust in her generation to take care of the world.
It is obvious in a way, but the tone we set every day should be the tone that we choose to use. It should not be by accident and it should not be by chance. It is yet another way we can influence others to feel that they can relish their opportunity to shine.
The words we use matter, but perhaps they matter just a little less than how we make people feel. Of course, we all want to find the right words, whether it is for a thoughtful note, or a carefully crafted report, or the opening sentences of a meeting, but from here on I will reflect so much more on how I want my words to make people feel.