According to Random House Dictionary, the prefix “un” is defined as “giving negative or opposite force.” Adding this prefix to a noun or a verb, an adjective or an adverb, results in a meaning that is the reverse of its root.
Understanding the definition of this prefix, and in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, what “un” work would you use to describe this year to date?
I can think of a few. Let me start with unprecedented.
In our lifetimes, as a society, we have never been called to live the way we are living now. Because of this unimaginable pandemic, with the goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19, we have been asked to follow these almost untenable rules: stay home; wear masks in public; close unessential businesses; quarantine for two weeks if exposed to an infected individual; don’t congregate in groups.
It all seems so unreal.
Because of this confinement, because of this restriction on our liberties, because of the impact on our mental and fiscal welfare, people have protested. Most of these protests have proceeded peacefully. However, in the wake of peaceful demonstrations, unbelievable actions unrelated to the protest of our civil liberties have occurred. Businesses have been looted and destroyed; citizens have been injured; the uninformed and uncaring mob has ruled. Some have simply become unglued.
Undoubtedly, change is necessary. How we get there is the challenge.
Perhaps we can start down the better path if we changed our collective tone. What if we started using a few other “un” words? Here are a few that come to mind: united; union; unless; universal; understand. Below are a few excerpts from documents and speeches in which these words have been used:
Resolution of conflict requires careful navigation. Acting civilly and remaining open to dialogue is critical. New pathways will be constructed if, universally, we work to mend the rifts and repair what has been broken.
There is one more “un” word that I would add to this list. Mythical in its origin, its appearance in literature and lore is meant to evoke hope and joy, to shed light where darkness has fallen.
Perhaps the imagery associated with unicorns is just what we need right now.
I published Power of the Flowers for the first time in March 2017. For months leading up to the date on which the website went live, I read and I wrote and I gathered information I thought would be useful to others. From the moment I conceived of Power of the Flowers, not a day passed that I didn’t think about ways to present new material, or how to effectively convey constructive messages. Somewhere within me, as the idea took shape, an echo began. BSR – beauty, strength, resilience – reverberated consistently in my head. Even when people questioned me, when my goals were challenged, I kept pushing on.
Then, earlier this year, the echo faded.
It wasn’t one event that caused the echo to fade. Rather, it was a myriad of events that kept shushing my voice.
COVID-19 crossed our great oceans and landed on our shores. In droves, people fell ill. shush Schools closed temporarily in March. shush The nation shut down, as did the schools for the remainder of the spring term. shush We were told to stay home - - don’t go to work, don’t go to stores, don’t go out for a meal - - for a few days…for a month…for two months. shush Restrictions rose daily with the sun. Don’t wear a mask. shush Wear a mask. shush Wear gloves. shush Don’t wear gloves. shush Stay 6 feet apart. shush Wash your hands. shush Cough into your arm. shush Don’t visit the elderly. shush Don’t congregate. shush
Through the delivery of these messages, the fear gremlin crept out of the darkness. Having worked so hard to keep those fragile plates spinning on the top of those remarkably thin sticks, the loss of worldwide momentum caused each plate to come crashing down. Outside our front doors, the economy screeched to a halt. Jobs ran dry. People were laid off. Bills piled up. Stress mounted daily. Frustration boiled over and people acted out.
Historically, in circumstances raft with frustration, when the words on my lips have not been constructive, my brain has reasoned my mouth into silence. Some might say that I properly embraced the notion that “silence is golden.” However, not every moment of frustration requires silence. Not every moment of frustration triggers a poor thought process. In fact, I think we have reached the moment where silence is no longer golden. We have reached the moment when we need our words to reverberate loudly.
Translation of the Swiss German phrase “sprecfien ist silbern, schweigen ist golden” is attributed to English author Thomas Carlyle. Although the verbatim translation is “speech is silvern, silence is golden,” Carlyle thought the better translation was “speech is of time, silence is of eternity.”
Eternal silence will not trigger change. Eternal silence does not combat the fear gremlin and the powers that shush us. However, reasoned opinions stated clearly and loudly will trigger change.
I can already hear you. And, once again, I can hear myself.
Now, let’s make sure everyone else hears us.
Always bring your “A” Game. Know when to be the “Minus.”
What the hell does this mean? Who wants to be a Minus? Doesn’t everyone want to be a plus?
And sometimes it is important, even necessary, to be the Minus. Let me explain.
First, I think it is important to make clear that “A Game” individuals and “Type A” individuals have characteristics that overlap…extensively. Both are generally known to be knowledgeable, organized and prepared. Type A’s are also known to be direct, unyielding and curt. A Game individuals are, arguably, a bit less rigid. Sometimes, they are charming, accommodating and pleasant. Other times, they cannot be differentiated from the Type A group.
Looking more closely at those who bring their A Game, in addition to being knowledgeable, organized and prepared, these folks also possess the following traits:
Yes, an overarching confidence is woven through all of these traits, and no, these folks are never described as wilting violets. With all of the above noted, it is understandable why “A Game” individuals are highly sought.
Taking all of this into account, why would anyone want to be a Minus? To that very good question, I have the following answer: when a person embraces his or her Minus, he or she practices the aforementioned skills by merging strengths with knowledge and wisdom. To be more specific, a Minus routinely operates by doing the following:
1. Never needing to be the center of attention.
Understanding that the goal is not to be on stage, but to close the deal, or complete the task, is understood by the Minus. Removing him or herself from the equation will always occur to achieve the goal.
2. Listening to everything.
They listen to what everyone says, no matter that person’s level of experience. Much can be learned about another, or about a situation, simply by listening.
3. Knowing when not to speak.
They have learned that it is incredibly important to know when not to speak.
4. Communicating with respect, professionalism and knowledge.
The Minus can deal with unreasonable people in a professional and respectful manner. They are always careful when they communicate, and will admit if they do not have the answer.
5. Are acquainted with every detail.
The devil is in the details, a fact Minuses have usually learned the hard way. It follows that the details can change how a situation is handled, and how it is resolved.
6. During negotiations, they are persistent and patient, but not pushy.
Minuses know when to push an issue, when to keep pressure on an issue, and how to relay that issue without pounding it to death.
7. Never sidestep the hard conversations.
However difficult, they never shirk this responsibility.
8. Will take responsibility for their own actions and the actions taken by those who work for them.
Minuses understand that they are the leaders, so all mistakes fall to them. Taking responsibility is never in question. However, they never play the role of martyr.
9. Ethics and morals are never traded.
To the Minus, these are not tradable commodities. They will not trade their moral or ethical compass to close a deal or win a case.
Overall, the distinction between the “Type A” and the “A Minus” is, arguably, temperament. The Minus has all the Type A skills, and the temperament to lead and/or close a deal without needing to be in the spotlight.
So, embrace your Minus. It is your greatest asset.