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The Power of Words: Speak Green

The Power of Words: Speak Green - Featuring Dr. Claudia Gross
The Power of Words: Speak Green - Featuring Dr. Claudia Gross
“It's essential to acknowledge that while we are all the same, we are also different. We have diverse backgrounds, understandings, and connotations. Creating a peaceful environment of coexistence and curiosity is more constructive than losing potential allies who could contribute to positive change in this world ... Therefore, I believe it's crucial to move beyond the binary, rejecting the idea of only zeros or ones, yes or no, or just tea and coffee.” Dr. Claudia Gross

Dr. Claudia Gross is a German consultant and trainer who lives in Cairo, Egypt, and has a soulful humanist approach to business. Our conversation revolves around the transformative potential of language in fostering positive connections, understanding, and personal growth. Dr. Gross is the author of the first speakGreen book, Words Create Worlds: Cultivating a Conscious, Life-Affirming Language. By speaking green, we can move beyond binary thinking, embrace a variety of viewpoints with greater ease, and cultivate empathy through language. 

Stephen Matini: Claudia, you're currently in Egypt. How's life treating you there?

Dr. Claudia Gross: Life in Egypt is quite distinct from what I was accustomed to back in Germany. It's like stepping onto a completely different planet if I may put it that way. I love it because it's incredibly interesting and inspiring. Living here means immersing myself in a wholly different culture, being surrounded by it constantly. The abundance of opportunities to contribute is something I find particularly appealing. 

Egypt, for me, acts as a significant catalyst for my personal development. Everything about who I am and what I do is rooted in the fertile soil of this desert country. Living here has proven to be a remarkably fertile, inspiring, and reconnecting experience, linking me back to my roots.

SM: Do you believe you would have turned out the same way if you hadn't moved to Egypt?

Dr. CG: I can't imagine. Just the other day, I was reflecting on how grateful I am for the twists of fate or forces in the road that led me here. I've been here for 18 and a half years now. If this period were a person, it would be a teenager with a driver's license.

When I consider, for instance, my passion for the power of language, I see it in action every day here in Egypt. Even a simple greeting like "good morning" in Arabic involves wishing someone a morning full of light, honey, or yasmin. And in responding to that, one tends to aim for something even sweeter or brighter. I encounter this dynamic a lot.

There are also words we wouldn't use, things we wouldn't say simply because it's ingrained in the culture and believed to bring bad luck. Being immersed in this environment, where the impact of words is felt and seen daily in every conversation, has undoubtedly contributed to who I am today.

SM: How did you come to discover the power of language and words, and what sparked your interest in them to the extent it is today?

Dr. CG: The pivotal moment that I can pinpoint, which changed everything, was when I found myself stuck in a particularly lengthy and dramatic traffic jam in Egypt. Surrounded by signs dictating what not to do — don't be late, don't miss this appointment, don't cross here, don't turn there —I couldn't help but feel bombarded by prohibitions. 

In frustration, I thought, "Could you please stop communicating with me in this red language if it's not helpful? What I want to know is what I can do now. Where can I turn? Where can I go?" Given that abandoning my car and walking away wasn't a viable option, this became my reality.

Upon reaching the destination where I was meeting a friend for dinner, I recounted this experience, spontaneously jotting down red and green words. That's where it all began.

Upon reflection, I realized that I had exhibited this inclination for a while. When I used to highlight texts in textbooks, especially in English, I noticed that I always started highlighting when the negative part was over and the focus shifted to what to do. 

It dawned on me that this capability had been within me for some time, but it truly awakened in that specific traffic jam.

SM: So, is this what you mean by "Speak Green"?

Dr. CG: Absolutely. To me, "speakGreen" is a deliberate choice, essentially an antidote to what I perceive as "red language" in comparison to the way people often communicate. Drawing inspiration from Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of non-violent communication, who talks about hyena language and giraffe language, I found a connection to this concept.

For me, what resonated more were these two languages and the analogy of traffic signs. Red signals a moment to wait, stand still, and reflect: is this really how I want to express myself? It's about pausing and then coming up with the green alternative and choosing to convey that. The juxtaposition of these colors was particularly meaningful for me in that moment.

SM: Could you provide an example of a sentence using red words and demonstrate how to turn it into green words?

Dr. CG: Absolutely. A classic example is our historical focus on "no war." I visited a Picasso museum where he addressed street manifestations and demonstrations with posters proclaiming "no war, no war.” When I saw this in a black and white movie, it struck me how long we've been emphasizing what we don't want — war — when deep down, our true desire is peace.

So, "no war" is expressed in red language, while "peace" is conveyed in green language. It's an illustration of moving beyond negation and examining what we truly want. 

As we understand from neuroscience, our minds struggle to process negated statements. They first have to conjure up the negation like "war" or "no war," and then it's like, "Ah, no, that's not what I want. It's too complex. Let's focus on what we wish for."

SM: You mentioned this during our last meeting, discussing the distinction between a "yes and" and "yes, but." Would you mind elaborating on the difference between these two approaches?

Dr. CG: Certainly. For me, it was a revelation in the realm of effective communication. The experience of encountering a "yes, but" scenario is something we all encounter regularly, where someone appears to agree with a "yes," but then it feels like a sudden rejection or a closed door. For the longest time, I accepted it as just the way we express ourselves, how we talk.

However, in a workshop, I was introduced to the alternative of "yes, and." I get goosebumps just thinking about it because it introduces a novel concept. It doesn't involve pretending to agree first and then contradicting. Later, I discovered that in improv theater, there's a rule on stage: they avoid saying "no" or "yes, but," opting instead for "and" to keep the game or show flowing.

SM: In your experience working across different cultures, do you find it easier or more straightforward to focus on this specific attention in one culture versus another, or does it not matter?

Dr. CG: I believe it does matter, and all cultures, all languages have different preferences. I'm somewhat concerned about translating my book because some concepts may not be translatable from English to other languages like German, French, or Arabic. 

Certain ideas and examples may be culturally specific, making them challenging to generalize or convey in another language. There are instances where things I could say in German may not work in another language, or a wordplay effective in English may not be translatable.

In such cases, we might resort to using brackets or adding footnotes to provide explanations. However, I do think that the sensitivity and awareness of the power of language exist in all languages that employ prayer or holy words, avoiding specific terms due to superstitions.

So, in essence, this sensitivity would be present globally. I refrain from using the term "worldwide" because, following Buckminster Fuller's perspective, it would imply a flat Earth. I believe in a globe, so I prefer to speak about "around the world" or "globally" rather than something "worldwide".

SM: Words these days seem to be weaponized, and there's a whole controversy surrounding freedom of speech. We often encounter numerous examples of cancel culture where individuals are targeted for using the wrong words, perhaps uttered years ago in a completely different context. From your perspective, what could be a small, initial step that the global community could take in the right direction to build bridges through the use of words?

Dr. CG: Open your ears — have elephant ears — and open your hearts so that you have a giraffe heart, and then engage in a conversation.

I've observed what you're describing, where people lose friends or family members over discussions about a particular word. It's a real pity because we should be cultivating conversations, especially with those who think and act differently than we do. Instead of purging my friends list of those with opposing views, it's crucial to reach out to them, have conversations, and broaden our horizons. We need to be in a curious mindset, thinking, "Wow, isn't that interesting?"

Personally, when I'm listening to all these developments, I'm inspired by the Integral Model by Ken Wilber. I perceive an evolutionary development of human beings, and based on their language, I can understand where they're coming from. 

It's essential to acknowledge that while we are all the same, we are also different. We have diverse backgrounds, understandings, and connotations. Creating a peaceful environment of coexistence and curiosity is more constructive than losing potential allies who could contribute to positive change in this world.

SM: Two concepts that hold significant importance for you are related to the positive impact of using a specific type of language. You refer to it as "Green Language," and it involves pluralism and gender positivity. Could you elaborate more on these two components?

Dr. CG: When I contemplate pluralism, I essentially think in plurals. People often present me with only one option, but I'm interested in having more choices. I want variety. Therefore, I believe it's crucial to move beyond the binary, rejecting the idea of only zeros or ones, yes or no, or just tea and coffee. Expressing this in language is important to me.

During coaching sessions, I provide people with at least three choices or more, intending to move beyond binary thinking. When it comes to gender, I see a similar perspective. Being German, I grew up with a language that has three articles. I consider this a reason why pluralism and variety are more accessible and understandable for me than for others. Additionally, being able to express ourselves in more than one language also helps because depending on the language I speak, I become a different person.

SM: Freedom of speech is such an essential aspect, and when people dictate what to say or not say, I feel silenced. How would you respond to this type of criticism?

Dr. CG: There have been instances where people raised these concerns, questioning whether I'm attempting to police them. I thought to myself, it's so far from my personality to police anyone. Instead, what I do is highlight language that is no longer in harmony with our consciousness and offer alternatives.

When I began this initiative, "green" and "red" were just the terms that naturally emerged. There were moments when I worried about creating polarities, implying that green is good and red is bad. However, I don't intend it as a teacher pointing an erect index finger, telling others how to speak. My aim is not to program anyone with my language — I'm not even trained in NLP. The origins of my initiative stem from a different direction.

What I offer is a perspective for those deeply entrenched in what I perceive as "red language." Many people fluent in red language struggle to imagine green language because it's not spoken in their surroundings. From my viewpoint, I'm expanding horizons, doubling the space of vocabulary and life. I make offerings, and individuals can choose to accept or reject them — it's entirely up to them. What I offer today might be different next year as my language evolves too.

Currently, I see it as a yin and yang scenario. It's like a red yang that needs a green yin to be complete, to introduce different energy. Only when these two come together can you form a circle and strive for oneness. As long as you're in an ocean of red language, understanding what else is possible seems too distant. This is my current response, and I've observed how people realize what they couldn't see before.

Recently, while preparing for a conference in the UK about strengthening businesses outdoors, I overheard a conversation about outdoor and indoor. I found it interesting that they did mention the "door" — the definition was based on what's in front or inside your door. It doesn't necessarily have to be about "nature". These small observations show how one word can be powerful and can be reframed to be more life-giving. The journey continues.

SM: I'm thinking that maybe this oneness that we all so much want, peace, actually, it is not oneness, but it's fragmented in infinite variations.

Dr. CG: Every country you travel through, with every culture, even in your own country, there's so much variation. They do things differently. Being aware of that is being rich.

I believe that's also something related to speech because what we do is we're expanding the circles around us. It's not only about myself, my family, my neighbors, and my workplace, which are already a few circles, but the moment I'm able to embrace more people, and at a certain point, it reaches my country, the region we're in, or the global community, suddenly it's a totally different perspective. This means that if I'm segregating waste in my house, I'm not doing it just for myself or the garbage person. They are called ‘zabaleen’  here. I'm doing it for the planet, for the seventh generation of grandchildren.

What happens with these experiences in different countries, realizing the extreme opposites, as you mentioned, 180 degrees different from what we were used to? In Germany, we wouldn't marry our cousins; here in Egypt, people do. It's the extreme opposite, and it's the way people live in their respective cultures.

Being able to hold seemingly opposite ideas in our minds at the same time— at first, it's only two, then it's even more as we observe how they're done in different cultures. I believe we're truly growing new connections in our brains, becoming more compassionate for others. It's a lot easier then to support others in having these conversations. For those who can't travel or don't have the chance to make these experiences, by sharing our stories, they come close to them. Really, they do this.

I mean, I'm vegetarian and I drink tea and coffee without sugar—this is already a pattern disruptor. Does it have taste? Can you do that? No one does this, you know? Well, at least I do it and I can assure you, you know, it's better than four spoons of sugar in your tea. I think it's first about disrupting past patterns and then integrating it all into ourselves, being aware that there might be no single truth.

SM: It's a significant exercise in empathy—understanding that the world is not you, and it works differently than you. You can still appreciate anything that is not you if you make an effort to step out of your shoes.

Dr. CG: You mentioned empathy, and it just crossed my path yesterday when we discussed equality and equity. I saw a title, and I apologize for not recalling which workshop this was in, but they spoke about diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging. Instead of using "equality" or "equity", they emphasized "empathy".

I thought, how cool is this? It's not just about people being equal; it's about having empathy with each other, truly meeting human to human. I believe this is another evolutionary step in language and our behaviors. At a certain point, it's not just about doing things because they have to be equal; it's about doing them with 100% empathy for other people.

Equality, at the end of the day, is not the ultimate goal. We're striving for justice and fairness, which means it can be unequal but just and fair. These concepts can be mind-blowing, but I see them on a spectrum of the evolutionary development of humankind and human beings, becoming more and more capable of embracing this kind of complexity.

SM: Do you think it would be easier if everyone on Earth spoke the same language alongside their native languages?

Dr. CG: While listening to your question, I thought about Esperanto, them trying to create an artificial language that we all could speak. I love that you added that all the other languages would continue because my major concern would be giving up this diversity that we have when we all speak exactly the same language.

There's an illusion that others understand us because they're fluent in our language, especially with our mother tongue. When we travel, we feel an immediate connection to those who speak our language. However, this can also be a huge illusion.

When I'm speaking with people, like we are now on this English bridge, which is not my mother tongue, I make more effort to ensure that I am really understood, or I would ask more questions, especially in very personal relationships.

Therefore, I believe not speaking the same language could increase our understanding because it also supports us in understanding ourselves, the other, and the space between us. Very often, I feel very understood by people who do not speak my mother tongue and absolutely not understood by people who speak German.

SM: It really is an illusion! Is there something specific from our conversation about the power of words that you believe listeners should focus on?

Dr. CG: First of all, I think what we all need to be aware of now, more than ever, independent of words (though I think it's really important to highlight this), is that we are experiencing a change of era. 

One era is ending, and the other one is beginning, and they're overlapping. We are currently in a phase where both developments are overlapping. Yes, we're hospicing the old and midwifing the new, both at the same time. This means that we have a huge marketplace, spectrum and variety. 

Regarding language, I do not think that there's the right language, and I wouldn't go for right and wrong. When I think about red and green, for me, it's really about what is limiting, destructing, inhibiting life, and what is giving life, supporting self-development, and so on.

So, this is how I would see it, and therefore I would always only make offerings. That's one of the rare situations where the word "always" actually works. Because normally, I'm saying, "Don't say always, don't say never." So, I'm contradicting myself. But what I want to say is that it's about offerings, adding a perspective, and also inviting others.

When I'm working with people who speak in a lot of negative language, where I'm like, "Okay, how would we reframe that? How does that sound without the 'not'?" That's an invitation, and they can choose this path. And if they're absolutely not able to, I can see if I can assist them. And if it still doesn't work, we can see how we then continue with each other — what is needed. I would never, ever impose it on them.

And this is the thing that I would like people to take with them, you know, like experiment with it, be inspired by it. See how powerful it is, and it's also not just the word itself; it's also the vibration it brings in.

So, be curious, be aware of your own language. Do not believe everything you think. Be an author for your own lives, co-author our future. That's the spirit with which everyone should approach this field of language and contribute to it. If there are words that are not in harmony anymore with how you see it or would love to say it, come up with a greener alternative.

SM: Claudia, this was fantastic. Thank you so much for these important insights.

Dr. CG: With utmost pleasure.

🎧  Listen on your favorite platform: Listen to the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Podbean, or your favorite podcast platform. Subscribe to the podcast Pity Party Over.

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