What would it be like if you and I realized that we were truly free? How would our lives change if we discovered that who we think we are is something that can be forever transformed, shifted, deepened, and developed?
Many of us believe that we are fundamentally solid beings that don't have the possibility of true change. I’d like to offer you some distinctions and practices that will enable you to discover how free you actually are… how free you can actually become.
Let’s start with the power of language. Language is often understood to be merely descriptive. For example, when I say, “That's an apple,” I am using language to describe something and give it a name so that you know what I'm talking about.
At the Newfield Network, we also understand that language is generative. This means that language itself has the power to change the future. If I say, “Meet me tonight at 6 o’clock and let’s start a revolution,” and if you agree and we meet, we have just used language to create a new future.
Language has a lot of power and because of this, some people have designed and developed the notion of Speech Acts. Speech Acts are the anatomy and physiology of language. If we can understand the intricacies of language itself, we can harness and refine the power of language to design a new future for ourselves, for our children, and for the world.
There are many Speech Acts, but here I will focus on two. The first are assertions and the second are assessments.
Assertions are how we use language to define the visible. They are objectively true. For example, I might say, “I am 5 feet 8 inches tall.” This is an assertion because it is verifiable. You can take out a ruler and measure me.
Assessments, on the other hand, are in the domain of the invisible. They are about what we think and feel. If I say, “I am tall,” that's an assessment. In my belief system or culture, I may be tall, but in another culture where the average height is 7 foot 8 inches, I would be short.
To summarize, assertions speak about the realm of the visible and the objective, whereas, assessments deal with the invisible and the subjective. If I say, “I’m feeling sad today,” you might be able to see some visible signs of sadness on my face, but you can't objectively see or measure the sadness within me. It is my subjective experience.
Both assessments and assertions have specific, natural qualities when they are used correctly.
Assertions, by nature, are solid. I can use these to have a sense of natural grounding in the reality of the world. I can look at life and say, “This is how much money is coming in” (even though I may feel or assess I make too little), or “This is how much food I ate today in calories,” (even though I may feel I ate too much or too little, the assertion grounds me in observable facts).
Assessments, by nature, are fluid. If I am sad, in the next moment I can become happy because my subjective thoughts and emotions have the capacity for change.
In the Spanish language, assertions and assessments are clearly differentiated through two different forms of “I am.” “Yo soy,” means I am but implies I will stay that way, as in “I am 5 foot 8.” “Yo estoy” also means I am but in this case, refers to things that will change, such as in “I am sad.”
Confusing Assessments for Assertions
Many of our problems and feelings of “stuckness” arise when we confuse assessments with assertions.
For example, I may have the assessment that I am worthless and am never able to get going in life. This is my subjective experience, but if I confuse it with the objective truth—if I make it an assertion—I halt my ability to become anything other than an expression of worthlessness.
Confusing assessments with assertions can create a false kind of stability. Usually, we think of stability in a positive light, but what I've seen often is that we have a sense of certainty that we are fundamentally messed up in some way and that it is a stable trait. We go on living our life this way, using the generative power of language and thus manifesting a life that reflects someone who is worthless or fundamentally flawed.
We might ask people around us: “Does my life look like an expression of worthlessness?” and they may say, “Absolutely not,” because their subjective experience and perspective is different. But if we see fluid, subjective experiences as something solid, we begin to discount whatever counter-evidence we find to our belief. This type of stability then prevents us from moving forward in life. We miss an opportunity to live a life that has greater well-being and deep joy.
Confusing Assertions for Assessments
Another difficulty is when assertions are confused with assessments. Here we have the notion that everything is subjective... even when it's not.
A great example in our culture is the notion of ‘fake news.’ Although there are plenty of examples of truly fake news, there are also many examples of objective journalism, based in fact, that is called fake news by the person who disagrees with it. The result is that what is solid—in a healthy sense—disappears from our perspective, overturning our ability to feel grounded and stable. We enter a world where nothing is ever true. Yet, objective information does exist! There is good scientific research, good journalism, and objective metrics we can use to verify what has happened.
Here is an exercise you can do to get clearer on these distinctions in your own life:
- On a piece of paper, make two columns.
- In the first column, write down a list of all the beliefs that you have about yourself. Make sure to include the ones that make you appear less than totally awesome, such as: “I'm worthless,” “I can never really get a good business going,” “I'm not a good mom,” “I'm not a good basketball player…” whatever it is that you have in your mind.
- In the second column, write down all the things that other people tell you in terms of who you are or who you should be and write all those down.
- Look through the lists in both columns and check off all the statements that are actually assessments. Most people are going to find that the majority of what you are checking off are in fact, assessments. Reflect on how most of what you believe you are, and what others tell you, you are is fluid if you allow it to be.
- Now, looking at the assessments, write down some assertions about who you are based on previous actions and behavior. Make sure they are really assertions! Notice how assertions feel different and perhaps paint a different picture of who you are. (You might assess that you are not generous but discover that an accurate assertion is that you spend five hours each day helping people.)
- Explore the kind of freedom that arises from clarifying the difference between the fluid assessments and stable assertions in your life.
- Contemplate how free you actually are—right now—through discovering this. Write down what you would like to become now that you realize that you are free.
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Author: Alexander Love
Alexander M. Love, M.Ac., Dipl. OM, is a holistic practitioner, facilitator and coach in Boulder, Colorado. He practices acupuncture, coaching and shadow work that integrates the a vast wisdom of Chinese Medicine with Integral theory and ontological coaching.
Alexander is the creator of Newfield's comprehensive online business program for coaches and online coaching mastery course.
He recently was invited to give a TEDx talk entitled: How embracing pain creates a legacy of love. Please check it out!