Words have power. Most people I know prefer hope to conflict, challenge, opposition, bad weather, delays, shipwreck, drowning, injury and possible death. The same was true in 1488 when Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias first encountered what he called the Cape of Storms while seeking a trade route to the Far East.
John II, king of Portugal at the time of Dias’ report, didn’t see it the same way. Being the visionary, John wanted to recruit oodles of explorers to locate a faster way to get goods to and from the East. “Cape of Storms” just didn’t seem like the right heading for the brochure, so John II changed the name on the map to “Cape of Good Hope.” The Cape represents a major geographic and psychological landmark for shippers who, after weeks heading south, longed to turn east in search of the Orient.
The same was true for me last week as I observed a variety of leaders meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. As those seeking to positively influence others, we need to watch our words carefully. This is one area I am constantly needing to grow in. I tend to be more of a prophet than a salesman, which doesn’t always help my hearers receive my message with my intended impact. It helps me to consider Nathan’s “here’s an interesting story” approach to confronting King David.
Proverbs 15 also offers some counsel for us seeking to shape the conversation:
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
Next time an opportunity presents itself, let’s seek to focus on hope rather than storms.
Lesson for those who lead well: Word choice can open new trade routes to previously unexplored opportunities.