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The Disabling Power of Certain Words: "Doing Nothing"

by Beverley Paine

I tried to eliminate the words 'good' and 'bad' and 'right' and 'wrong' from my vocabulary when the children were young - it wasn't easy because, like everyone else, I was conditioned to use them in just about every sentence!

Good and bad aren't the most descriptive words - they convey meaning through the emotion we attach to them. We learn the various meanings attached to 'good' by the emotional tone and body language of the person using it rather than the context of the sentence: "Good girl", "Good job", "That was a good effort", "We had a good time", etc. As children we attach good with emotion, which is why it remains a word that has disproportionate power in our lives forever. It becomes more than a word, it becomes a judgment. Same goes for 'bad', 'right' and 'wrong'.

I swapped these words for more descriptive words, or for 'appropriate' or 'inappropriate' and 'accurate' and 'inaccurate'. Overused these words end up having the same effect though. Basically, it's important to say what we actually mean: "Good girl" might become "I really appreciated the way handled that situation, it was very helpful, thank you." "Good job" might become, "Your attention to detail paid off, that looks fantastic." Obviously we need to use more words, we need to respond to the context of the situation, which means we're not as dismissive, not taking short cuts, being more attentive, etc.

The concept of 'doing nothing' isn't a description of what is actually happening, it's a value laden judgment. It's a put down. It's been used to manipulate us at various times in our lives, to cajole us to do things other people think are important. It has power over us because of the remnant emotion we attach to those words, the concept we've built around them.

We can celebrate doing nothing, as I did for many years, while learning to unpack the emotional hurt attached to the concept, and learn to live beside it before finally naming it as an error in my judgment, an unhelpful habit. I can't honestly think of a time when I am doing nothing. Saying that I am "doing nothing" is a short cut, lazy language, and often manipulative. When I say I'm "doing nothing" I might be hiding what I am doing, either because I don't want you to know what I am really doing, or because I don't think you'll value what I'm doing, or perhaps because I don't value what I'm doing. It's the last reason that I'm still working on overcoming, a legacy of a damaged self-esteem caused by my conditioned need to be a 'good girl', a 'nice girl', a 'successful' person and all those other blanket terms that tell us little about meaning but are packed with moral judgment.

My antidote for when those words "doing nothing" come up is to pause and reflect on what is actually happening. List those things mentally. And then acknowledging them verbally. "I'm not doing nothing, I'm thinking." Brainstorming, imagining, planning. Reflecting. Dreaming. Playing, learning, pursuing my interest. Exercising. Building, creating. Living.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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Welcome to the World of Home Education and
Learning without School!

We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

The information on this website is of a general nature only and is not intended as personal or professional advice. This site merges and incorporates 'Homeschool Australia' and 'Unschool Australia'.

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