There’s this thing and I have no idea what it’s called, but it goes kind of like this.

There’s this completely horrid and dislike-able character on television or in a movie. The mean boss. The snobby girl. The vindictive teacher. The bully.

But then you find out that there’s a reason for their horribleness. A reason that makes them seem vulnerable because of the deep and awful loss they’ve experienced.

And once that reason is known, you start to find out that They’re Really Not So Bad.

I’m positive there is already a name for this phenomenon, and if someone has already found it on tvtropes.org, please tell me!

Lost in a tragic _____________ incident.

The awful boss was being so unreasonable about the deadline, but then it turned out that her entire family had perished in a tragic deadline incident.

The sadistic sergeant who sticks to the rules so strictly — he’s only been that way since his pet koala died in a tragic rulebook incident.

The boyfriend who refuses to talk about his feelings or even admit he has them, but then it all kind of makes sense once you discover that his brother was actually defenestrated in a tragic communicating incident.

It happens.

We all have our reasons.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember but we do.

But there’s another point here too.

When I write blog posts or teach a class or do whatever it is I do at Rally (Rally!), I always want people to know they can change the language.

If I’m referencing sovereignty and that’s not your word, re-work it.

If I’m talking about superpowers but superpowers are uncomfortable for you, re-think them.

It’s your experience. You get to have your own relationship with it.

And there are two ways to work with a word that doesn’t speak to you. You can rewrite the word (invent!) or you can rewrite the definition (translate!).

Either way, you’ll probably want to do some unpacking.

Unpacking is a metaphor, of course.

It just means figuring out what your associations are with a particular word or concept, both positive and negative.

Let’s see… I was in this yoga class and the teacher kept talking about SUPPORT, and I noticed that I started feeling uncomfortable. What qualities, aspects or attributes of support live inside of my personal definition of this word?

Support has — for me — some good things, like:

[+safety] [+sturdiness] [+held] [+can’t hurt myself because I am cared for]

But I also have some not good associations:

[+having to depend on others] [+vulnerability] [+stuck]

Once you know what’s in there, you have choices.

You can decide to rewrite your definition:

From now on, I choose to interpret support to mean that I have internal and external resources which hold me up and keep me grounded and safe.

Support includes my own strengths, and also maybe a community of people that I can rely on.

It can also mean things like the earth, the floor, oxygen — anything that physically helps me move, walk, breathe and be.

Or you can use the metaphor mouse technique to find a new story or a new name for it.

I still don’t love support, but I adore the idea of a hammock. So from now on, whenever she says SUPPORT, I’m going to whisper HAMMOCK to myself, and feel the feeling of the hammock.

Either of these is much better than being in resistance.

It’s no fun thinking to yourself: Aaaargh support is so stupid!

It’s no fun being the person secretly grieving. How can they talk about support when I lost everything I loved in a tragic supporting incident! I’m being a little silly here but sometimes that’s really how it feels.

Sometimes we have pain around words and we don’t even know it.

So if a word doesn’t resonate with you, there isn’t anything wrong with you.

And there isn’t anything wrong with the word.

It just meant that it’s time to give yourself a new word or a new definition. Or both.

Unless, of course, you lost your ability to do that in a tragic dictionary incident.

Back to the ice cream.

Last night I was teaching Shiva Nata at the Playground, and we were coming up with words for the different positions.

The horizontals were Ice Cream, Panda, Sandbox and Barnacle. The verticals were Scrumptious, Cloud, Clam and Orange. It was highly entertaining.

It’s a cloud, shaped like a panda, in a sandbox, eating orange ice cream. Scrumptious panda has barnacle clams? The oranges are cloudy!

But even with silly, ridiculous play-words, you still never know what people’s personal baggage is. Who knows what tragic ice cream panda incidents live in their past?

Everyone has their stuff.

You don’t know what their associations are with these things. And even though it’s unlikely that they suffered awful losses in a tragic orange scrumbox clam-cloud incident, you never what what’s going on for them.

So it’s always, always, always useful to remind people that they have the power to interact consciously with language.

And if they don’t like a word, they can investigate their relationship with that word.

Or not. But change the word or rewrite it or replace it.

Once you remember that you have the power to do that with a word, you have the power to do it with anything.

Play! And comment zen for the giant blanket fort playroom.

If you want to invent ridiculous and imaginary possible tragic incident backstories with me, you are welcome to.

If you want to invent a new name for that particular trope, that works too.

If you want to rewrite words or investigate definitions or do some metaphor mousing, go for it!

As always, we all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. We take responsibility for our stuff and recognize that it’s ours.

We take care of ourselves and each other by making space for people to have their own experience and not giving unsolicited advice or telling people how to feel. That’s all.

Ice cream and pandas for everyone! Unless you don’t like either of those, in which case you don’t have to have one. I’m sure we have something else in the treasure box. What would you like instead?