Three Words

The appropriate use of these three words, or more accurately word families, can shockingly change the emotional air quality in all of your relationships, and quickly.  Why and how?  Because every human interaction can be rated on a scale from emotionally nourishing to emotionally toxic.  Poorly utilized, these three word families are emotionally toxic to others, yourself, or both.  Speaking with compassion is nourishing, and combining that with power and conviction yields compassionate ACTION.  Who doesn’t need more of that? 


Healthy “Why”

  • If you are asking for a fact, or scientific explanation, “why” is great.
  • “Why” also works when problem solving a situation (referring to “it,” such as “I wonder why it broke?”). 
  • When the question is INQUIRY instead of INQUISITION, it is an appropriate why question.

Unhealthy “Why”

    • Otherwise, the only real response to “why?” is “Because . . .”  Because is the beginning of a defensive stance.  One must reference the past, and seek justification for one’s actions.  People shrink and get angry/defensive/passive when focusing on the dark and past.  They respond positively to moving toward the positive/light/solutions and future.
    • If any of the following make sense in the reply, via specific words or their intent, then “why?” is a poor question.
                “Because I’m . . . . . . wrong / stupid /      (pause)     mad / bad / sad.”

All “why” questions can be rephrased, usually with better results.  “Help me understand . . .”   “Tell me more about . . . .”  Still, we need to watch out for the intent of “why!”  “What were you thinking?!”  has the same effect as “why?”.  Similarly, “How could you do that?” or “When did that crazy thought enter your mind?” focus on how the person is wrong/stupid/bad, and the speaker is just and right.  Consequently, any response must delve into the past to seek justification or incrimination.


Unhealthy “Should”

Would, Could, Wish, Ought, Supposed To, Want, Gotta, Probably, and Need often fit here as well.  These words can create a judgment, and rarely are they followed with intention/action.  More often, they are spoken with regret, guilt, obligation, shame, or distain.  If the phrase appears to pointing a finger at others or yourself, then it is a negative judgment. 

Note that it is impossible to experience anger without the word or sentiment of “should.”  This concept really threw me for a loop, but I have yet to think of an exception.  Anger always involves a “should.”  “They/he/she/I should(n’t) do it this way!”  Let me know if you can think of one – I’m still racking my brain!

Opinions are a special case of “should.”  In politics or with advice, the sentiment of “should” can be present, even without the word.  Rather than expressing one’s thoughts on a matter reasonably and with curiosity about the other position, the speaker believes the other person “should” take on their point of view.  The closer the position is tied to the ego, the more “should” sentiment is attached to it. 

In group settings, an individual will often offer something to the group using a “should” sentiment.  “Hey, we should think about this some more.”  “We could look at some other options as well.”  “I think we’re supposed to be doing this instead.”  All of these are a form of soft telling.  Make a personal and specific request instead.  “I like the idea of recycling and composting in the dining area; how does everyone else feel about that?”  “I find announcements work better when they are all done together; what does the group think about that approach?”  You will find that “should,” “could,” etc. statements can be glossed over, and often are, but a personal request will certainly be addressed.  Speak with conviction (Taylor Mali video).

Healthy “Should”

Try removing the “should family” from your vocabulary and see how your intentions and actions change.  Make a specific, positive choice of your own free will that includes intentions/plans with traction.

Sneaking should back into your vocabulary:  Using should as a guess at the future, without referencing people, is innocuous, but substitute “expect” for should to train your mind initially.  If you can substitute “shall” for should, it is likely a genuine question without judgment or negativity.  “Need” instead of should can be used in instructional situations without judgment or negativity, but otherwise it likely carries a negative judgment.  Rarely, “oops” can be substituted for should without implying judgment, but it is a razor’s line to walk.

    • “That should (I expect) happen around 3pm.”  “Sam should (I expect him to) be home by then.”
    • “Should (shall) I pick up some milk at the store?”
    • “You should (need to) be on page 36 now.”
    • “Oh!  Ha, ha, I should have (oops) put the oil in before the flour.”


Yes / No

There are three common uses of a yes or no question, with the third being alienating/degrading, and the first two being largely healthy uses.  The intent of the speaker is key, as is how that intent lands/feels.  Generally, more expansive questions, requiring more than a simple yes or no, feel better and are more empowering.


  • “We’re leaving at 3 o’clock, right?”
  • “Did you say you were going to stop by the store on your way home?”


  • “Would you mind doing the dishes tonight?”
  • “Do you want something to drink?”     “Would you like tea or coffee?”  (dual choice)

3.Telling (couched as a request / confirmation / rhetorical)

  • “Didn’t I tell you that was going to happen?”  “Did you think about that before you did it?”
  • “You know better than that, don’t you?”
  • “Did you think you were going to get away with that?”
  • “You’re doing the dishes tonight, right?”
  • “Come on, you know the answer to that, don’t you?”
  • “You didn’t go to the bathroom when I told you to, did you?”
  • “Were you going to clean this up today or tomorrow?”  (dual choice)
  • “Did you have to say/do it that way?”


BONUS – examples of implied “should” statements

“If you just didn’t do the painting today, you could go on a hike with me.”

You shouldn’t paint today

“You’re going for the mini-Cooper because you like the style and gas mileage, eh?  You know the Prius gets twice the miles per gallon.

You should buy a Prius

“Oh geez, look at that guy with the teepee tattooed on his arm!  He’s a white, yuppie guy with no business trying to invoke native spirituality.”

He shouldn’t have a tattoo of a teepee on his arm

“You don’t want to ________, do you?”  (do that, work there, talk to her, etc.)

You shouldn’t do that

“What?  Oh my god, I can’t believe you said that to me!?”  (wanted me to do x)

You shouldn’t say that to me

“Why would you say such a thing?”

You shouldn’t say that

“You know I want you to . . . (do the dishes, be this way, just do it my way, etc.)

You should be/do . . .

“You’re a ________, huh, really?”  (intent is that you don’t approve / like that)

You shouldn’t be . . .


The energy in words that moves people and things

Fascinating: energy changes form, but doesn’t die/end. It has many forms, such as light, heat, motion, electrical, gravitational, as well as sound and breath. Hold your hand in front of mouth and speak: Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers. You felt, particularly, the p’s. Your breath can also blow up a balloon, storing energy, and then pop it (BOOM!). And, your breath can put out a fire (candle) or start one (blowing on embers). Your breath and sounds contain energy, and when they leave your body, they have an effect on the world. 

Similarly, almost everything important you do in this world will require and affect other people. Really? Yes. Think about it. The strings of words you put together determine most of your experience. You can physically build something, but if you want people to help you, you’ll need words. If you want to build relationships, coalitions, movements, and understanding, you’re going to need words. On a one-on-one level, dialogue is how mind and hearts are changed. Think about leaving an impact, a legacy, and think about doing so without using words. Your words are your PRIMARY tool for action and change on Earth. With that understanding, and what we’re up to at Camp Augusta, we implore and require you to be purposeful and positively powerful with your words. 


5 stages of development

In my experience, people go through five stages in the implementation of these concepts.  It is important to understand this progression, as otherwise folks seem to get stuck at the stage they are at, and believe that is the end of the road.  Stages 2 and 4 are particularly sticky, yet time with a mentor and practice always yields progress.


I don’t get it.

No application


I get it, but I can think of tons of exceptions. 

Confused application, often being very literal/example driven.


I get it, and I understand the exceptions.

Apply it with thought and effort, with those specific words


I understand the principles involved. 

Intention behind the word is recognized (e.g., need, dual choices)


Seamless integration. 

Beyond conscious application.

As you progress through the stages, be patient with yourself.  Even folks at Level 5 make mistakes and struggle, especially in difficult circumstances with oneself or others.  Change the application of these word families and you’ll change the emotional air for the better.  Your relationships will be richer and more satisfying.  Your power to move people willingly and positively will increase. 


Getting lost on the path

Are we (words) breaking up?

  • “But, when I take out all these words, I’ll trip over my tongue!  It’ll be like losing an index finger!”
  • Yes, you’ll likely speak a little funny at first, and lose some verbal dexterity. Fear not peaceful warrior, you ARE on the path! 
  • You are NOT removing words from your vocabulary, but rather using them with purpose, precision, and power. 
  • Use the words – don’t get rid of them . . . use them more powerfully.
  • You will become fluent and deft using ALL of the words precisely as you intend them to be.

Turning around or staying put

  • “Oh, wow, this isn’t a piece of cake . . . I stumble, trip, and sometimes get hurt; it isn’t worth it.” 
  • Your choice in every instance is to choose to be intentional, powerful, and peaceful or to choose aggression and/or weakness.  And, more commonly, it is not that extreme, and the choice is to accept some steps along the path, but not reach the end/mastery.  Such choices are not only with words, but also with what we eat, puffing on a cigarette, how much we exercise, etc.  In what areas and to what degree do we accept challenge and growth?
  • A big plunge may be too much; if so, pick a few words that really resonate with you as being exciting/interesting to work with, and make those your daily discipline.  When you’re doing well with those, add in a few more – kaizen! 
  • “People try nonviolence for a week, and when it does not work, they go back to violence, which hasn’t worked for centuries.”  Theodore Roszak

Patience, grasshopper

  • In my experience, the path is a three year or more journey, with the scenery changing quite slowly to new and more beautiful vistas.  Especially without a mentor, making steady progress without hitting the potholes and wandering into dead ends, is unlikely.  Yet, I never met a determined seeker who has not made their way nonetheless.
  • Consider focusing on Should/Why/Yes/No and simple 4-ish letter words first, and then moving on to the Master’s degree of the other words/consciousness.
  • As the old joke goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  Practice. Practice. Practice. 

Crossing paths with ninjas

  • Mentors and students farther along on the path can acquire the less skillful habit, in their desire to serve, of rabidly noting and perhaps even correcting speech.  When a sensei teaches the student, they do not use their instructional “strike” to hurt, but to gently inform.  Around ninjas, the experience of others can be “Argh!  I can’t say anything around you!”
  • A skillful correction method is to not only note the slip of the tongue, but also offer a substitute example of lingual mastery if the student can’t figure it out.  This method is especially useful in cases where the student does not quickly grasp the more powerful version of speech, and when the mentor senses the correct and appropriate timing of the instruction.  At Camp Augusta, we are committed to positive change.  Thus, it is considered standard operating procedure to help one another harness the energy contained/available in our words.

Light karma, bring it on!

  • Frustration is virtually guaranteed when the student (or mentor) works to catch or correct every instance of a less skillfully chosen word.  Many instances of poorly chosen words such as “good” or “should” or “just” are in a context of such little consequence and/or meaning, that the gaff is akin to the karma of stepping on an ant haphazardly.  Eventually, such instances are allowed to pass, with the full understanding that what was lost is so small that more is gained by the loss than the preservation of exact correctness/avoidance of the word(s).  This developed awareness allows for the skillful use and “misuse” of challenging words.