A person’s favorite words may go a long way in revealing his or her changing lifestyle, values, beliefs and changing needs. The words may also suggest how people are reacting to the challenges of the present and the future.
Before you read further, try the following thought experiment. Relax and breathe deeply, Think about your life and what is important to you. What are your values? What is your lifestyle? What are your beliefs? What are the most important things in life to you? Close your eyes and reflect on your life as you are living it at this moment.
Then as a personal exercise, freely list 10 words that best represent your values, lifestyle, beliefs, desires and needs. Prioritize the list with #1 being the most significant, #2 the next most significant, and so on. Read the list and write down your reactions. Look for particular themes or issues. Did any particular word evoke a strong emotional response? What does your list tell you about your life? How does your list compare with a list you would have written five years ago? Ten years ago? Can you identify a changing trend that’s either positive or negative?
The words, according to Sato, seem to reflect a changing national work-ethic. Words like freedom appeared for the first time, which may indicate that workers are starting to chafe at the structure of Japan’s corporate society. Also, differences in answers between young people and older people show a distinct shift in values and beliefs. People in their twenties ranked “freedom” as the top word, while those who were forty or older ranked “effort” on top with “freedom” far behind. The word “health” also appeared for the first time in Sato’s research and reflects a growing concern held by the aging portion of the population.
As an experiment, I decided to mimic the Japanese survey. Over the past two years, I’ve asked friends, family, acquaintances, business associates and participants in my seminars and think tanks to feely list, in order of importance, their top 10 favorite words that in some way represented their life. All in all, 150 people participated. Here is the result which represents the average of their responses:
The surveyed people ranked security and prosperity high on the list. These most probably are primary factors because of our weakened national economic situation. Ten years ago, Americans took security and prosperity for granted and I doubt would have listed them at all. The words “peace” and “equality”, in my opinion, are universal values that most of us around the world would rank high. I was surprised by how low “freedom” ranked in comparison to the other words. Could this mean that “freedom” is not as highly valued as it once was in our country? Is security now more important than freedom? The Japanese, especially the young, listed it much higher than the surveyed Americans.
Interestingly, participants used words such as “compensation,” “acknowledgement,” and not words such as “effort,” “skills,” and “work.” Could this represent a disappearing work ethic in America? Or could it mean the desire to honor the individual as opposed to a group for accomplishments? Or does it mean the individual is entitled by society to compensation and acknowledgement. I was surprised at the absence of words that I had expected to be included such as honor, pride, honesty, integrity, kindness, responsible and patriotism.
Compare your list with my survey. Any commonalities? Differences? Give your list to a friend. Tell your friend that the 10 words reflect the most important 10 things in another (unnamed) friend’s life. Then ask your friend to interpret the list. Describe the person who would list these ten words as descriptive of what is important in their life. I did this with my personal list and found my friend’s interpretation of my list as most enlightening.
NURSING HOME RESPONSES. An administrator of a nursing home conducted a similar survey of 50 patients at my urging and the following list reflects the average of their top 10 word responses.
Admittedly, my survey and the one conducted in the nursing home were not scientific or rigorous as compared to the one conducted by Hitotsubashi University in Japan , but I found it fun and somewhat enlightening to compile and compare favorite words from different people. Consider what we could learn by studying the favorite words for the following groups:
Republicans and Democrats
Obama and Romney
Police and criminals
Politicians and soldiers
Scientists and artists
Professional athletes and teachers
Priests and atheists
Doctors and lawyers
Senior citizens and teenagers
Therapists and patients
Straight people and gay people
Home schooled children and publically educated children
Hospice patients and high school seniors