Language in Thought and Action
By S. I. Hayakawa

Book review by Jaye
Copyright © 2005 by Jaye

          This book changed my life. In fact, it saved my life.

          I'd like you to read it first because I'm going to be referring to the material in it a lot.

          It's Language in Thought and Action, by S. I. Hayakawa. This guy was a little bit of everything. He lived from 1906 to 1992. He was a psychologist and semanticist; he taught college, and he sat in the United States Senate. They say he used to sleep through the Senate debates, which in my book showed a high degree of smarts.

          But the book. The book.

          When I was 22, this was the required text for a General Semantics course I had at University of the Pacific. Dr. Hanson was very passionate about his subject, so I decided to actually crack the book open -- this was my ne'er-do-well first flying tour of college when studying was so nerve-wracking that I was known to drop classes rather than to ask an actual human where a library book was. But Dr. Hanson was talking about words. I loved words.

    He said words weren't the things they meant. Say what?

          This book said the same thing!

The word
The map
The symbol
The thing 
The territory
The idea

          This saying is the basis of semantics.

          The word is a random collection of sounds agreed on by a "language group" to represent  that thing. To  English speakers, it's a fox, but to the Spanish, it's un zorro. To a Martian it could be a kluh. It's still furry. A rose, no matter what you call it, is still a collection of petals that smells either sweet or sneezy.

          So how did it this book change my life?

          It taught me to quit taking specific statements -- "I did a stupid thing today" -- and making generalizations from them -- "I'm a stupid person," and from there to, "I'm not worth living." When my boyfriend and I broke up badly and my life fell apart (talk about "not worth living" tapes playing over and over in my head!) the ability to tear apart those generalizations, which I learned from Language in Thought and Action, was the only thing that kept me from taking the sleeping pills I went and got.

          Many years later, I entered psychotherapy with a very wise counselor, and he used exactly the same technique I had worked out in my primitive form, on the basis of this book. He called it Cognitive Therapy, and he said Aaron T. Beck had put it together largely from Hayakawa's work.

          Changing the way you treat yourself is not the only thing Language will do. Reading it and doing the exercises will make you harder for Madison Avenue to manipulate. Political candidates. Direct sales phoners and door to door salesmen. Your kids. Your ex. You will have the tools to see through the tricks the professionals use to bypass your conscious mind and go for the kill in their sales pitches.

          Of course, you'll also have the tools to run those end moves around other people.

    Then you will get to use your Integrity to decide how to use those tools.

Blessings on you and on your House.

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