Nounifying a Verb

As described in an earlier blog, recent research shows that the mindset of scarcity has a very significant impact on the experience of lack that people have.  The mindset generates the experience.  I have spent much time over the past few years observing the language people use to describe their reality.  I also observe that sometimes these people are conscious of the language they are using, and most of the time they are not.  In the groups experiencing greater scarcity, I find that the language they use leans very heavily on nouns.  To the point where they create nouns out of verbs.  The focus is on the outcomes-things level of perceived reality, and the language of nouns supports and reenforces this level of focus.

I believe that most of this languaging is unconscious.  It is simply an implicit part of the agreements we accept within a given culture: it is the way people talk about their experience.  To understand this phenomenon better, in the field, I ask people about their favorite experiences.  In one group in Mexico City, they talked about how they love the beach.  A noun.  Great! So what is about the beach they love?  They answer, “The sand, water, heat.”   Okay.  So I put a bucket of sand in water with a heat lamp on their desk.  Three nouns.  “Is that the beach you love?”  They look at me surprised, “Of course not!”  I ask, “Then what is it about the beach that you love, if it is not what you told me–the sand, water, and heat?”  “It’s the heat of the sun and sand as they penetrate my skin, and it’s the power in the waves in the ocean.”  “Those are verbs,” I say.  You told me that you loved a noun (the beach), when what you loved was the experience of the verbs.  They agree.  Another suggests the same happened when she said she loved the river, a noun, when in fact she loved the powerful flowing of the river, the verb, not the water sitting in a riverbed, the nouns.

The observation is that we tend to replace the verbs that actually describe the experience we enjoy at the development level of perceived reality, a verb, with nouns.  We take out the “over time” factor, collapsing the experience into an instant–a verb into a noun.  As I have suggested in other blog posts, this invocation of the outcomes-things level of perceived reality by using nouns limits our ability to work with and experience the development level of perceived reality.

In observing lots of groups lately, I find that this “nounifying” of verbs happens unconsciously in many spheres of our daily lives in organizations.  A few examples, from the perspective of the five primary relationships, highlight how widely spread the nounifying is.

  • Self.  We talk about an individual’s capacities, gifts, development, and potential, when we mean the experience of their ability to bring what they are learning to an effort, the  talents they are developing and so uniquely present to the world, their learning over time, and the possibilities in their future that we can see.
  • Other.  With another person, we experience their recognition and support.  Nouns for the actual experience of recognizing and supporting each other over time, not just once.
  • Group.  We see the contribution of individuals to the group, and we look for alignment.  These are both nouns for the ongoing experience of what individuals contribute (a verb) and how we are continuously aligning with each other, an active process, not a one-time event.
  • Nature.   As with the examples I gave above, we talk about mother nature as trees, beaches, oceans, wind, and rivers.  We talk about human nature as education, process, possibility, transformation, and reality.  We even talk about our relationship to nature as nature.  All nouns that try to describe our experience of the interweaving of three levels of perceived reality (light, motion, and matter).
  • Spirit.  Even in our experience of the source of creativity, we use nouns.  We talk about received wisdom, creativity, inspiration, and spirit.  All nouns for a much richer experience of the intermingling of possibility, development, and outcomes.  We experience and love the mystery of the movement among these three levels, and we name it with a noun.

In the book Ecosynomics: The Science of AbundanceI explore the deep implications for many of our hidden agreements that this nounifying of verbs has on our experience of life and the outcomes we achieve.

What other examples of verbs do you see people transforming into nouns by the very language they use?  What effects do you see that this nounifying has on their experience?  Please share in the comments section for this post what you see.

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