I was having a discussion about mission statements, corporate positioning and things of that nature the other day (OK, not the most exciting stuff, I'll grant you…) But, from this tiring discussion of corporate wordsmithing, I realized just how crucial it is for each of us -- as individuals -- to be conscious of the words we use to describe ourselves.
Why? Because the words you use in your claims, aspirations, and defining words can become a sort of 'litmus test' by which others gauge your actions. If you don't declare yourself, anyone is free to call you whatever they want but you can 'spin' your way out of it. After all, who are they to label you.
On the other hand, once you label yourself, you've given them a reference point against which to measure your actions.
Google: Evil or not?
A prime example of this is Google. For a long time, it seemed everyone loved Google and nobody was suspicious of its near-magical abilities to corral and index information from all over the internet - including the dark corners where no human had ventured in years.
Google captured private information? "That's OK, it's just Google - they can search anything. How cool."
Life was good.
Then, one day, it came to light that Google's corporate credo was "Don't be evil." (see References, below for details). At that point, some people began to look at their actions differently. "Wait a minute. They say they aren't evil… why would they even need to deny they're evil?"
On Bing, there are over 108 million results for 'Google "don't be evil"' and a lot of them are links to people citing examples where they believe Google has done something "evil."
You: Testable or not?
My point is that once Google declared itself by saying what it was not, they created a benchmark that made it easier for others to analyze and criticize Google, but according to Google's own rules.
Positively or negatively, you can do this to yourself.
- If you declare yourself as "fair" or "just," people will begin to try to catch you doing things that are unfair or unjust.
- If you declare yourself as "open minded," people will begin to try to find examples of when you haven't been
and so on.
Choose your words carefully
My point isn't that we should not declare ourselves - it's that we should be deliberate and careful about the labels we choose to proclaim for ourselves. Make sure you set standards that you can meet. Or even better, define yourself in terms of things that are not so "pass / fail."
In short, be positive - in tone, as well as being positive you can "wear the clothes" of the words that define you.