By Brendalyn King, M.Ed, PCC, Leadership Coach and Community Engagement at Bhavana Learning Group

#timesUp, #meToo

#neverAgain, #enough

These are more than hashtags or supportive movements. These powerful declarations have altered the future for the world. The act of a declaration has the power to shape new stories, evoke our collective imagination, and engage thousands in action.

The power of our words shapes minds, opens hearts, and moves masses.

Consider the recent voices of young people like Emma Gonzalez, Naomi Wadler, or of our mentor, Oprah, or innovator Steve Jobs to move emotions. Their voice has changed minds and urged people to action.

What does their language reveal? How can we move people with our words? Consider that those speeches all begin with a Declaration.

We’ve paid attention to these voices because they declare futures, and they enroll us in a possibility. Oprah expanded minds and empowered our spirituality to highlight a new movement for women in Hollywood. Emma penetrated our slumber to confront gun violence. Naomi pointedly reminded us of the disparate media attention given to African-American girls killed by gun violence. And Steve Jobs provoked imagination that unleashed individual creativity.

All of this began with a declaration.

Speech Acts

For some background, American philosopher and UC, Berkeley Professor, John Searle, (who began teaching in 1959) developed a theory of Speech Acts. According to Searle, “Speech acts are the minimal units of linguistic communication, occurring in sentences and conversations.” Declarations are among these speech acts. In his book Expression and Meaning, Searle suggested five general categories of speech acts that are common to all cultures, regardless of the mother tongue:

  1. We tell people how things are
  2. We try to get people to do things
  3. We commit ourselves to doing things
  4. We express our feelings and attitudes
  5. We bring about changes in the world through our utterances

As a speech act, Declarations bring forth four other speech acts just in its speaking: an Offer, Request, Promise, and an Assertion.

In his book, Coaching to the human Soul, Alan Sieler presents Declarations as “statements with the force of some authority behind them, which immediately bring about a change in circumstances and the generation of a different reality.”

Your Word Declares Your World

To speak a declaration requires that we are willing to take the authority and be responsible for our speaking.

In our ebook, An Introduction to Generative Language, Tony Zampella puts it this way:

“Unlike descriptive language, which offers evidence for its claims, generative language offers no evidence, only authority—creating from nothing, from no evidence—spoken from the depths of responsibility and integrity.”

We forget that we can speak our life into existence. Language is our technology, it’s how we co-create reality. The responsibility for being an author is not found in some result or evidence, but in the willingness to take authority for achieving it – regardless of any result or evidence. And for most, this means acting in the face of fear.

Before entering college, I recall declaring “I will not be a broke college student.” I continually shared it with my freshman friends, and they supported me in finding financial opportunities. Ways to earn money as a college student, always available, only occurred to me after I declared, “it shall be.” Then, my perspective shifted and I saw the abundance of opportunity.

None of our current crop of leaders called for #neveragain. That was Emma Gonzalez who declared, “we are going to be the last mass shooting!” And she further declared: “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks.”

There’s no evidence for this, only her willingness to take the stage and speak, and speak, and continue to act in alignment with her speaking.

During her speech at the Golden Globe Awards, Oprah declared, “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up!”

Unlike the speaking we encounter daily, these declarations create future when spoken, as detailed in this grid:

Declaring Futures without Evidence

Simply put, Declarations create context and possibility from the future, offering direction for that future. Human beings spend a lot of time describing reality and are often oblivious to their power to create it.

Chalmers Brothers, leadership development coach and author of, Language and the Pursuit of Happiness says in his TED Talk,

“We speak ourselves into the world. How was the United States of America created? What is there, in the Archives, right next to the Constitution in Washington D.C.? The Declaration. Ours was the first nation constituted in language, declared into being. That declaration created the context and direction for the work to follow.”

Consider these famous declarations:

Martin Luther King’s declared future:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

John F. Kennedy’s declared future of putting a Man on the Moon that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

In his speaking, JFK created that possibility in the hearts and minds of all Americans. In his speaking, he opened our imagination, focused attention and intentions, aligned resources, shifted agreements, and created urgency merely because he was willing to act.

Stunningly, the metal to create a spaceship for such a journey had not been invented. JFK had no evidence for his speaking. He was willing to stand for it. He mobilized our attention and focused our imagination on this future. So powerful, it became reality years after his death.

What is Your Moon Shot?

Russell Redenbaugh, a blind man who accomplished extraordinary things, reminds us here that “Declarations precede leaps. They precipitate action.”

Philosopher Martin Heidegger rightly stated, “language is the house of being.” It is to being human like electricity is to our computer or heat is to fire—without it, the subject just doesn’t function.

Sieler writes, “We are all players in the speech acts game, however, most of us have played the game without being aware that we were participating.” We can expand our awareness to 1) observe what we say and 2) shift from describing events to creating the world we want to see.

It is possible to alter the future just by speaking.

So, declarations create a context to focus and prioritize what you will pay attention to. The only question is, what are you willing to say? What keeps you from declaring your future?

Your Turn!

Get started now:

  • What declaration, if said, would alter your life?
  • What declaration have you made that you’ve seen the fruits of?
  • What declaration are you resisting or afraid to make?

Coaching tip: The speaking of declarations will open territory for action in the form of promises and requests. This is a large part of our work at Bhavana Learning Group as addressed in our complimentary eBook.

Reading Time: 5 min. Digest Time: 7 min.

brendalyn-king-headshotBrendalyn King, M.Ed, PCC, serves as Leadership Coach, and supports Community Engagement, Strategic Partnerships at Bhavana Learning Group. She leads all aspects of program development and delivery.

As an educator and leadership coach, Brendalyn’s areas of specialty include increasing individual performance and presence as well as employing generative communication to align purpose and meaning.