Several weeks ago a participant in one of our Elder Care Ministries Zoom coffee chats shared about a course in which she and others are learning to use round words instead of cactus words.
The image of cactus words has stuck with me. It brings to mind those sharp or prickly words. The ones that are barb-like and pierce so easily. The ones that often roll off our tongues or our keyboards just as easily.
While I also appreciate the image of round words, I find it more difficult to explain what I think it means. When someone asked me to name some round words, I was unsure how to answer in that moment.
But I’ve continued thinking about how to describe round words.
Here are some things I think they’re not. They’re not words that simply allow us to go around difficult topics—words that are so soft or squishy that they convey nothing concrete or meaningful. They’re also not words that cause us to go round and round in circles—words that are not defined well enough that we can share a common understanding when we use them.
Instead, it seems to me that round words have substance without having sharp edges. They invite conversation rather than inflict wounds. They communicate meaning not malice, hope not harshness, sincerity not sarcasm, and openness not obstruction.
Several years ago the editor of the local newspaper emailed me, along with a number of other folks, to ask about my New Year’s resolution. I thought about responding with a carton that hangs on the bulletin board in my office.
The cartoon is from the comic strip Non Sequitur and features Danae, a precocious girl with a pessimistic view of the world, but not of herself.
Several frames of the carton show Danae sitting at a desk, working on her New Year’s resolutions. In the fourth frame, she’s whistling as she walks away from the desk, leaving behind a list that has a single entry: “Don’t mess with perfection.”
When the local newspaper arrived and I noticed my resolution highlighted on the front page, I was relieved I hadn’t gone with my initial impulse. I still love the cartoon, but I’m glad I went in a more serious direction.
Here’s what I actually wrote in response to the editor’s inquiry: “I resolve to live more in the present. I hope this will help me notice and appreciate the things of beauty, wonder, and joy that offer themselves each day.”
As nice as that resolution may sound, the question still remained as to how I would begin to keep it.