Book Review: The Secret Life of Pronouns

I want you all to know that the words you’re about to read would have looked extremely different had the events of this past weekend not unfolded. But as I was reminded this weekend, it is important to trust the process, so that is exactly what I’m doing.

I spent the last four days in a space with about forty other people who in some form or another are about progressive change, and are constantly working to bring equality to areas where they see it lacking. There were laughs this weekend, profound moments of deep connection, tears, and words.

We connect through our words, through conveying to one another what is important to us, who we are, and how we came to be.

So what does this have to do with the book I’m reviewing? I think just about everything. The Secret Life Of Pronouns by James W. Pennebaker, is all about looking at the words people are using, how they are using them, and figuring out what they are actually saying.

I’m going to be entirely transparent with you, and admit that although I was able to pull some really great things from the book, that it wasn’t quite what I had been expecting.  Pennebaker discusses several studies he has conducted throughout the book, and presents readers with quite interesting statistics about word use. Although he provides tools to analyze what people are actually saying, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself if it’s something I would really ever use. Am I really going to sit and analyze each word people are using? Probably not.

If this weekend taught me anything, it’s that the power of words is incredible, and that authenticity is something you can feel in the depths of your soul.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a space where you simultaneously feel mentally drained and inspired, and where everyone has such great wisdom and insight to share, but it is something that doesn’t happen every single day, so when it does, I beg you to cling to it.

“Emotions change the ways people see and think about the world. They can motivate people to work harder or cause them to give in to despair. Emotions can broaden our perspectives or restrict them by causing to ruminate about the same topics over and over. Emotions guide our thinking and affect the ways we talk and get along with others. Not only do we need to know our own emotions, we need to be able to read other people’s emotions to understand what they are thinking and planning to do.”

– James W. Pennebaker

I can say with confidence that the emotion present this weekend gave us all renewed energy to work harder, gave us a restored belief in humanity, and allowed us to form deep bonds and connections over the course of four days.

We are human, and I think we could spend a lifetime reading about words, but it’s using them, exchanging them, taking them in, where we learn about ourselves and each other.

I don’t think we need to pay attention to what pronouns people are using, or negative emotional words. I think we just need to truly listen, and that the rest will follow.

So I urge you to listen when people speak to you today, give them your full attention, and really truly listen.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Secret Life of Pronouns

    1. I received a fellowship and was at a conference for progressive leaders. I spent the weekend sharing my story, listening to the story of others, and connecting with people who are so very passionate about the things that they do.

      Personally, the book was a bit too heavy on the statistics and case study side, for my liking. If that is your thing, then I would highly suggest it. However, there were snippets of greatness that I was able to pull from the book.

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