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Thursday Complexity Post    
March 12,  2015

Words that Heal and Reveal


In his early research career, Dr. James Pennebaker learned that keeping secrets is bad for your health. In fact, he and colleagues found, people who suffered traumas and kept them secret sought treatment for illnesses 40 percent more often than people who talked openly about their past adversities. But you don't always have to tell the world.


Dr. Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a pioneer in studying the healing use of language, found that adults who endured the suicide or sudden death of a spouse were healthier a year later if they had talked about it. Gays and lesbians who were open about their sexual status were healthier than those who kept it hidden. Over decades of studying how people dealt with traumas of all sorts-the death of loved ones, natural disasters, divorce, criminal assault, sexual traumas and the Holocaust-he looked at how we use language to process emotional devastation. And he discovered that writing about deeply disturbing events-even if the writer showed no one else and destroyed the written account-improved the physical health and emotional resilience of those who wrote.


Those who benefit most, he explains, are able to construct a meaningful story of their experience, express more optimism as they acknowledge the worst, and change perspectives. In his newest book, Expressive Writing: Words that Heal, he tells how brief, simple writing exercises have helped people who put their traumas into words. Computer analysis showed many participants in the writing studies had fewer illnesses and improved immune function. Three studies showed higher student grades, possibly, he writes, because more working memory is available for present endeavors if we've detoxified past traumas so that we don't have to be preoccupied with them.  


Dr. Pennebaker has spent decades exploring the power and significance of how we select, use and combine words. In his book The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, Dr. Pennebaker examines function words, including pronouns, prepositions and articles, and made some surprising discoveries. He says our words are linguistic fingerprints and keys to the soul.


Pronouns yield profound insights. Scientists interviewed couples after one partner suffered a heart attack and asked them how they had coped and what they had done best. The more the spouses used the we-words, that is we, us and our, in their answers the healthier the patients were six months later. We-words even impact safety. Researchers have found the most effective airline cockpit crews are close-knit and feel part of a team. In analyzing cockpit recordings of airlines that crashed, the ones clearly characterized by human error are associated with far fewer we-words than were used by the crews of planes that crashed because of unavoidable mechanical error.


Of course, Dr. Pennebaker the notes, communal use of we differs greatly from the royal we, often employed by males of superior status, as in, "We need to analyze that data." Pennebaker calls that the "we as you" use, in which the speaker is trying to be pleasant while issuing an order. There's also a restrictive we, that means my friends and me, but not you, as in describing a joint activity that didn't include the listener.


The first person singular holds many clues about mental health, outlook, and power. Analyzing the Twitter feeds of pregnant women, Microsoft computer scientists were able to accurately predict who would suffer postpartum depression. Indicators include increasing use of self-referential pronouns with growing self-focus.  


In interaction between people, Dr.Pennebaker's computer studies have shown, persons with higher social status uses fewer I words and people with lower social status use more I words.Dr. Pennebaker says he always considered himself an egalitarian guy who treated everyone with the same respect, and he was surprised by a computer analysis of his own emails. In responding to his students, who used many I swords in their messages to him, Dr. Pennebaker rarely used I words. In an invitation to a famous professor he hoped would attend a conference, he used I words liberally.  


Pronouns also show shifting emotion and allegiance, Dr. Pennebaker found. When our favorite sports team is successful, we say "We won." When the team goes down to defeat, we tend to say "They lost."


If you're interested in some self-insights, do some of Dr. Pennebaker's exercises And listen to a PlexusCall tomorrow.



Remember PlexusCalls!

Friday, March 13, 2015

1-2 PM Eastern Time

Our Words Say More Than We Know

Guests: James Pennebaker and Judi Neal


Words can hurt, heal, or reveal. What does our everyday language suggest about our personalities? What do our words say about how we deal with power, stress, adversity, joy, curiosity and happiness? The way we choose and use words isn't always deliberate but it can tell more about us than we realize. Join this informative conversation!  




James W. Pennebaker is the Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts in the

Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his PhD

in 1977. His earlier work explored the links between traumatic experiences, expressive writing, and physical and mental health. His studies found that physical health and work performance can improve by simple writing and/or talking exercises. His most recent research focuses on the nature of language in the real world. The words people use can be powerful reflections of their personality and social worlds. He is the author or editor of 10 books, including The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, and Expressive Writing: Words that Heal, which he wrote with John F. Evans. Dr. Pennebaker has written more than 250 articles, and received numerous awards and honors. His scientific work is among the most cited in all of psychology, psychiatry, and the social sciences

Dr. Judi Neal is the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Edgewalkers International. She was the founding director of the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas. Judi is recognized as an expert on spirituality in the workplace and speaks and consults internationally. She received her PhD from Yale in Organizational Behavior. In 1988 Judi began teaching management at the University of New Haven. She focused her research on business leaders who have a strong commitment to their faith and spirituality, and began studying how they bridged the spiritual world and the material world of business. That led to her research on people she calls "Edgewalkers."

Judi authored the book Edgewalkers: People and Organizations that Take Risks, Build Bridges and Break New Ground; co-authored The Spirit of Project Management with Alan Harpham; and is editor of the Handbook of Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace. She recently published her fourth book titled Creating Enlightened Organizations: Four Gateways to Spirit at Work. She has published widely in academic journals and has created an international community of Edgewalkers.One of her deepest spiritual practices is songwriting and singing, and she has produced a CD titled The Journey.



Healthcare PlexusCall

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 1-2 PM ET

Topic: Teens Take on Health: Solutions for a Healthy America  

Guest: Wynne Grossman    





The future of our country's health belongs to our teens. In 2012, Molina Healthcare and 4-H embarked on a joint initiative, Teens Take On Health: Solutions for a Healthy America. The goal of this initiative was to prepare teens to take ownership of their health, promote healthy living in their families and communities, and become health leaders as they grow into adulthood. Molina and 4-H worked together to encourage teens to think critically about health issues and create viable solutions to help them live balanced, healthy lives.


4-H directed the Teens Take on Health initiative while Molina's engagement staff teamed with neighborhood schools and teen centers to ensure the participation of low-income youth in each phase of the campaign.



The initiative was implemented in three phases. Teens were asked to:



1. Describe their health concerns through a social media survey campaign
2. Compete to make the best original video demonstrating solutions to health issues
3. Team up in Town Hall Meetings to define the nation's most significant health issues and design bold new solutions to address their top health concerns
They used a powerful facilitation method called Liberating Structures to keep all participants successfully engaged in the Town Hall Meetings that took place in five states (California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan and Utah). Not only did teens get involved, they learned how to plan and run the meetings themselves.

Wynne Grossman of Molina Healthcare will join the call to share what they learned about teens' health concerns, solutions proposed by teen participants, and what commitments 4-H and Molina have made to support this ongoing work.

Wynne Grossman, MSW, has over 25 years of experience developing, implementing and directing innovative health programs. She is currently a consultant to Molina Healthcare, a Long Beach, CA based company that provides quality health services to financially vulnerable families and individuals covered by government programs. Molina Healthcare has health plans, medical clinics and a health information management solution. As Project Management Director at Molina, Ms. Grossman directed national partnerships with non-profit organizations, including the 4H National Council. Their joint initiative, Teens Take on Health: Solutions for a Healthier America, was intended to prepare teens to take ownership of their health, promote healthy living in their families and communities, and become health leaders as they grow into adulthood.

Prior to joining Molina, Ms. Grossman was the Executive Director of the Center for Oral Health, where she grew the organization into a nationally recognized leader in oral health. Previously she was the Executive Director of the Valeo Initiative and the Director of Research and Development for the Health Forum. Ms. Grossman received her BA from the Pennsylvania State University and her MSW from the University of California at Berkeley.

Hoping to hear your voice March 18th, 

Joelle Everett

Anyone interested is welcome to participate in these calls. Use the social share links at the top of this email to share with your Facebook, Twitter, or other networks or to others. Please use the forward link in this email to avoid the recipient unsubscribing you. You will not subscribe them. The feature only sends this individual message. For information about Plexus Institute and more details about this  call series and others, visit

See all upcoming PlexusCalls on the Plexus Calendar. Subscribe to the PlexusCalls or Healthcare PlexusCalls podcasts. Or, visit the Community section of for the audio archive.    



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