The A-Word 
Adapted  from 101 Words I Don't Use by Paul Niquette
Copyright 1995 by Paul Niquette, all rights reserved.

Suppose I told you that if you stopped using just one word, your whole life will get better.
  • You will be happier and feel freer.
  • Your work will be easier.
  • You will be a better boss.
  • You will be a better spouse.
I'll go so far as to say, you will do better at whatever you choose to do. No doubt about it: Your life will get a whole lot better.
    There's just this one word. It starts with an A. It's the A-word. And it's an obscenity.
All you have to do is stop using the A-word and --
    "But," you say, "I don't use the A-word."
Yes you do. At least once a day you use the word 'attitude.' The A-word is attitude. {Definition}
    Sure it is.
Since the seventies, every time I feel the urge to say The A-Word, I just say 'behavior' instead.

Plenty of reasons. Start out with this one...

    Society rewards those among us who
    separate attitude from behavior. {Definition}

The sophisticated reader will recognize at once the truth of that statement.
    The highest paid actor is the one who can bring us to laughter or tears with simulated mirth or grief. Whether the portrayal represents the actor's true feelings is not relevant. Acting is behavior, one of the highest paying professions.
      Behavior gets the applause, never attitude.

    The attorney who commands the highest fees may not genuinely believe in the case. The canons of that calling mandate a behavior which supports the best interests of the client, whatever the lawyer's attitude. Actors hire lawyers not vice versa.
      Concealment of attitude is a much valued behavior.
  • You want to be successful at work? Consider...
      • The would-be executive who goes around saying exactly what he or she thinks despite official company policy has no chance for success.
      • You think your competitor offers a superior product? Tell your customer so and see what happens.
      • It's one thing for a marketing manager to report defects in products to the engineering department, but it's something else to complain at a sales presentation.

      Unsophisticated behavior in the workplace is not only a deficiency, it is an iniquity.

  • Public relations at its best is synthetic ignorance. You want to be good at press relations? Learn to say "I don't know how to answer that."
      Ego indulges attitude, discretion guides behavior.

  • Public officials -- please don't tell me they can go around letting their attitudes hang out. Politicians gain most by behaviors which reveal least about their attitudes.
      Voters delude themselves. They think they discern a candidate's attitude on pet issues -- until after the election -- then they suffer disappointments from the incumbent's official behavior.
        "That's politics," we say with a cynical smirk.

      International diplomacy operates the same way. In a nuclear age, if behaviors were perfectly aligned with attitudes, there would be no hope for the planet.
        "That's statesmanship," we say with a sigh of relief.
Let me say it again:
    Society rewards those among us who separate attitude from behavior.
More to the point: Behavior is all that matters.

But where does that leave our young people? {Background}

    They all start out "innocent." Open. Bluntly so. A child's behavior directly reflects his or her attitude. We secretly envy them for that, don't we.
      "Always be open," we tell them.
      Later on, it's: "Let it all hang out."
      "Don't hold anything back."
      "Tell it like it is."
Religions push that point: Ever hear of "an outward, visible sign of an inward, spiritual truth"? Translation: "Behavior is an outward, visible sign of an inward, spiritual attitude."
    Then kids learn the truth. They figure it out at the worst possible time in their lives: In the teens.
Reality is something else. Big disillusionment, that.
    But -- hey, it's good news!
Attitude is private -- maybe the only thing in life that really is private.

Although attitude is utterly private, a person may not actually be able to control his or her own attitude.

    Ask me what my attitude is, and I'll say it is none of your business. That may be merely my way of admitting that I am seldom able to determine -- let alone control -- my own attitude. Behavior is a different matter.
'Volition,' the most beautiful word in any language -- volition gives you the power to regulate your behavior. By volition, you can comply with social imperatives while keeping your attitude personal, private -- even secret. There's freedom in that.

Society is justified in expecting a little conformity. We're not all hermits! Conformity -- but only in behavior. Non-conformity can be kept alive and well at a deeper level -- down inside where attitude lives.

ow about letting our kids enjoy the happy fact of the matter: No one is entitled even to know what your attitude is -- not an employer, not the government, not even your family. For example...

On the job a person is paid to do things. That's behavior.

  • Creating and selling, speaking and writing, making and inspecting -- those are all behaviors.
  • The amount of work done -- quantity -- is behavior. So is quality.
How a person does his or her work is also behavior...
  • Accurately, efficiently, quickly.
  • Same for cheerfully, cooperatively -- even grudgingly.
    • Behavior gets the raise or fired, not attitude.
    Remember: The bigger the difference between attitude and behavior the higher the pay!

    Sure, it would be nice if we didn't need to separate attitude from behavior.

    • It would be nice if your competitor didn't have a better product.
    • It would be nice if your customer didn't have a crummy personality.
    • It would be nice if you didn't have to slow down in school zones.
    Governments at all levels exert control over behavior. That's what laws do. Laws have nothing to do with attitude. At least they better not!
    • It's OK to resent the speeding law, just don't exceed it.
    • Grumble all you want, but pay your taxes.
    • Delinquency is behavior. Self control, too -- and discipline.
    "You cannot legislate morality," people say.
      Oh, but you can: You can indeed legislate moral behavior. It's moral attitude that you cannot legislate.
        Prisons and fines punish behavior, not attitude.
    What about our education system? Tell kids: Just do it.
    • You don't have to feel good about school, just attend.
    • You don't have to love spelling, just do your homework.
    • You don't have to like Miss Prescott (I never did) -- but you must behave courteously.
    You want self-esteem? Let your attitude be freely your own; allow only your behavior to be regulated by others.

    You want a better life? Keep your attitude private -- only your behavior public. Fasten your seatbelt...

    • Peers and Parents: Whatever interest they may have in your attitude, all they ever see is your behavior.
    • Sweethearts and Spouses: Whatever interest they may have in your attitude, all they ever see is your behavior.
    • Friends and Foes: Whatever interest they may have in your attitude, all they ever see is your behavior.
    Individuals may think they know a given person's attitude and either approve of it ("I like your attitude") or not ("I don't like your attitude"). Nevertheless, not one mortal knows the attitude of another.

    Considering the private nature of attitude -- more private than any organ in your body -- let's cut our kids some slack. And our subordinates, our neighbors, our family members -- and ourselves. Treat the A-word -- attitude -- like a bad word.

    By the way, how many words do you have in your vocabulary? Thousands, of course. Surely, you can spare one word. Try this for one month. Stop using The A-Word for 30 days. You'll never go back.


    attitude 1. A position of the body or manner of carrying oneself, indicative of a mood or condition: "men...sprawled alone or in heaps, in the careless attitudes of death" (John Reed). 2. A state of mind or feeling with regard to some matter; disposition: "My attitude towards historicism is one of frank hostility" (Karl Popper) 3. Aviation. The orientation of an aircraft's axes relative to some reference line or plane, such as the horizon. 4. Aerospace. The orientation of a spacecraft relative to its direction of motion. 5. Ballet. A position in which a dancer stands on one leg with the other bent backward. [French, from Italian attitudine, disposition, from Late Latin aptitudio, faculty, fitness, from Latin aptus, fit, apt.

    -- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1981)

     attitude [F, fr. It attitudine, lit., aptitude, fr. LL aptitudin-, aptitudo fitness -- more at aptitude] (1668) 1: the arrangement of the parts of a body or figure: posture 2: a position assumed for a specific purpose <a threatening attitude> 3: a ballet position similar to the arabesque in which the raised leg is bent at the knee 4 a: a mental position with regard to a fact or state b: a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state 5: the position of an aircraft or spacecraft determined by the relationship between its axes and a reference datum (as the horizon or a particular star) 6: an organismic state of readiness to respond in a characteristic way to a stimulus (as an object, concept, or situation) 7 a: a negative or hostile state of mind b: a cocky or arrogant manner.

    -- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (1995)

    behavior Also chiefly British, behaviour. 1. The manner in which one behaves; deportment; demeanor. 2. The actions or reactions of persons or things under specified circumstances. [Middle English behaven to hold oneself in a certain way: be-, thoroughly + haven, to have.] Behavior applies to actions on specific occasions involving essentially external and sometimes superficial relationships. Conduct applies to actions in more significant relationships, considered from the standpoint of morals and ethics. Deportment more narrowly pertains to actions measured by a prevailing social code of behavior.

    -- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1981)

     behavior [alter. of ME behavour, fr. behaven] (15c) 1 a: the manner of conducting oneself b: anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulation c: the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment 2: the way in which someone behaves; also: an instance of such behavior 3: the way in which something functions or operates.

    -- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (1995)


    The A-Word has been adapted from a graduation speech first given by Paul Niquette in 1988 at the University of Southern California, Department of Public Administration. In the intervening years, the term 'attitude' has become a vogue expression connoting 'bad behavior.' That's a shame.

      Maybe the fad will pass. (Naah.)  Another term of distinction -- a most sophisticated one -- is becoming smithereened in the crucible of imprecision.
    The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has already given its imprimatur to slang's deformation of the word 'attitude' (definition 7b "a cocky or arrogant manner"). Please send your ideas for a word or an expression that sophisticated persons can use in its place to denote an internalized, volitional state of mind to

    Meanwhile, on further reflection, I have found that the unconscious mind has something to say about The A-Word.


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