by Marguerite Theophil
November 17, 2010
The writer is a
Mumbai-based consultant, personal growth coach and
Words, especially from those we consider leaders, can guide us or
deceive us, make us knowledgeable or ignorant, violent or peaceful,
sad or joyful, wise or foolish.
A poster on a school notice board declares:
"What we habitually say in our
heads, we usually end up saying with our lips, which ultimately
direct our feet."
Words are powerful. From others they
often influence or direct our decisions and behavior while our own
words act to elicit responses from those who receive them.
In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs has much to say about the value
of well- chosen words:
"A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger."
It goes on to prompt us to choose our
friends carefully, partly on the basis of the kind of words and
speech they habitually use.
"Speak that which is kindlier," the
Quran instructs us, "a kind word with forgiveness is better than
almsgiving followed by injury..."
A commentary on the meaning of these
verses says that the tongue affects the ear. The ear affects the
soul. The soul affects the entire body. Every word makes an
impression on the listener. But the deepest impression made on the
listener is either a kind word or a harsh word.
Whichever way we look at it, there is no doubt that what we say or
write could have impact and so the prudent would use the power of
speech very carefully indeed.
In Buddhism, one aspect of the
Eightfold Path, Sama Vaca, is most
often translated into English as Right Speech, but a more accurate
rendering is Wise Speech or even Skillful Speech, which helpfully
suggests speech that is acquired through practice.
The concept of Intentional Speech is
being mindful of one's purpose in speaking.
The following story illustrates well the power of words:
An old Buddhist master spoke to his
students: "Tonight I would like to speak to you about wise
speech. According to the Buddha, wise speech is that which is
truthful, gentle, helpful, spoken from a kind heart and is
Then he spoke at great length about the harm that results from
rude, mean spirited, harsh or careless words. A young disciple
said, "Venerable sir, I do not understand how this can be. A
stone can bruise. Theft can deprive. But words are just sounds,
having no substance. I must disagree with you when you suggest
they are so powerful."
The master replied, "If you weren't such an ignorant idiot,
you'd understand. So sit down, shut up and stop interrupting."
The startled young man fell silent, but about ten minutes later
jumped to his feet, face red, eyes bulging, fists clenched, his
whole body shaking.
The old man turned to him, "You seem perturbed. Your gentle
disposition is shattered. What happened to you?"
"You hurtled harsh insults I did not deserve. You cannot
possibly be the great teacher you pretend to be. You are a
The old man responded, "Ah, I see. It was my words that had such
a transforming effect upon you. It seems you and I agree that
speech can be quite powerful."
Words, especially from those we consider
leaders, can guide us or deceive us, make us knowledgeable or
ignorant, violent or peaceful, sad or joyful, wise or foolish.
Words give birth to ideas, which in turn
create powerful emotions, which rule the hearts of men and women,
who then can act constructively or destructively, for justice or