The words you speak

The words we speak are much like the wind - they seem insubstantial, yet exercise extraordinary influence. Even a few of them have the power to inspire or deflate, to heal or to harm. As writer Gary Chapman has pointed out, words can act as either a bullet or a seed for they can ruin us or nurture us.

It is said that if Adolf Hitler had been encouraged to pursue Art, as he wanted to, history today would read differently. Unfortunately, Hitler’s father was bad-tempered and abused him when he expressed his desire to be a painter and not a customs official, as he desired. This made Hitler leave home in 1905 and live a bohemian life in Vienna. He supported himself by selling water-colours of Vienna’s sights. Hoping to study painting, he applied to the Viennese Academy of Arts. He failed to secure admission. He tried again in 1908, but they rejected him once more citing his ‘unfitness for painting.’  Humiliation and depression then drove him to the path of retaliation and revenge.

Quite the opposite is the story of Demosthenes, the great Greek orator. In his first attempt at public speaking, the crowd hissed him. He was deep in despair when he heard someone say that he spoke a little like Pericles. He took courage and spoke a second time. Once again the crowd mocked him, but a successful actor put heart into him. The encouragement given by these two men enabled him to reach great heights, even surpassing the renowned Roman, Cicero.

If unkind words merely succeed in damaging others, why do we indulge in them? Broadly speaking, the perpetrators are those who have been victims of abuse and so have become offenders themselves. Unkind language is not so much a manner of talking as a matter of attitude. Our words can only be as kind as our thoughts. This is the reason why Buddha included Right Speech in his eight-fold path.

Fortunately, we can at any stage in our life make an effort to speak kindly. Even in the teeth of provocation, we can pause and avoid making damaging remarks, for while angry words burst forth in an instant rush, kind ones occupy the small space between thought and action.
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