THE POWER OF WORDS
By Ying Ri & Nicole Leo
Those who abuse the power of speech and attack others with their words not only create wounds that fester for a long time, but could also bring about physical conflict and harm.
A general, seeking to learn the way of Zen, sought out a meditation master who lived deep in the mountains.
The general asked respectfully, “Master, do Heaven and hell really exist? If so, where are they found?”
The master kept his eyes shut and held silent. Just as the general could wait no longer, the master’s eyes flew open. He glared, then yelled, “You idiot! What a silly question you ask of me, get lost!”
Enraged, the general whipped out his sword. “How dare you insult me? I will kill you!”
See? Didn’t hell just manifest itself?”
The master’s reply shocked the general, who immediately sheathed his sword. “I’m so sorry, please forgive me for my outrage!”
The enlightened master replied, “Ah, and the gates of Heaven have now opened to welcome you.”
The words we verbalize are powerful. On one hand, our speech can ignite hate and violence. On the other, it can bring reconciliation and even awaken the truth within us.
Hurtful Words are Invisible Weapons
Our words are invisible weapons with the power to penetrate deep within our souls. Unkind or abusive messages — such as slander, insult, verbal abuse, and discriminatory language — create wounds that are difficult to heal, and can potentially destroy lives. Hurtful words linger years after being spoken, causing the recipients to grapple with sadness, helplessness, loneliness, or self-loathing, and possibly become withdrawn or aggressive.
People often define their self-worth based on external standards, be it the grades at school, career promotions, accolades or acknowledgments. Exposure to negative and abusive speech can adversely influence the way one sees and values oneself.
In October 2017, a 14-year-old boy shot and killed two classmates and injured four other students in Brazil after classmates continually teased and bullied him. Their taunts became too much for the young boy, causing him to open fire in school during break time.
Not long after, a 13-year-old California girl took her own life in November 2017. She had been through years of bullying by her middle school peers. The school was informed of the bullying and she had been in counseling. The victim wrote in a journal the details of how she was bullied and mentioned those who were callous toward her. The bullies relentlessly called her “ugly” and made fun of her teeth and braces. She was verbally abused to the extent that she wrote a suicide note to her parents telling them she didn’t even feel worthy of a picture at her funeral.
Psychology Today reported research which involved young adults aged 18 to 25 years, with no prior history of exposure to domestic, physical or sexual abuse, rating their childhood exposure to verbal abuse. Results showed that youths who experienced verbal abuse from their peers during middle school had underdeveloped connections between the left and right sides of their brain. Psychological tests also revealed that this same group of individuals had greater levels of anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, dissociation, and drug abuse than other study participants. The results indicate that verbal harassment and abuse can cause much more than just emotional harm — hurtful words can also alter brain structure, personality, and therefore behavior.
Dealing With Abusive Words
We know that violent and negative words can cause severe emotional damage. How then should we best react to verbally abusive situations and protect ourselves?
Be steadfast and sure of yourself
When assaulted by extreme words of condemnation and abuse, exercise independent judgment to get clarity on your true self, your surroundings, and the circumstances. Do not blindly lose yourself in criticisms or negativity from others. In daily life, build on your interests and strengths to gain confidence and emotional stability. Being strongminded and courageous allows us to overcome obstacles and the hurtful words of others.
Respond with a smile
After the opening performance of his play Arms and the Man, famed Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was invited on stage during curtain call to rapturous applause. Amidst the cheers and praise, a member of the audience jeered and booed. Everyone was taken aback, expecting an angry response from Shaw. However, Shaw smiled and replied, “My dear fellow, I quite agree with you, but what are we two against so many?” His witty and humorous reply dispelled the awkwardness and defused a conflict. He maintained positivity and his wise response won further applause from the crowd.
Exercise tolerance and understanding
At times, it would benefit us to put ourselves in the shoes of the other party and understand if there are particular reasons or difficulties that are causing them to behave in a negative way. Sometimes the people who hurt others are hurting within themselves. Understanding this, we will learn better ways to interact with others. With greater empathy, tolerance, and compassion for people, we shed the heavy burden of judging and being judged, attaining a calm and peaceful state.
Kind words can be short and easy to speak,but their echoes are truly endless.
– MOTHER TERESA
Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten.
– CARL SANDBURG
Words of Warmth to Inspire
Many people are cautious about what they say in the workplace, but are not so in the home. More often than not, we tend to hurt the ones closest and dearest to us. We need to remember that words should inspire and encourage.
Be mindful at all times
We should not use emotional closeness as an excuse for saying whatever we want to our family and dear ones. When we learn to put ourselves in others’ shoes and imagine how we would feel if we were at the receiving end of hurtful jokes and comments, we become better communicators, knowing what, how and when to say things. Do put in effort to replace harsh criticism and reprimands with words of love and encouragement. We should also reflect on whether our speech is limiting and condescending, or do our words fill others’ lives with brightness and hope.
The power of speech is far greater than what we imagine. Words can bring love, inspiration, motivation, warmth, and healing, but can also harm, tear apart and destroy. Some people go overboard when making jokes, which hurts the confidence of the party being criticized or teased, damaging the relationship and potentially sparking retaliation. Even if we have no intention of hurting the other party, we must be mindful of how our words may land with the listener.
Refrain from negative speech, and also learn the beauty of praise, gratitude and encouragement. Use compassionate words to pass warmth, hope and happiness to others.
Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.