I remember an old saying from my school days back in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s what my mum – and everyone else’s – used to tell us when we came home complaining that somebody had called us names in the playground. It went like this:
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me
At the time, it seemed like a charm, because when we trotted that out with attitude, we were left alone, and the bullies – because that’s what they were – moved on to new targets. However, as we get older, we realise the real power of words, because the truth is, words can be every bit as abusive and harmful as blows, or the proverbial ‘sticks and stones.’ Physical scars fade with time, but the mental scars left by verbal abuse can remain with you for a long time – perhaps always. Of course, people who are subjected to physical abuse usually have to deal with verbal and/or emotional abuse as well, but there’s still an assumption by some that words don’t have a lasting effect, and that we should make more of an effort to ‘get over it.’ Which brings me to another old saying:
The pen is mightier than the sword
The gist of this saying is in direct contradiction to ‘sticks and stones.’ Think of the power of words to make a lasting impression, for good or ill, via articles, plays or books. Shakespeare’s plays were written almost 500 years ago, yet they still resonate today, speaking to the soul, and psychologists often quote him when illustrating points. If we accept that, then we must also accept the power of words to bring us pleasure or sorrow.
That means our voice and our mind can be weapons of mass destruction if we don’t pay attention to what they articulate, if we don’t think before we speak. We all say things we’re later sorry for in the heat of the moment; we’re only human, after all. However, we’d do well to remember another well-known quote, this time from the Sufi poet Rumi (1207 – 1273).
Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates; Is it True? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?
800 years ago, Rumi realised how potentially harmful words could be. However, if you filter them through his ‘Gates of Speech,’ you can reduce the possibility of lasting damage.
Is it True?
Obviously if it’s not, it shouldn’t be said at all, so we must avoid passing on second-hand gossip. It may seem harmless enough, but we can’t possibly know what triggers other people, or what challenges they have faced, and may still be dealing with. While even the truth can hurt, spreading falsehoods can do so much more damage, because there’s usually an element of judgement in there as well, and that pulls down the speaker as well as the intended recipient.
Is it Necessary?
Just because something can be said, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it should be said. The young mother struggling to soothe a crying baby already knows it’s disruptive for those around her, she doesn’t need anyone to tell her and make her feel even more of a failure as a mother than she does already. If that sounds a bit extreme, as we just noted, we can’t know what challenges others face, and how our words may impact on someone already struggling with low self-esteem or mastering new roles in life.
Is it Kind?
Even if our speech passes safely through the first two gates, we’re still not out of the woods. Although what we have to say may be hard for the recipient to take, we can at least impart it in a way that’s supportive and loving rather than destructive and cruel. What this really means is giving thought to what you say, rather than speaking first and thinking about your words and their possible effects later. What we sometimes fail to realise is that bad words can impact adversely on ourselves as well as the recipient.
If we’re saying things that may upset or embarrass others, those words are not coming from a place of love, and if we think of ourselves as spiritual beings, then everything we think, say and do should come from a desire to do only good, for ourselves and others. So if we’re hurting others with our words, we are also damaging our own spiritual wellbeing, even though it might not be obvious at the time.
As we’ve discussed previously in other articles, only two energies matter to us spiritually, the energy of fear and lack and the energy of love and gratitude. Harsh words come from fear energy, and they lower our vibration. Remember if we want to communicate with Spirit, or feel connected to the universe, our vibrational energy needs to be high, so speaking unkindly diminishes ourselves, as well as the targets of our harsh words.
It’s not ‘Only Words,’ it’s much more powerful than that. We attract what we put out, so if we radiate unkindness and anger, even in the form of words rather than deeds, we attract more of the same into our own lives. Spiritual people often say ‘intention is everything,’ and it’s true. If your words are intended to hurt someone else, then that hurt will eventually come back to you in some way.
My Mum was very wise, and although she came out with the ‘sticks and stones’ saying, she also had another one, and I try to live by it every day. I’ll leave you with that thought for now.
If you can’t say anything kind, it’s better to say nothing at all.