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." Wrds are powerful. From others they often influence or direct our decisions and behaviour 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, "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 timely."
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 fraud!"
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 injustice.