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The Power of Words

March 25, 2014

Relationships are hard. It doesn't matter whether it is a relationship between two siblings, between two workmates, between a supplier and a client, between a doctor and a patient, mother and child or a couple. Fact is, as long as it is a relationship involving people, there will always be friction once in a while because naturally human beings are complicated.

I guess even in the animal kingdom there are complications there too.... for instance, just last weekend I think our neighbor’s cows were arguing. They like standing outside our gate where there’s this huge tree they use to shield themselves from the scotching sun. Anyway, it was quite obvious the she-cow was pissed off about something and since I don’t understand “cow”, I couldn’t tell what she was complaining about. My guess is that one of the other cows had done/said something to piss her off because there is this one cow she kept “addressing”...

I guess this goes to prove that as long as one is breathing (man or animal), mis-understandings and disagreements will always happen, regardless of whether it is at home or at the office, until one is finally laid to rest 6-feet under or sprinkled on the Indian ocean.

Question is, how do you handle your displeasure? How do you conduct your arguments? What words do you use? After the argument, do you ever sit back and probably regret anything that you might have said in anger? I ask this because I know for a fact that when one is angry, the likelihood of having the best speech you'll ever regret is very high.

I'd like to share a little story I borrowed from a blog I follow. You might have read it before but it won't hurt to read it a second time; you never know, you might have missed something the first time you read it..... here goes:

There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father was very concerned for his son’s future and thought hard about how he could explain to his son why relationships are so important and controlling his temper is a key factor in this.

After much thought his father gave him a bag full of nails and told him, “Every time you lose your temper, hammer a nail into the back of the fence.” His son did not understand but knew that his father was wise and so he agreed. On the first day that the boy received his bag of nails he ended up driving about 37 nails into the fence. Each day he learned little by little to control his temper. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He was very proud of himself and went to share his good news with his father. His Father was very proud of him and offered a challenge to his son. “Why don’t you pull out a nail everyday that you are able to hold your temper?” As there were many nails in the fence it took the boy quite sometime (months) to finally remove the nails from the fence. But eventually that joyous day arrived. He was so pleased with himself and he wanted to share this with his father. His father was so proud of his son, but he wanted him to understand that holding his temper was more than just being able to add or remove nails from a fence.

He took his son’s hand and showed him all the holes that were left from the nails. “As you see my son, this fence will never be the same, the fence is scarred with holes from your temper. This fence represents the lives of the people you interact with every day. Now, think of these holes as the words you have spoken in anger, the wounds you have left in those people’s lives. Words really are like weapons. They leave unseen wounds that do not heal easily. Son, learning to control your temper means controlling yourself to the point where you tame your mind and your tongue, not to say anything that will hurt the other person. You can learn to express your displeasure with those you interact with in a way that does not in any way scar them. So son, the next time you want to respond or say something to someone in anger, always remember this fence and ask yourself whether the words you are about to speak will be like nails in the fence…”

What a wise father this man was! He left a lesson not just for his son, but for the rest of us too. It is inevitable that as long as we are on this earth, as long as we are interacting with other human beings on a daily basis, there is always a risk that someone will annoy us. How we decide to react at that point depends on each individual.

You can choose to use harsh and damaging words, or you can choose to say the same thing but in a better way. I believe there’s a way you can tell someone they are stupid without using the word stupid and more importantly without making them feel abused. It all depends on how sensitive or insensitive you are.

The words you speak to someone can either build them up, or break them down, or start a fire in their heart or put it out completely. That is how powerful words are. Words have the power to create or destroy. They have the power to bring light or darkness. In fact it is through words that the world and everything in it was created! That’s how powerful words are.

Can you think of a time when words have had a major impact on you or on those around you? Was the impact positive or negative? Today, given a second chance to relive that experience, is there anything you would do or say differently? I wish you could leave a comment after this article and share what happened.

May this article today remind us that day in and day out the kindness of others makes a day or breaks it. When a word is offered to tell a story relating to a positive, it draws. The opposite repels. Every day presents an opportunity for us to plant a word of positivity in the lives we interact with daily, whether face-to-face or virtually, now that we are living in a digital planet. As we start a new week my prayer is that you will not participate in creating holes in anyone’s fence.

Purpose to build and not to break those you come into contact with. Purpose to change your world and that of others around you, one word at a time. Remember, be careful with your words because once they are said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten.

Check out the video in this article to understand how powerful words are. Your words can indeed change the world.

PS: Article published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 23rd March, 2014, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words".

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