In ancient cultures the power of the spoken word was taken very seriously. When people gave “their word” they were giving a very powerful bond, a commitment. “Keeping one’s word” was a contract and it meant that you had created a vow that was important and that you intended to do what you said you would.
Of course, now, words fly around so much, in the various media, that very little can be taken seriously. Politicians say whatever they think people want to hear. People lie, exaggerate, manipulate, deny, malign and attack. There is little in anything that pundits say that makes an impact. It’s all a bunch of blah, blah, blah.
The voice, however, was the first instrument and it is still the most powerful means of communication available to most of us. Once something is verbalized, it cannot be taken back. There is no “delete” key over words that have already been uttered. You must express additional words to explain, apologize, correct, amend or fix whatever is said, if it was harmful or if it was taken in the wrong way.
Here is a curious thought: Everyone is responsible for what they say and also what the people listening hear. Each individual has to take responsibility for the words that were spoken and how the other person heard them. It goes in reverse, too. We each have to take responsibility for what we hear but also what the other person said, or what we believe she said. Each person, on both sides of any communication, is %100 responsible for the entire thing, no matter what you’ve said.
Sometimes we speak without having an intention, or a clear idea about what we are saying or want to say. Sometimes we only find out by saying something out loud that we felt or thought a certain way.
When we teach, we have to be really careful about not only what we say, but how we say, and when we say, whatever it is we are communicating. Teachers have a position of authority when speaking directly to students, and the “weight” of their words carries a greater possibility of impact than do words of a stranger or of someone who is another student. Teachers must think of the clearest way to express to a student what is desired and how to go towards that desire, but the instruction must not be pejorative, condescending, or demeaning.
And, in our day to day lives, we have to pay attention to what we tell ourselves, in our minds, as this is the most powerful kind of “speech” of all. If we tell ourselves to do things and then never do them, we are ultimately not keeping our word to ourselves, and without that, it is almost impossible to keep a verbal commitment to others.
If you learn to pay close attention to your words and sounds, your world will radically change. Your word, in your universe, is inviolate.
Just as an exercise, pick a day and watch carefully what you say to yourself in your mind throughout the day. Watch what and how you speak when you are with others. Watch what you hear. Watch how you choose your words and watch how others react to what you say. Then, take a look at the sound of your voice in the words that you speak. Ask yourself if you are deeply breathing in and out while you speak, if you are speaking in a tone that is unpressured and comfortable. Ask yourself if the sound of what you said actually matched what you were feeling emotionally when you said it. See if you can spend the day acting as if the very sound you were uttering was, in itself, the most powerful force in the universe, because it is.