On January 1st I started reading a book called ‘Little by Little’. The first entry was about the effect of words. It got me thinking: I remembered back to when I attended a Patsy Rodenberg workshop in which she referred to the power of words. She recalled a relationship and how, one day, she simply said, “I’m so bored”. Although it was months before the relationship was over, she recalled, “The end began when those words left my mouth. Words, once spoken, cannot be recalled.” How true!
Getting it in writing
A couple of years ago I met my first copywriter, Michelle Power, of Power of Words at Newbury Business Group. I was fascinated to hear her speak about her work. In the same way a silversmith trains and learns to craft beautiful jewellery from a lump of silver, Michelle did the same crafting with the written word. She has a gift for making something far more valuable than the original material and communicates so much more to the reader. I never quite appreciated the skill before she helped me craft an article which talked about my Thinking Environment™ work. Despite my talents at coaching and training in effective communication skills, I couldn’t have written what she crafted with my raw material. It was quite magical!
The beauty of the written word is that it can be crafted and re-crafted, proof-read and re-written until it’s just right. But with the spoken word, even if we have a careful upbringing and the right training, often we only learn through trial and error. And those errors can often be costly.
The Pillow Story
There’s a well-known Yiddish story about a man who spread rumours. The damage it did was equated to a pillow full of feathers being torn apart. You can watch and listen to a version of the story here if you’re interested, although the version I heard that day had the man scattering the contents from a hilltop. I was first introduced to it many years ago. The wife of a man whose crimes had been uncovered phoned me at work. Several people had wanted to keep the story quiet and brush it under the proverbial carpet, but my partner and I, despite our age and inexperience in this area, had decided to make a stand and ensure that the victims received justice. This was before the 2001 ‘Spotlight’ scandal and the 2012 Jimmy Saville scandal started uncovering crimes of power against the vulnerable. The call I received that day was from a decent woman who just wanted me to tread carefully. I did. Apart from taking the situation to the right authorities, we have not spoken about the details of the case to anyone since it happened. Nor will we; it serves no purpose and no one.
I have never forgotten that story. From time to time, I have cause to remember ‘The Pillow Story’. Reading that passage on 1st January was a good reminder. According to the Abrahamic religions’ account of creation, the world came into being when words were spoken. So, instead of being crafted with hands, words were an act of creation – now that’s word power! As the great English Bard* said:
“Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Hamlet, Act 3, Sc.iii
My father liked to say, “When there’s nothing left to be said, some fool always says it.”
Word-making or breaking?
The tongue is the ‘word-maker’, along with a few other organs of speech. A man called James, writing in the 1st century, compared it to the bit in a horse’s mouth or the rudder of a great ship in terms of the influence it has. Even more poignant in the face of the fires still raging into their second month in Australia, he talks about a spark’s power to ignite a huge fire.
I’ve made a New Year’s resolution for 2020 around kindness, to myself and to others. I know that’s going to mean, amongst other things, watching my words more carefully, perhaps saying nothing more often. But then, in the words of the Bard:
“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”ibid. Hamlet, Act 1, Sc.iii
What words will you release into the atmosphere forever this decade? My wish for you is that they lead to a positive climate change of encouragement and appreciation in our world.