Positive word power PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 October 2010 13:46

An on-line publication, Jewish World Review, has been running a series entitled “Positive Word Power – Building a Better World with the Words You Speak”. Since words are our usual way of communicating with others, the series is very helpful. The series begins with the following:

alk is NOT cheap. Words are our most valuable - and most powerful - assets. Through words, we can forge or tear down relationships, inspire or demean our children, spouses, or friends, offer comfort or inflict pain. Through words, we can create an atmosphere of harmony or discord, contentment or conflict, blessing or, Heaven forbid, its opposite.

In its work pursuing its vision of dialogue, Silsilah realizes that dialogue with others begins at its most basic level – relating with members of our family, with our immediate neighbors and people we work with or associate with. In practically all our interactions with others words are involved. The quality of our relationship with others is determined to a great extent by our verbal interaction with them.

Over our lifetime we acquire a vocabulary which allows us to express what we think and feel and at the same time allows us to give meaning to what people communicate to us. Words have on their own different levels of meaning and the meaning can be intensified by the tone of voice with which the word is said, by the facial expression of the speaker, and the particular connotation a word has in a given societal culture. Let us take the English word “dodo”. It can mean an extinct flightless bird. It can also be a kind of insult, implying   that the person is considered low in intelligence or a moron. Telling someone he/she is a dodo but smiling while saying it will not be as insulting as when   the same word is hurled at the person with an angry expression and a loud voice.

We also have in our vocabularies certain words that are pejorative of a given group or community of people or nationality. Not so very long ago there was a big fuss when an English dictionary listed the word “Filipina” and gave its meaning as “maid”. The fuss over this even took on diplomatic implications. It would be good for us who espouse the cause of dialogue to be aware of this and make effort to cleanse our vocabulary of those particular words pejorative of others. Our bias towards a particular group is quickly made evident by the words we use in referring to them. And the sad part is that we may not be aware of this because those same words may be part of our style of speaking acquired unconsciously over the years. And yet we know that tragic violence can spring from such simple incidents.

All of us at one time or another have experienced being insulted. The insult may have been inadvertently made because of the careless use by the other person of a word or phrase. We can preserve our equanimity by remembering that the word or phrase may have simply been said carelessly. We can also moderate our own reaction by remembering that we ourselves may have been guilty of the same carelessness on other occasions.

As we all continue our journey towards the culture of dialogue let us remember the recommendation that “a great effort be made to raise people's awareness of the power of the spoken word and the serious repercussions words can cause.“ v