Friday, May 7, 2010


I was taught as a child that words are very powerful, and should be used with care. As a child, I generally stuck to this advice. However, somewhere down the line, while growing up, I seem to have forgotten this advice and started to use words as they came to my mind. I always spoke my mind, without caring for the words that came out of my mouth. I started to feel that words had no power, even though many a times I could see them affecting others around me... adversely or positively. My parents had taught me the Gayatri Mantra as a child. As a child I could overcome any problem by just reciting this wondrous mantra. I had never questioned the power of this mantra, but as I grew up, doubts began to form in my mind about how a mantra could be powerful... rationality had started to overtake faith, until.......

One day in 1995. A Swami from the Ramakrishna mission had been invited to speak to the Army officers from the Madras Regiment in the staff college auditorium. We were also extended the invitation, which was of course voluntary, as the fauj believes in being religion neutral. During this talk the Swamiji was trying to explain to all of us the power of the word 'Om'. Looking at our faces, he decided to give us an example about the power of the word. This example had a profound impact on me. He said......

"Suppose you are at home and the telephone rings. You pick up the receiver and the person on the other side asks you if you are so-and-so. On your saying 'yes', he tells you, 'I am calling from xyz hospital and I am sorry to inform you that your father is no more'. What happens? You break down, and start to cry. A little later the phone rings again. The same person is on the line again. He says, 'I called you a little while ago and gave you some bad news. I am extremely sorry but that news was incorrect - it was not your father who expired, it was the person on the bed next to your father who expired. Sorry again'. You suddenly feel relieved and the sadness vanishes immediately". After this he asked us a rhetorical question. "What had transpired - nothing but a few words, and these little words had the power to change you completely". This example has stayed with me - it always reminds me that words are potent as they are the expression or containers of ideas, emotions, feelings and can affect people to think, speak and act in many different ways and thus should be used with care.

The power of words can also be judged from one word, 'Swaraj'. A very simple word indeed - 'self rule'. It was, and is, a very positive word and had the power to transform the minds of millions of Indians; who thought of this possibility, spoke about it, wrote about it and then got together to act against the British rule, eventually leading to the independence of India.

Every word is a container of thoughts, emotions, feelings, and more. Positive words can have a very positive impact and negative words can be very damaging - these are also not easily forgotten. Have you ever been publicly praised or ridiculed in front of co-workers, family or friends? If yes, have you forgotten it? Never would most likely be your answer. That then is the power of words. Many years later, the thought of such an ordeal can still bring up the same emotions that one felt then.

I somehow am very averse to negative thoughts and words and try to stay away from people who are prone to use them - negativity can, and is damaging.

We Indians are probably a unique people. We love our motherland dearly but would do anything in our powers to criticise everything that happens here. We call it constructive criticism. I believe constructive criticism would focus on 'how' to improve, rather than 'what' is wrong with us. We all know what is wrong - corruption, poverty, politicians, etc. Even when some good happens we the people, our media and bloggers generally ignore it and focus instead on the negatives. We use negative thoughts and words and that leads to an endless chain of negativity.

Can we instead build an endless chain of positive thoughts and words about our country. Our politicians and bureaucrats are a miniscule part of the 1.1 billion that we are. How can we blame all of our ills on them then.

When we change, change would happen automatically in every facet of our country - including our politicians. Let us think and speak positively about our country and see the transformation in every thing around us. Let's believe in the power of the word, and try it for a change. We have nothing to lose.

I picked up a few quotes on the power of words that I would like to put down for easy reference - they make a lot of sense to me.

- Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill. --Buddha

- The language we use to communicate with one another is like a knife. In the hands of a careful and skilled surgeon, a knife can work to do great good. But in the hands of a careless or ignorant person, a knife can cause great harm.”
Exactly as it is with our words. -- Source Unknown

- Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are endless.
Mother Theresa(1910-1997)

- Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny. --

- Kind words can warm for three winters, while harsh words can chill even in the heat of summer. -- Chinese proverb

- You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world's happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime. -- Dale Carnegie

- Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world. -- Buddha

- Words are the most powerful thing in the universe... Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind. -- Charles Capps


Piper .. said...

very,very thought provoking Sir! I, for one, have always been too quick to speak out my mind, without bothering about the consequence it might have on the recipient. And it has always harmed me. Always. Your post actually makes me wonder.. Thank you for sharing the quotes. They make so much sense.

Usha Pisharody said...

This is thought provoking indeed...
Am reminded of another quote, which has been a favourite, given my rather irrational temper, of late :)

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret!

Thanks JP Sir, loved the quotes too!

J P Joshi said...

Piper: Aren't all of us? However, knowing the potency of the words does help one to keep them to oneself, even though the thoughts continue to play havoc...guess, the damage is less with just thoughts.

Usha Pisharody: Thank you. What you say is so true. I have regretted many a times in life. I now try to keep quiet when I am angry, and am glad that I am generally making progress on this count.

sm said...

very thoughtful
thanks for sharing the stories about words
excellent must read for everyone

Renu said...

best lines to me....somehow am very averse to negative thoughts and words and try to stay away from people who are prone to use them - negativity can, and is damaging...even i feel so. words are even more powerful than deeds.

Indyeah said...

Agree with all your words Sir. This is exactly how I feel about the importance of words in our lives.

Had written quite a few posts on the same topic.

Negativity sucks away all our energy. Our lifeblood so to speak.

One should stay away from such people and such things.

“Words are alive; cut them and they bleed.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

J P Joshi said...

sm: Thank you for your comment.

Renu: Words are really very powerful, but we never realise it - specially when one is angry; they can cause huge damage, sometimes unintended too. Harsh words are sometimes forgiven, BUT are never forgotten - that is their power.

Positive and kind words and deeds are also never forgotten and have the power to change people's lives.

J P Joshi said...

Indyeah: Welcome, your absence from the blog world is felt, missed but is understood. Hope 'All iz well'.

Agree with you that negativity sucks away all our energy. It also pollutes the environment and the vibrations affect everyone around. My practical solution is to avoid negativity in any form. I am generally not prone to negativity but whenever it hits me, I go silent, or go into the lap of nature, forests and hills, and this helps me get back to my usually positive self.