By Raju Mandhyan
THERE are many titles and versions of this fable and the author also is unknown. Inspired by the paradigms of Appreciative Inquiry, a research and a process facilitation method, let’s call this version of the story as, “Our Words Influence Our Worlds.”
Decades ago, an aged father used to let his 10-year-old son do some chores around their farm on weekends to keep him away from mischief and hopefully impart some values on the boy. Much like Miyagi, he used to have the boy go draw water from the well all day long on one weekend. On another weekend, he would have him go paint the whole fence around the house. And, then there weekends where he would have the boy milk a dozen cows at dawn. The boy, as you may have guessed, needed to be kept busy to prevent him from his mischief and also the fact that he was quick to anger.
One such weekend, the father handed him a bag of nails and hammer and asked him to go and hammer all the nails into a large oak tree at the outskirts of their farm. The boy, though a little pesky, wasn’t ever much disobedient. A few hours later he rushes back to his father claiming the job was done. The father lets him dip into the cookie jar as a reward and lets him go play with his pals.
Come the following weekend, the boy shows up in front of the father asking for the assignment for this weekend. The father hands him the empty bag and the same hammer from last week and has him go back to the oak tree and pull out all the nails he had hammered last week, and place them back into the back. The boy goes off and in few hours rushes back with all the nails and hands them to his father. His father, this time, flips him a dollar as a reward and lets him go play with his pals again. Boy flies off again to meet his pals, but halfway to them he stops and turns around to run back to his father.
“I don’t get it, Father. What’s the deal here?”
“Son, if you go back to the tree, you will notice that even though the nails are back in the bag and you have had your cookies and a dollar to boot, the holes made the nails in that oak tree will be there forever,” replied the father gently and with love in his eyes for his son. The son, though young but quick of learning, stood there quietly basking in the warmth of his father’s gentle glance. “The same bunch of nails that can cut holes into wood can also put together several logs to build a boat or a bridge. It is the same with words,” added the father, lovingly.
Yes, just like nails, words can draw blood or bring together ideas such that new worlds get built. Words, once uttered, can never be drawn back just like nails hammered in then pulled out will always leave marks.
Many a time, mindlessly, we pour out words that cut holes into the hearts and spirits. And there are times that we do such things on purpose. Whether we do such things consciously or unconsciously the real issue is that the damage we do has a long-term, systemic effect not just on individuals but on communities, countries and beyond.
What makes a word or a bunch of words put together draw blood or heal wounds? What makes a word or a bunch of words seal the deals to a bigger, brighter future?
There are certain words which are in essence toxic and harmful. No matter where and how you place them, these words are in bad taste and harmful. For example, the word “hate” instead of “love.” For example, the word “problem” compared to the word “challenge.” When we say “problem,” it then requires digging down, holding back things and worrying about resolving it. Instead, when we use the word “challenge,” then it sounds like something that can be overcome and it has a tinge of possibility and potential built into it. At the onset it may seem there is barely any difference but think of scores of other such words used in conversations and used in abundance too.
Next, we may use essentially positive words but if they are morphed together in such a way that they influence doubt or mislead people, then, too, we are using words not to build but to destroy our world. Words and ideas deliberately employed at the wrong time and place to distort context are equally harmful.
Then there are words and thoughts that are perfect but the hue and the tone that they are expressed can give an evil twist to them and deliver disastrous results. Yes, the words “evil twist” and “disastrous” are words we should refrain from using as far as possible.
And, “Yes, you are right!” said with a sneer and curl of the mouth can still cut and draw blood like a rusted knife would. Even the three little words declared at the wrong time, in a wrong style and with a mean intention can create more harm than good.
Think about this. Think about all the times we use all the kinds of word to write, speak or influence our worlds. Choose and study them the way a good mason picks, chooses his bricks and cements them on top of each other with alignment, with care and love. The more cautious and selective we are with every grain, every brick and every wall we build, the better and more beautiful our cathedrals will turn out to be. Our words will influence our worlds.
Raju Mandhyan is an author, coach and speaker.