There’s an adage that four things can never be retrieved:
- a stone thrown
- time wasted
- an opportune moment missed
- a word spoken
Most of us don’t throw stones or miss opportune moments on a daily basis. But we probably waste time every day. And with great regularity we speak words that we wish we could recall.
Which brings me to a contrast that has long intrigued me. It’s the contrast between our modern view of words and the way they were viewed by people of the ancient Middle East.
As moderns we think of words as mere symbols, strung together in phrases and sentences to convey meaning. People of the ancient Middle East, however, thought of words differently. From their perspective, words were living beings. They were not inert. They had enduring life.
In some quarters of the Middle East this concept of words still prevails. As naive as the concept may appear at first, there is profound wisdom behind it.
Can you think of a time in the past when someone said something hurtful and cutting to you? How do you feel when you revisit that episode? Do you still feel something of the probing pain that their words caused?
And conversely, can you recall something that someone said to you years ago that made you feel terrific about yourself? And how do you feel when you recall those words today? Do you spirits lift just by hearing the words again?
Because words have such power to bring either pain or joy long after they were spoken, the ancients saw them as anything but lifeless. Nothing that is dead can have such far-reaching effect, they believed. So they treated words with special respect.
How would our approach to communication change if we really considered the words we speak as being alive. As having vibrant, breathing life. Many of us who would never strike someone with our fist routinely strike people with our words. And in my experience, bruises from fists typically heal much quicker than deep wounds from words.
There is a Hebrew proverb which says, “A word fitly spoken is like golden apples set in a network of silver.” Bring some gold and silver into the life of people around you today. And every day. Choose only words that you want to live for years to come.