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Keep your words soft

American radio and television writer Andy Rooney once said, ‘Keep your words soft and tender because tomorrow you may have to eat them.’ In the Mahabharata, a piece of similar advice was given by the wise Vidura to Dhritarashtra, when the latter was feeling disturbed at the dissensions among the Kauravas and Pandavas. Vidura told Dhritarashtra of a discussion between the son of Rishi Atri and Sadhyas—the demigods who guard the rites and prayers of greater gods.

The Rishi was wandering, looking for charity when he was noticed by the Sadhyas. They said, ‘We are unable to guess who you are, but you seem to possess intelligence and self-control. Please share some knowledge with us.’

The Rishi replied, ‘I have heard that by mastery over all the passions, and observance of true religion, one should regard both the agreeable and the disagreeable like one’s own self. Avoid words that are harsh and fraught with anger. Harsh words burn and scorch the very vitals, bones, heart, and the very sources of life.

Therefore, the virtuous should always abstain from harsh and angry words. It is the worst kind of person who makes a harsh and wrathful speech, who pierces the vitals of others with wordy thorns, bears hell in his tongue, and is a dispenser of misery.

The very gods desire his company, who, stung with reproach, does not return it himself nor causes others to return it, or who being struck does not return the blow nor causes others to do it, and who wishes not the slightest injury to him that injures him. Silence, it is said, is better than speech, if speak you must, then it is better to say the truth; if truth is to be said, it is better to say what is agreeable; and if what is agreeable is to be said, then it is better to say what is consistent with morality.’

Similar thoughts have been expressed elsewhere. Jesus said, ‘The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’ Words are thus a reflection of our personality and thoughts. They can bring us together or tear us apart. The Bible says, ‘Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.’

Words carry even more importance for the young because their hearts are soft and any harsh word can leave a life-long wound. So many grown-ups can still recall a stinging rebuke by a teacher or a put-down by an elder. On the other hand, well-chosen words of love and encouragement can launch a dream and change a life. It is good to remember that words carry power; especially words spoken by someone close. Use this power wisely.

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