Sunday, January 16, 2011


“There are moments in life, when the heart is so full of emotion that if by chance it be shaken, or into its depths like a pebble drops some careless word, it overflows, and its secret, spilt on the ground like water, can never be gathered together”~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Neal’s grandmother, Eva Campbell, was an astute and delightful woman. One of the endearing things about her was the library of sage sayings that she kept in her mind. Out of the blue she’d level her gaze at one of us and say, “A wise old owl stood on an oak, the more he heard the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard. God make me like that wise old bird.” Then she’d smile and go about her business. Another of her favorite sayings was, “Make your words soft and sweet, you never know which ones you’ll eat.”

Eating words. This is a very unpleasant and unsavory experience. And those with a heart and conscience taste the bitterness of their words and regret their carelessness. Most of us do not mean for our behavior to cause others harm. However, sometimes we are just not aware of how our words and actions affect others. For instance, when I travel to other countries,  I check to find what is and what isn't appropriate to do or say. I was surprised to find that in Asian countries I should never pat a child on the top of the head. Who would have thought this would be offensive? After all, being a southern gal, I do it here all the time as a sign of endearment.

 In much the same way, we need to be careful with our words and actions in our corner of the world.  After the massacre in Tucson, I thought of how our careless words and attitudes can affect the emotionally unstable. We act and speak as if everyone has enough sense to be able to tell we are joking or emphasizing something we care deeply about. But there are those out there who are not able to decipher our messages.

I’m concerned about the climate of political hostility in our country today. It has escalated since I became old enough to vote beyond what I thought possible . So many people with celebrity status thinks nothing of throwing fuel on the fire of political dissatisfaction. And, I might add, both sides are equally guilty.  Now, even before the facts are known, assumptions are made and the fight is on. The massacre in Tucson is a vivid example.  New York Times journalists assumed this happened because of the angry rhetoric of others in the media and erroneously reported things that were simply not true. Therefore, when unity and empathy was needed, their words caused a further divide. The dangerous thing is we don’t know is how our puffed up opinions affect others, especially those who are not sound minded.

Even though I may not be “high-profile” personality, I am just as accountable for my words. I never know who is listening or how what I say is being interpreted. I’ve used this quote by Mahatma Gandhi before, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” 
Do I want to see a more civil and responsible world? Then it must start with me. Tucson is a horrifying reminder of the broken world I live in and how powerful my words can be.

This week, let us all be like that wise old owl. Let's make our words reasonable, kindly spoken, diplomatic, and sensible.

1 comment:

Deborah Dee Harper said...


What an eloquent post and such a timely reminder that our words, actions--indeed, the way we live our daily lives--affect those around us whether or not we know it. Thank you!