Words are our main form of communication. Words have the greatest power to make us happy or sad, aggravated or elated. How can something that has no actual material reality have such a powerful effect over us emotionally and physically? Here is a very old thought that gives an idea of how we can release ourselves from the effects of other peoples words; “If someone gives you a gift, and you do not accept it, who does it belong to?” If someone threw a pillow at you, and you did not react to catch it, it would bounce right off your body and fall away.
How one interprets the meaning of words is based on ones own opinions which in effect is ones prejudiced view of the world. Your subjective opinions are the veil which hangs between you and the world. Every word, sound, smell, sight and interaction that reaches your mind and intellect passes through this subjective veil of interpretation.
This veil is built of ones opinions and views that have accumulated and formed since birth. This veil is basically ones personality, who one is who lives each day and determines ones experiences in this life, good or bad, filled with conflict or harmonious. This personality can change and grow, or it can stay the same, it is a choice.
Words are the weapon of insults and emotional manipulation. We are constantly manipulated by other peoples words whether we know it or not, this is the nature of the reactive being that is the default state of consciousness when one is not fully present. This too can change.
One who has found the power of words and ease by which one is manipulated so subtly by the words and events of every day, and has disarmed their power cannot be insulted or hurt. Being hurt by spoken words leads to getting angry, which leads to an argument or walking away. Basically, misunderstood words or words that are interpreted subjectively through the veil of personality are the cause of most conflicts. Conflict cannot exist for an objective person.
Ones subjective opinion of a word is the cause of conflict and arguments. Without an objective view, someone says something and we interpret it the way we think they mean it or our personal subjective opinion of the meaning of the word will be taken. Learning how to see all interactions and events objectively is the key to freedom and elimination of confrontation.
Always remember that when someone speaks they use the words that come to their mind to express what they feel. However these words do not always accurately express what they really mean to say. Do not force others to stick to the words they used, but allow for the retraction and rewording. This is compassion. Compassion to allow others to be less than you may be, and to accept others at their level of intelligence, intellectual speed or education. This is not being arrogant or superior, it is being compassionate, understanding, accepting and objective.
#1 This first exercise is to not listen to the words alone, but experience your emotional state as you converse.
The goal is to have a state of calm and balance. Words are sticks and stones that can throw us off balance if we give them the power and strength to do that, but if one learns to question ones own mind and opinions, then one may find that ones understanding or definition of some words is not always what the other person meant.
Exercise #2 Another exercise is to spend some time as if you do not speak English. It is a new language, so you have to question each word and look for its meaning from the point of not understanding what the other person is saying. Do this consciously by entering a conversation in which you will deliberately take the view that you do not understand the language of the other person and put in the effort to try and understand what the other person means. Since you cannot understand the words, you are forced to act almost psychically to understand the meaning that the person is trying to convey. Forget about what you think the words may mean. Let go of your opinion of what the word’s definition may be. The best time to do this is when you are getting upset by something someone is saying. Watch how quickly a normally irritating situation turns to neutral or pleasant.
It is really very simple, we interpret words based on our mental and emotional state at the moment. Someone who loves you says something to support you in their best interest and love, and you get upset and hurt, run off crying. Why? Because you took it one way and they meant it another. Isn’t this common? How to end this is simply to practice as often as possible the above exercises in developing an objective view of words rather than a subjective interpretation of their meaning based on your personal state. If I say something, then the words should be taken according to my emotional state, not the listeners. If I am not developed enough to know how to speak correctly or respectfully, then why should the listener get upset with my words. The listener often reacts unnecessarily.
It all goes back to the baby soiling in the diapers just after you changed it. You cannot get upset with the baby who has no self control. Likewise, see all those whose words that hurt you as that out of control baby, helpless and lost, searching but unable to control their functions.
Exercise #3 Practice precision in your speech, not only watching for exaggerations but to be very precise in the words you use. Refrain from using exaggerated words to describe the weather, or the traffic, the weight of a bag, the length of a fish, expressions of effort, ‘I was about to die, it was killing me’. Reflect on how you speak about other people. If you cannot stop yourself before speaking, then think about it afterwards. Soon enough you will be able to think before speaking.
Words and Understanding (Excerpt from David’s book; Practical Mysticism)
We speak with words and listen to them, but what are words? They are sounds that convey ideas. If I say the word horse, it may immediately conjure up in your mind an image of the animal we have come to know as a horse, but to someone who does not speak English the word will fail to bring any image to mind. Hence while either speaking or listening, it is of no use to get lost in words themselves; instead, we need to focus on the meanings behind them, on the ideas they are conveying.
Words are among the most dangerous powers a person can wield. When what we hear is not what the other person is trying to say—and conversely, when what we want to say is not what the other person is hearing—a conversation can quickly turn into a confrontation. The best precautions are first, not to take the words we hear literally, and second, not to trust our interpretations of others’ statements. If you are in a bad mood and looking for trouble, you will interpret a sentence in one way, whereas if you are in a peaceful state of mind, your interpretation may be the opposite, resulting in an altogether different conversation. You alone are responsible for your reactions to the words of others. You can pick up a knife and stick it in your own heart or you can leave it on the table—the choice is yours.
My grandfather told me a story that illustrates how easy it is to misinterpret words and respond inappropriately. When he got off the ship on his first visit to Morocco in 1920, he was approached by a local who made his living helping tourists. The man asked my grandfather if he needed a hotel. He did not, he replied. “Perhaps a nice woman?” the man continued. Being married he replied: “Definitely not!” Then the man asked, “You want couscous?” My grandfather, being ignorant of Moroccan cuisine, thought he was being cursed and replied, “You go to hell!”
The moral is this: Don’t get lost in your interpretation of the words you hear, especially if you are not certain of their meaning or intent. Many arguments erupt because we interpret words according to what they mean to us rather than to the speaker. However, once you understand that words are nothing more than concepts with a meaning understood individually by each person and not necessarily identically by everyone else, your perspective will quickly expand. You will discover that words are only the beginning—a means of opening the mind to receive a thought. To bring this expanded perspective to the messages you convey, imagine that every word in your vocabulary has a thousand meanings. Accepting that your words will have different meanings to different people will greatly improve your ability to communicate without conflict.
One can never be 100% certain that we understand to perfection the thoughts behind what another person is saying. Not to insult anyone, but some of us are not as literate as others and do not always use the correct words to convey our inner feelings. As well, psychological hang-ups and hesitancy to say what we feel often makes us say the wrong thing. Once we have blurted out words that we realize are not what we meant, but a confrontation has started, our ego takes over and defends what we know as our mistake in order not to admit our error. Before you know it, a fight has started and the deeper it gets, the harsher the words, and all because our ego is hanging on to words that are not conveying the sincerity of our sensitive heart that does not want to admit or see that it has inadvertently insulted someone due to its ignorance or lack of self mastery.
An example. Two speakers say the same words. One is inspiring and uplifting, the other is flat, doesn’t do anything for the listener. Same words, opposite effects. This proves that the words themselves are empty but the speaker gives them life and power and meaning. Likewise, two listeners to the same speaker, one is captivated and the other is bored. The word is not the power but our interpretation and intention is where the power to build or destroy lies, both in speaking as well as listening. Become a wise speaker and a wise listener, both develop simultaneously.
If one would develop an immunity to words by using presence of mind to examine all words for their validity and objective power, one could not ever possibly get insulted, hurt or upset by anyone’s words. This is a simple quality that is developed with the exercises taught here.
The objective power of words is their inability to have an effect on their own. They are not a solid object that has any power over anyone. If one were deaf, words are absolutely harmless to them, words to a deaf person do not exist, if they did not read your lips of course. Therefore since words can only effect some people and not others, that proves that in themselves, they have no real existence. If something existed in the material world, it would have an effect on everyone as does a stone dropped on ones foot. If a stone is thrown at someone, regardless of who they are, it will have an effect, but if a word is thrown at someone, it will not have the same effect as if it where thrown at one who is deaf. The power of words lies in the listener, not the speaker or the words themselves.
Words are given their power strictly by the receiver, the listener who gives them their value and power. The strength of words is entirely subjective and personal, they are a knife that we pick up and stick directly into our own heart and mind. Know this about others, but more importantly, know this about yourself.
In closing, we must mention about cultural differences since we often encounter people from other countries who have mastered our language but not the style of the language. English people are often turned off by Germans who speak with quite an authority or commanding manner, such as saying; “You will come here.” That could sound like a command to a native English speaker because of the use of the word ‘will’, but to a German, that is just the translation of the verb that is normal and polite in their language, a direct translation without the adaptation of style.
Beware of assuming that vocabulary and style go together and mastery of one automatically implies mastery of the other. Even in one household to another in the same country, these subtle styles are not always the same. Allow for individuality and conflicts will vanish. The way to do this is to remind yourself that you don’t know everything, and that your interpretation may be wrong. If you have the open mind to do this, then you will not suffer negative emotions or reactions.
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