Feathers in the Wind
An ancient Bedouin proverb: “While the words are yet unspoken, you are master of them; when once they are spoken, they are master of you.” The same can be applied to the written word.
Words can be difficult to take back. They can be like dropping an object over the edge of a thousand-foot cliff. Once it’s released, all one can do is watch gravity do its thing.
Bob had great enmity toward Pete, and he circulated evil rumors about him. Although they were untrue, they spread rapidly, resulting in Pete’s loss of job, shunning by neighbors, and sullied reputation. At a later date Bob had a moral conversion of sorts, realized the unmerited injury he had caused Pete, and wished to make amends. On a windy day, Bob came to Pete’s home and asked if he could come in to apologize. Pete accepted the apology, and Bob responded by asking what he could do to help restore the former’s good name. Pete grabbed a feather pillow from his bedroom and asked Bob to come with him to the front porch. With his pocket knife, Pete slit open the pillow and cast the feathers into the brisk wind . . . which began carrying them all over the town. “To undo the damage to my reputation and life,” Pete said, “will be as easy as gathering all those feathers and putting them back in the pillow.”
Sometimes troublesome situations call for hard words. But they can still be spoken or written with prudence, sensitivity, and civility.
For over forty years I have been a professional wordsmith. Even with the best of intentions, I have not always used them well. In my second career as an author I am determined to strive to the utmost to use words well as a crafter of stories. The same resolve must be applied to the words I use in public speaking, social media, and personal relationships. If the Bedouin proverb is correct, I want the words that master me to be edifying and enlivening . . . constructive rather than destructive.