A New Year's resolution on the power and use of words

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 4, 2006

My first wake-up cup for 2006 was with Cochrane coffee companions Mike and Sylvia Simpson. But more than the kick of the caffeine, Sylvia's opening comments awakened me to a New Year's resolution each of us can keep - indeed, a resolution that can transform our world.

Sylvia had received a Christmas gift of don Miguel Ruiz's 1997 runaway bestselling book, The Four Agreements (New York Times bestseller list, Oprah's choice, etc.). She was especially taken with what the author had to say about the importance of our words.

He challenges us to be "impeccable" with our words, she said.

"Impeccable?" That got my attention as one long concerned with the power of words.

Ruiz writes from the ancient wisdom traditions of his Toltec ancestors in what is now southern Mexico.

To be truly people of freedom, happiness and love, he says, is very simple: just live according to four agreements you make with God, with each other, and especially with yourselves.

The last three agreements are: "Don't take anything personally," "Don't make assumptions," and "Always do your best."

But the first and most important is: "Be impeccable with your word." (He explains "impeccable" to mean without sin against others and against oneself.)

"The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic," Ruiz writes.

"But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you. One edge is the misuse of the word, which creates a living hell. The other edge is the impeccability of the word, which will only create beauty, love and heaven on earth. Depending upon how it is used, the word can set you free, or it can enslave you even more than you know."

Hitler with the persuasive corruption of his words created the Holocaust. A disparaging word from a parent or teacher toward a child can instill self-loathing. Gossip can infect and disable whole communities.

Gossip is of particular concern to Ruiz.

It's like a computer virus, he says, and is especially malicious at the hands of "'hackers' who intentionally spread the virus." When spread widely enough, "the result is a world full of humans who can only read information through circuits that are clogged with poisonous, contagious virus" – something the Toltecs refer to as "the chaos of a thousand different voices all trying to talk at once in the mind."

The solution for each of us, Ruiz says, is not to be agents of destructive words. Our speech should be impeccable.

Especially concerning gossip, we are not to be originators or transmitters. Taking this seriously also protects us from the poisonous effects of gossip from others.

As Ruiz puts it, "You can live in heaven in the middle of thousands of people living in hell because you are immune to that hell."

I was glad that Sylvia drew my attention to Ruiz's First Agreement on the impeccability of our words. It reminds me of two proverbs passed down from ancient Israel.

The first speaks to our propensity to cooperate with gossip and disinformation: "The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are smooth lips with an evil heart."

The second speaks to the beauty of impeccable words: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver."

I said at the outset that Sylvia's reference to Ruiz's The Four Agreements – and in particular the First Agreement on how we use our words – could form the basis for a New Year's resolution that could transform the way our community, nation and world function.

With federal election campaigning in full swing, it would be reassuring to know that our candidates agree with Ruiz on the impeccability of words. Wouldn't it be refreshing to think we could actually trust what the candidates are saying? Wouldn't it be wonderful to correctly believe that what they are saying is motivated by their genuine concern for the good of the whole nation, and not by self-interest?

Meanwhile, what about our own words? Are they constructive or destructive? Do they bring the best out of others – in our homes, at work, church and school, in our community, in our nation, and in our world?

Can we make a resolution that, from now on, we will be impeccable with our word, because life deserves nothing less?


© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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