By Molly Murfee
Like concentric circles in a pond spreading eternally outward from a central drop of rain, we have the capacity to influence a vast array of people, just by how we speak with the one standing right in front of us.
Words are powerful. We give them that power, in part, by imbibing them with an elixir of emotion and meaning. A string of memories. Some cultural seasoning.
I’ve always known this. It is part of my profession. We may wield them with the sharpness of a sword, or the comfort of a down blanket.
There are times when the verbal sword is warranted, when dynamics have tipped so far out of balance that only a strong warrior stance and a finely-honed calligrapher’s blade will cut through. The pen is mightier after all.
But most times, as we bumble around in our lives, bumping into each other, careening chaotically through our own emotions like hurtling down dark tunnels under a trap door, it is the soft feathered form that is most likely needed for landing.
We never know what someone else is dealing with, what else is on their fully loaded banquet plate. We never know what demons they valiantly battle when no one else is watching, if they dueled with their partner that morning, if they’re having a particularly strong bout of self doubt.
So often when we communicate we pull out the sword, regardless of if the application is too strong. We are caught once again in the frenzy of defending ourselves, our own narrow vision of reality, the ephemeral line we have drawn in the sand. We’re so often in the business of bludgeoning others with our opinions like oversized ogres, swiping our swords blind and wild trying to gain any advantage, or posturing and pivoting with strategic precision.
There’s a lot going on when we speak. In a small community it can escalate to a full-blown medieval feud of hierarchical clamoring. It’s sort of messy, at times.
There is tone, and body language and word choice. There is personal background history, genetics, body chemicals, hormones, memories and old war wounds.
There are walls we construct around us like stone turrets, shooting arrows at anyone that dares to get close enough.
Our heads are very busy places.
We have the capacity to perpetuate the negativity or anger or blame someone else has thrown at us – at the grocery store, driving down the highway, at home, at the post office. We can take that big ball of black energy and hurl it at whoever happens to be in our path next, like a mace unhinged. We don’t want it, after all. Better to club someone else with it instead.
Or, like most good things, we can drop our defenses, step out from behind the dank, musty turret, meet in the sweetly scented garden, and do a little bit of listening before we do a whole lot of talking. Here there is openness. Air. The gentle grazing of deer. The nurturing soothe of a running stream.
Sitting side by side we must activate all kinds of things to call up kind communication. Like seeing our own reflection in the water we realize this person is a human just like us. They feel hurt, sadness, joy just like we do. Just like us they want to feel loved, accepted, included, supported. Empathy coolly mists our anger and defensiveness.
Speaking kindly we step out of the way from whatever black mace ball someone hurled at us earlier and just let it impotently clunk by. We interact with that human being and their own personal bundle of feelings and experiences in that moment. That present. Whatever it may be.
Instead of slinging words like mud with stones, we slow down enough to choose. Press the pause button. Find our phrases from deep down in our compassionate core until they emerge, crystalline and clean, dripping with fresh water and understanding, untethered to the past or the future.
Walking down the trail today I met wave upon wave of people from both within the village and without - more than I wanted, truth be told, as I sought solitude in the rainy day slipping like a mystery into its fall foliage.
As each person approached and passed, we left a mark on each other. A palatable microburst of energy that could be full of love or nervousness or anger. Like ants, we took what each had given the other, carrying the nugget forward, to the next person we met. Over and over, the rippling of that concentric circle.
May we occasionally put down our swords and arrows. Go forward like the deer with gentleness and softness, grace and pause. Pick up our ears about what might be another person’s reality. Contemplate the raindrops on the pond. The people on the path. Send out ripples of kindness, compassion and heart as we pass.