As Mild As Milk – the Human Power of Speech

people speaking - the power of speech

We live in a time where increasingly shouting down those who think differently than we do, is the “normal” of public discourse. Words are bludgeons to be used to subdue and humiliate an opponent or win an argument. Truth is distorted or disregarded. Listening plays a marginal role in this verbal warfare and polarisation of society and heightened potential for conflict is a frequent outcome. Yet the power of speech (with its full implications of complexity, abstraction and grammar) is, as far as we know, a distinguishing characteristic of human beings.

The tongue, Bahá’u’lláh, warns is a “smouldering fire” consuming “heart and soul”, “the effects of which last a century”.[1]  It is a theme of care in speech and word that Bahá’u’lláh elaborates on in his writings.

Every word is endowed with a spirit“, he says.[2] In some sense they are more than characters printed on a page, more than vibrations in the air endowed with symbols. Somehow they carry something far more intimate and spiritual of us – our joy, hate, love our anger can be carried by them. Care is needed in the expression of words – care of both time and place. Some words are “fire” and other words are “light“.[3]

… an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility.[4]

Baha’u’llah counsels moderation, tact and wisdom in speech.[5] In another passage Baha’u’llah states:

A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning,[6]

Kindness of speech enhances communication. Without it, the very communicative act is undermined.  Further courtesy and truth are important qualities of speech.

One should not ignore the truth of any matter, rather should one give expression to that which is right and true.[7]

Let truthfulness and courtesy be your adorning.[8]

In the article We are One -Bahá’u’lláh’s thought on the oneness of humanity, we saw that Bahá’u’lláh prohibits contention and conflict. A similar concept appears in the following quote:

This is the day of nearness and reunion, not the time for contention and idle words.[9]

Moreover we see that words are not enough.

O people! Words must be supported by deeds, for deeds are the true test of words.[10]

Image Credits: Mikhail Gorbunov, Creative Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dialog_face_to_face.JPG

(This article is the 10th in a series of what I hope will be 200 articles in 200 days for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The anniversary is being celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October 2017, The articles are simply my personal reflections on Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work. Any errors or inadequacies in these articles are solely my responsibility.)

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