Sometimes People’s Words ARE Just Sounds

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Speech is a distinguishing feature of our species and an integral part of our intelligence. Its importance is evident from the pride of place it’s given in religious scriptures.

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The extract above from the Mandukya Upanishad of Hinduism, written somewhere between the fifth century BCE and the second century CE, sets down the importance and meaning of the word Om.

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The New Testament gospel by John opens with the memorable phrase, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” It equates speech with God, who first uses it to create the world (Genesis 1:3 — ‘And God said “Let there be light”’, etc.) then materialises it into Jesus to teach humans through words. Of course, I am not a Creationist or Christian, but pointing out the store laid by religion, and thereby its multitude of followers, on spoken words.

Image made by the author

Similarly, the Quran implies the importance of speech for humans in the Surah Ar-Rahman above. Later on, the Tajwid was developed for precise pronunciation in the recitation of the words of the Prophet.

But the scriptures will be the first to say that humans are far from perfect. The need for scripture comes from our fallibility itself. And evolutionary science has all our faculties improving continuously. The more advanced a feature, the more recent and less developed it is. So, we may sleep, walk, sit or eat properly 999 times out of 1000. But we are likely to make mistakes or misuse our newer evolutionary abilities of thought and speech more often.

Even if I ignore the reasons and observe myself, do I see everything I say as sensible? No, even if I admit it only to myself most of the time. Do I expect everyone around me always to take everything I say seriously? Most of the time, yes, due to my need for respect and recognition. But frequently, I know my family, friends, and colleagues should not have given importance to what I said. It is usually after they have been misled, angered, or saddened by my words. Then I try to recover the situation by saying I was only joking when I probably wasn’t.

If I am typical, why should we take to heart everything others say? Whether in person or online, there is a strong case to simply ignore others’ words occasionally. They feel a need to say something, so they do. It doesn’t mean it is life-altering for anyone.

What we say is probably factual or useful only half the time, maybe less. Quite often, it is just ‘yada yada yada’, in the best sense of the phrase. Letting it slide by as just a disturbance in the air, in one ear and out the other, can keep us peaceful and do others a service.

Now, the crucial ingredient of this wisdom is in knowing when to ignore and when not to, right? Here’s my answer to the question; open to improvement with you.

  1. Them-centric reasons— When we know someone is prone to excessive sharing, worrying, gossiping, boasting, repeating, and the like, we can judiciously ignore many of the things they say.
  2. Us-centric reasons— When we know we are showing off, goofing around, joking, tired, stressed, venting, etc., we should signal directly or indirectly that listeners should not take all our words seriously.
  3. Situation-centric reasons — We should let negative talk go by when the family, team or group is exhausted, stressed, or depressed from a trip, deadline, defeat, and such.
  4. Quantity-centric reasons— Ignoring or missing ten per cent of what our spouse, child, friend, or colleague says is fine, even advisable. It prevents us from getting stressed from analysing and reacting to everything. And we should be okay with being ignored to a similar extent. Hey, don’t fret; this is still ninety per cent respect!

Caution — I am not advocating taking anyone for granted or becoming a doormat. Speech is the cornerstone of the social bonding that’s vital for all of us. So sensitivity, mutual regard, and emotional intelligence in communication remain crucial. But we can raise this to the next level, that of emotional wisdom, by accepting that words do not always match the intent, intelligence is not perfect, and speech may not be entirely under our control. So we need to make choices in how we treat it.

Come now, tell me what you think, dear reader. I promise I won’t ignore it as mere sounds.

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