What we say to each other can make a difference.
It’s been reported that among some of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, villagers fell trees by yelling. Any tree that is simply too large to be cut down with an ax is felled by yelling. Imagine, if you will, a group of villagers quietly approaching a tree at dawn. They wait for the right moment and then scream at the top of their lungs. The tree will eventually die. I first read of this unique method of logging from a brief reflection by American writer Robert Fulghum. The notion of such logging practices sounded rather unrealistic, even a bit strange. Upon further research and consideration, however, I find there might be something to it. It is not the number of times that the tree must be yelled at that intrigues me. What intrigues me is that apparently the practice works.
My neighbor sings to her plants so the flowers will bloom for a longer period. She sings opera to the beautiful flowers. A friend who owns a greenhouse and grows plants for homebound patients has classical music playing in her greenhouse all day long. Research has shown the effects of classical music as a catalyst for intelligence quotients rising in areas of study involving art and math skills. These are positive outcomes of auditory exercises. What is communicated through a harsh yelling delivery that could collapse a living organism?
Communication (verbal and nonverbal; oral and/or written) remains a critical part of our daily lives. Recently, in observing communication around me, I have revisited old teaching textbooks and found the art of “revision” is quickly becoming a most silent, unused partner in our communication. As a professor, I must admit that revision is part of the canon that is challenging to teach and practice. Students learn how to craft an argument, a dialogue, an essay, a conversation. All the steps outlined by Aristotle’s Five Canons of Rhetoric shape the learning process and inform a clear message in written and verbal language. Revision of a text or a speech requires the writer or orator to navigate through drafts to ensure a clear message is provided to an audience. Revision often requires abandoning precious sentences and paragraphs we find particularly elegant or clever. In revision, however, we streamline our communication purpose, our word selection, our delivery. These are incredibly important and relevant communication process tools. These are incredibly important and relevant life process tools. To revise our communication is to be mindful of what we will say and write; to be conscious of repercussions of what our message will convey, what our words will carry. How many times have we heard someone utter hurtful phrases or write down emotionally painful commentaries? How much does an apology eliminate the words from our mind, or a retraction erase the damage?
Maybe it is not RE-vision but RE-envisioning that should be a goal. For all the times, as a child, that I heard the adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones . . .” I know better now as an adult. Words do matter. Instead of a RE-vision of grammar and organization, what would it look like if we all engaged in a RE-envisioning of exploring the purpose of our words and how they will affect those around us? A RE-envisioning of purpose that prevents us from collapsing the roots and damaging the spirit. A RE-envisioning that does not require yelling at dawn, day, or dusk. We would have to redefine several things: kindness, accountability, compassion, care, responsibility, moral injury, forgiveness, communication. What would that look like?
“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Prov. 16:24, NKJV).*
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.